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THE OTHER MARCH MADNESS

No rest for the wicket

World Cup of cricket consumes fans around the globe, and it doesn't even make a blip in the U.S.

March 11, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

LONDON — March madness begins, and we Americans begin to obsess.

We have the opening ceremonies tonight, yes, but we know that the meat of the cricket World Cup doesn't begin until Tuesday, when West Indies plays Pakistan in Jamaica.

Sure, we all know our U.S. squad did not qualify among the 16 teams, and we all feel the national shame of suspensions imposed by the International Cricket Council in 2005 and 2007 for our administrative shortcomings, but we Americans have a long history of non-myopic curiosity about the outside world.

Just because America's chance to qualify for the cricket World Cup vanished in 2005 with four lamented losses and that one rained-out match, and just because they replaced us with the Cayman Islands at the ICC Intercontinental Cup in 2005 because we apparently couldn't agree among ourselves on a roster, doesn't mean we won't join the 1.5 billion-with-a-"b" watching the world's third-biggest sporting event.

Even if we're not up to snuff among former British colonies, we'll follow with most of the 1,095,351,995 citizens of India, the 165,803,560 citizens of Pakistan and the 147,365,352 citizens of Bangladesh, among other nations that qualified.

With eight venues, including Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and Trinidad and Tobago -- which to some would suggest 11 venues, actually -- Americans will feel fascinated, especially those who wander in from cruise ships.

In coming weeks, we might encounter English-language sentences such as these from British newspapers:

The Daily Telegraph, on an Australia warmup match: "All-rounder Shane Watson, opening the innings with reserve wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, struck 81 and Michael Clarke looked in good touch, surviving a catching chance to reach 82 to take Australia to 290 to seven from their 50 overs."

Or the Guardian, on South Africa: "Their first World Cup in 1992 ended in farce because of the dodgy rain rules: They needed 22 from 13 balls to beat England in the semis and, after a rain break, it was switched to 21 off one ball."

Or the Times, remembering India's 1983 title from 66-1 odds, noted that India "employed swing bowlers rather than the traditional spinners to take advantage of the seaming conditions."

Some of us might even understand these sentences, or might pretend to comprehend words such as "innings."

It's redundant to mention that the Australians won the last two World Cups, of course, certifying their general and accurate image as the most studly people upon the Earth, per capita. We also all know they've been off form lately.

We know somehow that in the eight previous World Cups since 1975, England has managed to win, well, see, um, zero, despite having invented and perfected the game itself. We know that this might have even harnessed an innate English sense of impending doom. We even can empathize, because the U.S. too has begun losing at all the games we invented.

We Americans might even have a favorite figure in this World Cup.

Bermuda's Dwayne Leverock has created quite the pre-Cup sensation, not because he drives a prison van in a country with scant crime, not because of his great nickname, "Sluggo," but because he possesses a belly that sort of hangs over his belt.

As Americans who have spent recent years grimly puzzled about how some of our athletes might have gained extra muscle or several hat sizes or three shoe sizes in midlife, we all can feel relieved knowing precisely how an elite athlete gained girth, seeing as how his favorite dish is beef korma.

And as people with a profound affinity for the fat gram, we commiserate as the BBC guesses him at 20 stone while the Guardian and Times suspect 19, and we resent that the Mirror, a tabloid, praised his skill but used the phrase "looks more like a baby elephant than a cricketer."

We are preternaturally appreciative of a sporting event whose summary of Sri Lanka's title in 1996 begins, "Led by the portly Arjuna Ranatunga ... "

In fact, when the BBC website solicited questions for Leverock and some wiseguy submitted, "Have you ever eaten a cricket ball?" that person may well have been a ravenous American.

So here we go, as Sir Garfield St. Auburn Sobers, 70, officially opens the World Cup. We know him as one of the all-time greats, born with an extra finger on each hand (removed at birth), likened in a new 20-foot bronze statue in his homeland of Barbados.

We know how in 1968 he became the first batsman ever to hit six sixes off one over on six consecutive balls; and how in 1958 he set a test-cricket record with 365 runs in 614 minutes.

With six weeks of matches before the conclusion on April 28, we might even have a chance at the first clue as to what that means.

After all, some of us already have learned that one stone equals 14 pounds.

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