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Fans stick it to players as cricket elite fall in Cup

March 20, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

LONDON — In the debate over which sport boasts the most zealous fans, we have a winner. It's cricket.

No, really. It's cricket.

No. Really. It's cricket.

As the first week of the cricket World Cup in the Caribbean became a mutiny of the minnows, with small cricket countries shocking big cricket countries in upsets astounding even to cricket idiots, citizens of two big cricket countries harrumphed.

Then they got really miffed.

In Ranchi, India, after India's bewildering loss to Bangladesh on Saturday in Trinidad and Tobago, about two dozen peeved sorts ransacked the under-construction home of Indian cricket star, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who played not-great against Bangladesh.

A photograph in the national newspaper the Hindu shows them kicking bricks off the foundation.

Further, the Hindu reported that in the city of Kanpur, protesters set fire to effigies of Virender Sehwag and Dhoni, among others who'd come up shy of form. In Jalandhar, citizens held a march and burned posters of Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Coach Rahul Dravid and player Harbhajan Singh, the last noteworthy because Jalandhar is Singh's hometown.

In Allahabad, scattered protests burned effigies and posters of Dravid and Sehwag. In Patna, a fellowship of the irked torched posters of Singh, Sehwag, Dravid and Tendulkar. In Varanasi, some burned effigies of Dravid and Sehwag, while some college students burned effigies of Sehwag.

For those scoring at home, the Hindu's dutiful tally showed Sehwag led the way with four burned effigies and three burned posters, followed by Dravid with three posters and two effigies, Singh and Tendulkar in a third-place tie at two posters each, and Dhoni with one effigy but also with one damaged new-home foundation.

Still, Dhoni might forge up the standings as reports had his hometown fans adding a burned poster and another burned effigy to his tally, only four months after 2,000 adoring townspeople caused a four-hour snarl outside a Ranchi salon when word spread he'd gone inside for a haircut.

(He had to wait for a police escort post-haircut.)

Yet still, Indore might trump all cities because its post-disgrace protest, replete with burning photographs of players, gained description in the Hindu as "led by local Congress leader Anup Shukla" -- and to think Maxine Waters did nothing when USC lost to Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl.

And to think India -- the 1983 cricket champion and 2003 runner-up, having drubbed Bermuda Monday by 413 for five (a score reportedly excellent) -- remains in this 16-team World Cup.

Pakistan, the 1992 champion and 1999 runner-up, does not.

Pakistan still must face Zimbabwe in group play Wednesday, but its baffling loss to cricket tadpole Ireland on St. Patrick's Day in Jamaica qualified as an ouster, following upon an earlier loss to West Indies. At first, nobody knew for sure the second loss had ousted Pakistan, but World Cup organizers issued a statement saying that it had.

"National disaster," phrased the Dawn newspaper.

"The proud history has been dragged through the mud of Montego Bay," wrote Dawn's Kamran Abbasi, who later added, "The team's fielding resembles a bunch of geriatrics out for an evening stroll." He found solace that Pakistan's former unpredictability had yielded to a newfound consistency: "Consistent failure has become a norm."

Back at home, some people called a television station demanding the freezing of the players' bank accounts, a tactic underused in America. Fans burned effigies in streets. Some held mock funerals for the coach and the captain.

In Multan, according to wire reports, a large crowd reportedly yelled, "Death to Woolmer, death to Inza," meaning the coach and the captain.

The next day, housekeeping staff at the team hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, found coach Bob Woolmer, 58, unconscious in his room. He died in a hospital of an apparent heart attack, and the tone grew respectful of an Englishman's life devoted to cricket as a player and globally respected coach.

TV footage showed Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller consoling crying Pakistani players. A one-minute silence preceded Monday's two matches. Cricket aficionados from England to South Africa to Pakistan to Australia mourned.

And then, Imran Khan, Pakistan's former cricket captain, member of Parliament and national hero, blamed the team's poor performance as "the only cause" for Woolmer's death. As for that poor performance, Khan used his column in the Nation to blame Inzamam ul-Haq, who resigned his captaincy Sunday, and President Pervez Musharraf, who sits on the board that selects the team.

In fact, as events unfolded in the Caribbean, the only jubilation on the other side of the Earth among 1 billion Indians and 165 million Pakistanis and 147 million Bangladeshis came Sunday near dawn in Dhaka. That's the capital of Bangladesh, where the citizens rejoiced because they know something.

Cricket matters.

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