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Beauty of March Madness is that there's no madness involved

March 25, 2007|Tim Dahlberg | Associated Press

The thing I like best about the NCAA tournament is that it's a pure sporting spectacle, or at least as pure as you can get when coaches are making millions and players get nothing but meal money and a free pass to class.

Look past the NCAA's blatant hypocrisy, though, and there's a lot to appreciate about an event that packs so much triumph, failure, pageantry and sheer emotion into such a short period of time.

It helps that at least half of America seems to have something riding on the games, keeping us interested long after our favorite team has been sent home.

March Madness, though, it's not. Not this year, anyway.

The real madness this March is taking place in Jamaica, where the Cricket World Cup seems to have run into a bit of, shall we say, a sticky wicket.

It hasn't gotten much notice in the United States because we think a pitch is something you throw to a batter, not something you play on. But in the cricket playing world, which consists mainly of England and its former territories, this is life and death stuff.


Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer, an Englishman and cricket legend, was found dead in his hotel room Sunday, a few hours after his team was beaten in a shocker by cricket lightweight Ireland. Jamaican police say a preliminary autopsy was inconclusive, but Pakistani media speculated Woolmer had been murdered or committed suicide.

If that seems far-fetched to those following their favorite basketball teams, you have to understand cricket is taken so seriously in Pakistan that members of the Pakistan Cricket Board report directly to the country's president. They turned in their resignations following the loss, and the team captain announced his retirement.

"The fact of the matter is that Pakistan's cricket is at the crossroads," former wicketkeeper Wasim Bari said.

Things weren't much better in neighboring India, where fans were so pained by the country's loss to Bangladesh that they descended on the home of keeper Mahender Singh Dhoni and began smashing it up. Dhoni was burned in effigy, and people in other parts of the country held rallies to burn posters of their country's star players.

And you thought Kentucky fans were tough on Tubby Smith.

The English invented the sport, but they are having problems of their own. Members of the team went on a bender after losing to New Zealand and were partying so much that one of their star players had to be rescued from the sea during the early morning hours.

That prompted the English tabloids to label the team as a bunch of drunks, and blame hangovers for the team's failure to win the last few World Cups.

"Batting is about concentration, and late nights and heavy drinking will not help," one said.

Now I don't pretend to understand cricket, a complicated game where even figuring out the score is difficult. Can anyone explain what it means when New Zealand defeats Kenya 331-7, 183 all out, by 148 runs as the Kiwis did on Tuesday?

A British associate of mine tried to teach me one night in a Scottish farmhouse where we watched a televised match, but the next morning I couldn't remember a thing. I do know it has something to do with wickets and bats and innings, and that in some matches they break for lunch and tea.

I also know it's awfully important to a lot of people, maybe too important. National pride is always at stake, and in the World Cup that is only magnified.

Actually, before Woolmer's untimely death, this had almost been a sedate World Cup, by cricket standards. The sport's big event has always been tinged by outbreaks of violence and allegations of match fixing, including a claim that the 1999 final was thrown by Pakistan.

Imagine Florida winning the national championship in the same manner as Sri Lanka won the World Cup in 1996, largely because other teams were so afraid to travel to play in the war-ravaged country that it won twice by default. Then Indian fans got their team disqualified by rioting and setting fires in the stands in the semifinals, and Sri Lanka got a trip to the championship match.

Compared to that, the NCAA tournament is a snoozer.

Sure, there might be some griping about the officiating, or a coach unhappy that his opposite number kept his starters in late with a 20-point lead. But nobody's throwing bottles on the floor, and like it or not everyone can get to Atlanta.

For the most part, everyone realizes basketball's only a game.

It's sports as sport should be, without the lunatic fringe that seems to show up with increasing regularity these days.

Unlike cricket, the real beauty of March Madness is there's no madness involved.

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