Asia shines in Cricket World Cup

by Simon Haydon

The Associated Press

MUMBAI — India’s in cricket heaven, Sri Lanka reached the final and Pakistan the last four. Of cricket’s main Asian nations, only Bangladesh had a bad World Cup.

Australia, South Africa and England? They were reduced to watching the World Cup final on television, admiring India’s maturity and talent and wondering why they flopped.

The captains of all three nations and New Zealand — which at least reached the semifinal — have either quit or are on the verge of doing so.

Australia’s Ricky Ponting stepped down after one of Australia’s weakest performances for many years. South Africa’s Graeme Smith has dropped the captaincy of the one-day team. England’s Andrew Strauss and Kiwi Daniel Vettori are considering their futures.

Apart from New Zealand, the three traditional powers of world cricket were poorly prepared for the World Cup. England looked exhausted after almost six months on the road. Australia is still struggling to carry out the transition from the era of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist, who watched India lift the trophy at Wankhede Stadium on Saturday night.

South Africa, on paper, looked like a commanding team but was unable to finish off games. Bangladesh is still a minor nation in international cricket, even though it occasionally beats the powers.

Pakistan should have been one of the hosts and might have advanced to the final had its players been allowed to play on the slow wickets of Lahore and Karachi, according to the original plan.

But the 2009 attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore meant Pakistan had to give up its status as co-host. Otherwise the tournament could have been fatally damaged by nations refusing to travel there.

In a blow to Pakistan leading to the tournament, the country lost three players to a match-fixing scandal. But it found an unlikely star in Shahid Afridi, who took on the captaincy apparently on condition that he be given complete control over team selection, a rare opportunity in the intensely political world of Pakistani cricket.

Afridi led a resurgent Pakistan team that just failed at the semifinal hurdle to the eventual winners. Pakistan could have won but for some inexplicably slow batting.

Sri Lanka, given the chance to play all but two of their games on the slow-turning wickets they are used to in Colombo, Kandy and Hambantota, dismissed England and New Zealand with ease thanks to explosive batting that set the tournament alight and the bowling of spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga.

It was India that showed the consistency and depth of a champion. In the final, main batsmen Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag may have failed, but Gautam Gambhir, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh stepped in with winning performances.