WC Final or Wimbledon? A cruel test of fans' loyalty

One could watch either the ICC Cricket World Cup final or the Gentlemen's Singles Final at Wimbledon.

Nothing could be more unfair than the present rules governing the ICC World Cup and the Wimbledon Championships. They were invented by armchair paralegals who arrogated to themselves, rather like Roman emperors, the power to decide which gladiator should win and who should lose. Take the recently concluded ICC World Cup 2019. Organised by the International Cricket Council, it had 10 teams who came from the English-speaking peoples of the world to compete against each other. They played 48 matches at different pitches across England and Wales. The matches were spread over a fortnight, during which the teams battled against each other with vigour and determination. Some teams — such as the West Indians — treated the matches with Caribbean insouciance. It was, they said, after all just a game. Others viewed matches against particular opponents as a replay of history.

For the Indians, the match against Pakistan at Old Trafford would have been another Kurukshetra, had Indra, the god of rain, not intervened. All they needed was Cyril Radcliffe as an umpire. (Interestingly, the match between Pakistan and Bangladesh at Lord’s did not reek of the residue from 1971.) The Indian team, led by their star Virat Kohli, played throughout the tournament as though they were invincible, until in the semi-final, ‘‘45 minutes of bad cricket’’ cost them the cup. It didn’t help that Virat who could knock half a century with his eyes closed was lbw for one run, and his Gemini-twin star M.S. Dhoni should have been ignominiously run out. After the game, Virat Kohli sulked, complaining that the ICC rules were ‘‘bizarre’’. He would not be the first to complain. In the finals, New Zealand (to whom the Indians lost on a technicality) found themselves conceding the cup to England on the outcome of a short but decisive Super Over. The exhausting matches and superlative performances by the best of the
best did not matter. Only rules drafted by armchair pen-pushers did.

For millions of sports fans across the world, Sunday, July 14, became a cruel test of loyalty. One could watch either the ICC Cricket World Cup final or the Gentlemen’s Singles Final at Wimbledon.

This year, Roger Federer, clearly the favourite of the media and the crowds, played his way to the semi-finals where he defeated the clay-court champion Rafael Nadal. That pitched him in the finals against Novak Djokovic. No one who watched the entirety of that contest (the longest singles final in tennis history) will ever forget the sheer excellence of both players. They played five gruelling sets. Neither emerged the victor. And that is when the new rules instituted only this year kicked in. They provide that when the fifth set is deadlocked at 12 games each, the players must compete in the equivalent of a football penalty shootout. Djokovic scored more points than Federer and took home the trophy. Federer was left with the runner’s-up salver and a bitter memory.

There will be many who will argue that rules are rules and the contestants know them before they enter the tournaments. Caveat aspirans. Yet, it seems unfair that after hours of endeavour, the outcome should be decided by blind rules. Rules may have the properties of law, but the law, as Dickens’ Mr Bumble exclaimed once, “is an ass — an idiot”. Surely it must not be beyond the ingenuity of the ICC and the Lawn Tennis Association to revisit such rules and to allow, in such even results, both the contestants to become joint winners. Why does there have to be only one winner? This is not a Roman gladiatorial fight to the death, in which Caesar acknowledges only the survivor. If the myopic organisers look carefully, they will find there is enough space on the ICC World Cup and on the Men’s Final trophy for two names to be inscribed — side by side.

The ICC World Cup and the Wimbledon championships provided us Pakistanis with a welcome respite from depressing news of foreign-debt repayments, unsuccessful arbitration awards, and judicial misdemeanours. One is tempted to wonder why we here slavishly follow the first-past-the-post rule in our politics. Instead of seesaw governments, shouldn’t we, with our peculiar DNA, have a representative form of government in which cabinet posts are allotted to a national government, according to the popular votes gained? Like that, the government and the Opposition would be collectively responsible for resolving current national issues, rather than playing the blame game over past mal-performance.

Don’t our public representatives know there is no Super Over or Death by points in politics? Or are they waiting for a third umpire to decide?

By arrangement with Dawn

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