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World Cup Controversies

The late Richie Benaud, doyen of cricket commentary, once called cricket the most controversial game of all.

Cricketnext Staff |July 7, 2019, 9:03 PM IST
Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer

The late Richie Benaud, doyen of cricket commentary, once called cricket the most controversial game of all. This statement from the irrepressible Benaud might dismay some cricket fans, but it has a lot of truth to it. Over the years, cricket has been associated with gambling, spot-fixing, match-fixing, ball tampering, sledging, disrespect toward umpires, dalliances of a non-platonic nature, and even the odd verbal tirade and physical skirmish. However, the popularity of the sport is such that it manages to shrug off these incidents.

The ODI cricket World Cup is a quadrennial event that is the pinnacle of ODI cricket. Its popularity increases with each event and is eagerly watched by cricket fans all over the world. However, over the years, the event has been plagued by some controversies which have created headlines and sullied the name of the sport. In this podcast we look at some of the most talked about controversies that have occurred at the Cricket World Cup.

Rain-Rule farce which occurred in 1992

Prior to the 1992 World Cup, the rules for deciding the winner in matches affected by rain and bad light used to heavily favour the team batting second. For example, if a team batting first scored 250 runs in their 50 overs, then the team batting second had to chase 251 in their 50 overs. In case the number of overs faced by the team batting second had to be reduced due to rain or bad light, then the target would be adjusted by calculating the run rate of the team batting first, which in this case was 5 and multiplying that by the number of overs available to the team chasing, and rounding it up to the higher integer. For example, if the match was reduced to 30 overs, then the team chasing would need to score at (30*5) plus 1 which equated to 151. If the match was reduced to 38 overs then the team chasing would need to score (38*5) plus 1 which equated to 191. In both the above examples, they would be allowed to use their full quota of 10 wickets. Therefore, the rule heavily favored the team chasing.

In their bid to address this and make the contest more even, the organizers of the World Cup, made a hash of things and created a rule which was ridiculous and completely favored the team batting first. In a group match between the Australia and India, at the Gabba in Brisbane, the hosts scored 237/9 off their 50 overs. Due to rain, India’s target was reduced by just 2 runs even though they had 3 overs, deducted from their quota of overs. The reason given was that Australia’s 3 least scoring overs from their 50 overs were a maiden and two overs in which 1 run was scored. Therefore, India’s target was reduced by 2 runs. In the semi-final between England and South Africa, rain intervened with South Africa needing 22 runs of 13 balls. A rain interruption reduced the Proteas innings by 2 overs and the equation came down to 21 runs off 1 ball as the runs deducted from the target were the amount scored, from the 2 least scored overs by England batting first. In spite of the rain lasting for just a few minutes, the match was reduced by 2 overs. In those days, there wasn’t even a provision to add 1 hour of playing time in a day-night match as is the norm now. The rules were a farce and the fact that it happened in an occasion as huge as a World Cup semi-final left a sour taste in the mouth.

Australia and West Indies forfeiting their matches to Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup

The format for the 1996 World Cup was such that all the top teams were expected to reach the quarter-finals. They were divided into 2 groups of 6 teams each, with the top 4 from each group qualifying for the quarter-finals. At that stage, Sri Lanka were in a state of unrest with the Civil war starting in 1983, claiming the lives of many civilians and leading to a lot of casualties. In early 1996, just before the commencement of the World Cup, the Tamil Tigers had bombed the Central Bank. This led to both Australia and the West Indies fearing for the safety of their players and they decided to forfeit their matches instead of taking a security risk. Since qualifying for the knock-out stages was a given, it did not affect the chances of both teams winning the tournament and therefore, they boycotted the matches. Sri Lanka went on to win the World Cup.

Indian fans start a riot at Eden Gardens in the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in 1996

It was the semi-final of the 1996 World Cup between India and Sri Lanka and the Lankans had batted first and posted a total of 251/8. During India’s reply, they were in the hunt until Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed but his dismissal, led to a flurry of wickets. In reply, India were tottering at 120/8 when the partisan fans at the stadium, were unable to bear India’s impending defeat. They threw bottles on the ground and set the stands on fire. The situation threatened to get out of control and the match was halted for 15 minutes by the Match Referee, Clive Lloyd to try and get the crowd to calm down and let security get things under control. Unfortunately, the break was of no avail and the match was abandoned, with Sri Lanka being declared victors.

Shane Warne tests positive for a banned substance just prior to the 2003 World Cup

Shane Warne is a cricketer who has been involved in a lot of unsavory incidents in his international career and this one came just a day before the commencement of the 2003 World Cup. Cricketers are randomly tested for drugs throughout the course of their career, both for recreational and performance enhancing drugs. Normally, athletes who take drugs, do so to get stronger, or faster or to increase stamina and become more resilient. There could be many other reasons to give them an edge in competition. Shane Warne tested positive for a diuretic called Moduretic, which he claimed was given to him by his mother just to make him look good on television. The whole point about diuretics was that they masked steroids and that’s why were banned. He immediately withdrew from Australia’s World Cup campaign but the Australian Cricket Board handled the matter in a scandalous manner and banned Warne for just 1 year when the offence according to guidelines prescribed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), merited a 2-year ban.

England boycotting their group match against Zimbabwe in the 2003 World Cup due to the political situation in Zimbabwe.

There is a school of thought that sports and politics should be kept separate and should not be mixed with each other. However, in reality this is easier said than done. The rivalry between India and Pakistan is a prime example with the Indian government refusing to give their cricket team permission to play their counterparts in bilateral series anywhere, though they fulfil their commitments in ICC events and events like the Asia Cup and the Champions Trophy. If even the victimized party, which is bearing the brunt of an injustice, pretends that everything is all right, then it becomes difficult for outsiders to intervene and make a stand regarding the perceived injustice. Two Zimbabwe players in Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, decided to take a stand and make a strong statement. They wore black armbands for their opening match in Zimbabwe to protest against the presidency of Robert Mugabe. They later called their act “The mourning of the death of democracy in Zimbabwe.” There was a huge outcry in England with calls to boycott the match against Zimbabwe and they later withdrew their players from the match, citing concerns over the safety of their players. Zimbabwe got 2 points from the match as England had boycotted it and this helped them qualify for the Super Six stage of the tournament.

Andrew Flintoff’s drunken escapade in a pedalo in the 2007 World Cup

Over the years, there have been a lot of occasions when cricketers have been involved in untoward incidents after consuming alcohol. Andrew Flintoff had been warned on previous occasions for his conduct after consuming alcohol but he refused to heed these warnings and even indulged in a repeat performance on an occasion as important as the World Cup. England had lost their 1st match, against New Zealand, in the 2007 World Cup and Flintoff along with some of his team-mates indulged in an 8-hour drinking spree. In a drunken state, he was on a pedalo, which is a paddle boat, in the rough waters of the Caribbean Sea and had to be helped by the staff of a 5-star hotel in St Lucia after he fell into the rough waters of the sea. As a result of this episode, he was stripped of the vice-captaincy and banned for 1 match.

Bob Woolmer’s death after Pakistan’s loss to Ireland in the 2007 World Cup

After Pakistan’s loss to Ireland in the group stages of the 2007 World Cup, their coach, Bob Woolmer was found dead on 18th March 2007, in his hotel room, in the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. 4 days later on 22nd March, the Jamaican police launched a murder investigation on the basis of a pathologist’s report that said that asphyxia via manual strangulation was the cause of death. The cynics had a field day with some speculating that Woolmer was angry with the result of the match and had been murdered so that he would not divulge Pakistan’s alleged match-fixing. It was a dark day in cricketing history.

Blunders by the umpires over the playing regulations, results in the 2007 World Cup Final ending in a farce.

At that stage, the rules in ODIs, said that a match was complete if both teams played a minimum of 20 overs. This was the World Cup Final between Australia and Sri Lanka and it was reduced to 38 overs, because of rain. Australia scored 281/4 off their 38 overs. The Kensington Oval, in Bridgetown, Barbados, did not have any floodlights and the light was not good enough for play to continue. The final had a reserve day and that confused the Match Officials, who goofed up in their interpretation of the rules. They told both the captains that the teams would have to come back the next day to complete a few overs. This was a blunder as Sri Lanka had already played more than 20 overs in their reply. Both captains reached an agreement wherein Australia would only bowl spinners and Sri Lanka would not try to attack the bowling. The fact that such an error occurred in a World Cup Final was atrocious. The Match referee, Jeff Crowe, later admitted the mistake and said that, “These circumstances are very difficult and it is a bit of a crisis. We hope we can learn from this mistake and get it right. We must make sure we look at the black print which says the game is over when the 20 overs have been completed. We got our minds clouded over that whole simple issue. It was some voices reiterating when the end of the match was, that tomorrow was the way forward-and that was incorrect” The officials-Steve Bucknor, Aleem Dar, Rudi Koertzen (third umpire), Billy Bowden, and Jeff Crowe (match referee)- were all suspended from the inaugural ICC World T20 later that year.

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 4027 115
2 New Zealand 2829 109
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 4366 104
5 Australia 3270 99
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6745 125
2 India 7071 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 India 8411 263
4 Australia 5471 261
5 South Africa 4407 259
see more