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May 26, 2000


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Let the games begin...

Sujata Prakash

I read this gem of an article sent to me by a dear friend on email. It says that most good stories can be told in 800 words or less, and with the help of a good editor you can even whittle it down to a paragraph. Thus, the London Globe might have edited Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and come up with this: 'A pair of teenaged lovers died Thursday, the result of a failed plot to bring their warring families together. Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet of Verona were both found dead from what appeared to be self-inflicted dagger wounds. ''This is the most woeful story I've ever heard,'' said Escalus, Prince of Verona and chief law enforcement officer, ''I hope the parents learn a lesson from this terrible tragedy.''

Precise and to the point. What's more, not a single detail of the plot left out. The Bard might not approve, but even he would struggle with the amount of verse needed to explain all this Much Ado About Plenty Bad in Cricket. The plots get more confusing by the day, and the public is increasingly clueless about who did what to whom and why, and if anyone will learn any lessons from such terrible tragedies. The London Globe is not likely to step in and help edit this morass of conflicting statements into one one small frame for easy viewing, either. But if they did, they might have come up with something like this:

'George Bernard Shaw described cricket as 'a game played by 22 fools and watched by 2000 fools'. Today he would have changed that to 'a game played by 22 crooks watched by a billion fools.' However, the appeal of this sport remains undiminished despite substantiated proof, and under-investigation allegations, that the crookery goes beyond the 22 out in the middle, and reaches all the way to the top of the cricket administration tree. Lawsuits and/or tears threaten to be unleashed by just about every man accused of corruption. Recorded matches spanning decades are in danger of becoming meaningless. And what of the future? A key witness, without knowing he was one, has provided shocking information that all series in Asia are fixed and also the approximate amount (in pounds sterling) needed to buy off a series. Does this mean that the outcome of the Asia cup has been decided already? It is anyone's guess, but reports indicate that ticket sales are brisk and the show will go on in Dhaka.'

So, now that we know where we stand, what do we do about it? I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to the Asia Cup. It's been a long enough break from all the fun and excitement, and to hell with the bookies. If there is a scam, I'm going to beat them at their own game. I will study each match, each team, the bookies' minds and try to figure out who will win and which two teams will enter the finals. It will be akin to beating the odds on the roulette table armed with only a paper and pencil. You might ask is this what cricket was created for? No sir, it was not, but until you can beat 'em, join 'em, is my motto.

Right then, calling all amateur punters, let's start the ball rolling. The first match is Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka. This one is harder than it looks. In the natural order of things, you would imagine that Bangladesh should steamroller Sri Lanka, the way they did Pakistan in the World Cup last year. However, I think the Lankans might not be so accommodating. After a long battle with losses, they've started winning again and Jayasurya has a no-nonsense air about him these days. Bangladesh, meanwhile, are still celebrating their above win, and are pumped up enough to make a go of it. Will the betting mafia really bother to fix this one? Since I lack the conviction that they will, I'll just take it on a player to player comparison and back SL to take the honours.

The next one is easy -- India vs Bangladesh. Since Muthiah has passed the 'not guilty of anything' verdict on all past, present and future Indian players I can safely assume that the Indians will win if it is in their destiny to do so and the game is not tampered with. Besides, our team almost always wins the first match when up against a weak team they can bully on a flat track.

The third one is India vs Sri Lanka. A 50-50 proposition at best. If the story follows the script thus far, both teams should go into this having won one apiece, so I presume the bets will be divided fairly equally, unless of course one of the teams won with such a massive landslide that bets are placed overwhelmingly in favour of it. If that happens, if punters are induced by early results to back one of these two teams to a massive degree, then I'll play the game of double bluff with the bookies and back the other team to win. Which I guess means I'll have to wait till the first two games are done with, before deciding on whom to put my bottom dollar in game three.

The real fun should begin when India and Pakistan go head to head. Who has been bought, who not? Who will win judged on form on paper, who do the bookies want to win? It's all quite exciting, really - who said that cricket has lost its appeal in recent times?

I, for one, can hardly wait for Sunday.

Sujata Prakash

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