Cricket World Cup Memories

Sri Lankans confident they have beating of Australia

SRI LANKA will be the latest team to face up to the Australian juggernaut as the Cricket World Cup Super Six stage gets under way today, and, though underdogs for the match, they are one of the few sides able to upset the world champions.
The Sri Lankans were the last side to taste victory over Ricky Ponting’s men and have proved to be a regular thorn in the Australian side, going back to the 1996 World Cup final and more recently the ICC Champions Trophy semi-final in Colombo last October.
They also beat Australia during the VB Series this winter when they won in Sydney, although since then the rampant Aussies have embarked on a record 12-match unbeaten run which has given them maximum points to carry through to the Super Six.
Today’s game at Centurion also marks Sri Lanka’s first encounter with Australian batsman Darren Lehmann since he was banned for five matches by the ICC in January after being overheard making racist remarks following his dismissal during the match between the two sides in Brisbane.
Sri Lanka, though, are keen to put the matter behind them. "We have no problem with Darren Lehmann," stressed coach Dav Whatmore.
Australia enter the second phase full of confidence and believe they can retain the trophy unbeaten. They would be only the second team, after the West Indies in 1975 and 1979, to mount a successful defence.
Ponting said the close win over England on Sunday was the perfect work-out for his team. "It was good for us to be stretched," he said. "We were down and out, but good sides bounce back and we managed to win the game without playing anywhere near our best."
Looking ahead to today’s match, Ponting said: "When Sri Lanka are on top they’re a very dangerous side and that’s something we have to guard against."
Australia have been forced into one change: all-rounder Andrew Symonds is out with a groin injury and will be replaced by Ian Harvey.
India meet Kenya in today’s other Super Six match, but are already looking to the last four, concerned the toss of a coin may decide their fate. Sourav Ganguly’s men could end up playing in the day-night semi-final in Durban and believe these matches have favoured the team batting first - India beat England convincingly in Durban, while England enjoyed an emphatic defeat of Pakistan.
World Cup chief Dr Ali Bacher has promised a response to their request to revert back to a day match by Saturday afternoon.
India are clear favourites at Newlands, but surprise package Kenya did enjoy a stunning 70-run win over them at Port Elizabeth in October 2001.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s hopes of appearing at the next World Cup in 2007 will be enhanced if Dr Bacher gets his way.
The South African wants to see the number of competing nations increased from 14 to 16, providing two more places for so-called minnows and opening the door wide for the Scots who finished just behind Holland, Canada and Namibia for the current event.

Australia have world at their feet

WITH the loss of Shane Warne now looking like nothing more than a minor setback, it comes as little surprise that Australia - the world champions and with a record 12 consecutive one-day wins to their credit - enter the Super Six stage of cricket’s World Cup in pole position.
Discovering at the last minute that you must compete in a major tournament without your greatest ever spin bowler (Warne was sent home after failing a drugs test) would be enough to send panic through the ranks of most teams. But not the Aussies, who now have a great chance of plotting their own route right to the final, which takes place on 23 March.
With the pool stages now done and dusted, Australia go through to the second phase with a maximum of 12 points. One more win - they face Sri Lanka in Centurion on Friday in the opening match of the second phase before taking on Kenya and New Zealand - and they will be heading for the final four.
In no mood to rest on their laurels, Australia coach John Buchanan has already made it clear that his side are eager to retain their momentum. Further victories will not only keep up team morale but also allow the Australians to sidestep the second semi-final, a day-nighter in Durban where the toss could favour one side significantly.
While Pakistan and England joined South Africa and West Indies in the airport departure lounge yesterday, all of them wringing rainwater from their cricket flannels, unheralded Kenya and Zimbabwe were preparing for the next round.
Steve Tikolo’s Kenyans, yet to earn Test status, were beaten by 142 runs by Carl Hooper’s side yesterday yet, extraordinarily, will go into the second round as Australia’s nearest challengers on ten points.
Opening batsman Chris Gayle smashed 119 off 151 balls to help the Windies amass a respectable total of 246 for seven in the Group B match before the Caribbean bowlers demolished the Kenyans for a miserable 104 inside 36 overs.
Vasbert Drakes captured career-best figures of five for 33 including three wickets in eight balls, and Jermaine Lawson took two wickets on his first appearance of the tournament, at times bowling in excess of 150 km per hour.
West Indies captain Hooper said: "No disrespect to the Kenyans or the Zimbabweans but obviously they are not two of the strongest teams in their groups, but that’s just a reflection of the rules we play by.
"There’s nothing we can do about it," he added. "All we could do was try and finish the tournament on a high and we did that today."
Kenya were helped by a shock win over Sri Lanka and a ‘forfeit win’ after New Zealand refused to travel to Nairobi over security concerns.
With teams taking four points for each win over fellow group qualifiers into the second stage, as well as one point from each win against eliminated sides, India will start with eight points in the Super Six with Sri Lanka half a point behind.
New Zealand and Zimbabwe, meanwhile, have everything to do, with four and three-and-a-half points respectively. The Kiwis , though, could still make the last four with two wins in the second phase.
Rain, of course, hammered the final nail into England’s hopes of qualifying yesterday.
Zimbabwe, who also made the second round in 1999, beat Nasser Hussain’s team to the final qualifying spot when their Group A game against Pakistan in Bulawayo was washed out, giving the home team two extra points and taking them to 14, two ahead of England.
Zimbabwe captain Heath Streak, however, reminded England - who arguably played a part in their own downfall - that they had chosen not to play in Harare because of security concerns. "It’s not in our hands what happens with the weather, and England didn’t come and play that match," he said. "Those two factors have obviously played a big part in us getting through ... but that’s beyond our control as players."
On Monday, hosts South Africa were knocked out of the tournament when their crunch game against Sri Lanka ended in a tie as rain cut short the home side’s run chase in cruel fashion, while earlier in the tournament, West Indies, also eliminated on Monday, lost two certain points in a washed-out game against Bangladesh.
The six-week tournament, expanded to 14 teams including four minnow sides, has, to the frustration of many, not allowed for reserve days for rain-affected first-round games.
Australia have had no real rain problems. They survived their only scare when the Netherlands, determined to enjoy every minute of their World Cup, agreed to play them, on a wet, sub-standard pitch at Potchefstroom.
The rain could yet play a role in the Super Sixes, but those matches have reserve days.

Super Six place hinges on win for Pakistan

ALL is not yet lost for England - although their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup’s Super Sixes are now out of their hands.
India joined Australia in the next stage after beating Pakistan on Saturday - leaving just one place up for grabs.
That result gave England hope - even though they lost to Ricky Ponting’s champions yesterday by two wickets.
Competition rules state that in the event of teams finishing on equal points, the right to play in the Super Six stage will be decided primarily on most wins in the group matches - if that is level, the winner between the teams will be placed higher.
If more than two teams finish on equal points and wins, however, and each has beaten one of the others, the team with the higher net run rate in the group matches claims superiority.
Victory for Zimbabwe in their final match against Pakistan tomorrow will guarantee Nasser Hussain’s team return home early because the Zimbabweans have a forfeited win over England behind them.
But England could still go through if Pakistan win in the final match of the pool.
That scenario would leave them level on 12 points with Zimbabwe and Pakistan with each side having won one apiece in the breakdown of games between the three.
England would then have to hope their net run rate - which is +0.82 - was the highest .

The jewel of India Tendulkar eyes gold

INDIA sounded out their intentions as genuine World Cup contenders with a famous win over old foes Pakistan at SuperSport Park yesterday.
Led by a masterful 98 from maestro batsman Sachin Tendulkar, the Indians took the first match played between the two sides in three years with ease, recording a six-wicket win with 26 balls to spare.
The victory secured India’s place in the Super Sixes, qualifying from Pool A along with Australia, but left Pakistan’s hopes of staying in the competition hanging by a thread.
They must now hope for a comprehensive victory over Zimbabwe in Bulawayo on Tuesday and that England lose by a big margin to Australia today for them to qualify on net run rate.
Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh sealed the victory with a magnificent partnership of 99 off 114 balls when Tendulkar departed just short of what would have been his 35th one-day century.
Singh scored an exceptional half-century at exactly the right time off just 53 balls with six fours, while Dravid hit the winning boundary to finish with a magnificent 44 not out. Tendulkar carved his way past 12,000 one-day international runs in his innings and recorded his 60th half-century in quick time, falling just short of what would have been the third-quickest century in World Cup history.
Tendulkar took on the Pakistani bowling from the beginning, putting on a 50 partnership with Virender Sehwag in just five overs before Pakistan captain Waqar Younis struck twice in as many balls to give his side a glimmer of hope.
Sehwag was on 21 off just 14 balls before he hit one off Waqar on the up and sent the ball straight to Shahid Afridi for the Pakistanis to claim their first wicket.
Captain Saurav Ganguly went next ball, being trapped lbw for a duck as he looked to get a harsh decision against him with a ball that looked too high. But it did not stop Tendulkar, who hit Shoaib Ahktar for a massive six in the bowler’s opening over to show his intent.
He then put on a century partnership in the same amount of balls with Mohammad Kaif before the latter played a ball that was way outside his off stump onto his stumps to be removed for 35 off 60 balls.
Tendulkar eventually succumbed when he received a lifting delivery from Shoaib Ahktar which he lifted to Younis Khan at point.
But he could easily have been out earlier, as he was dropped by Abdur Razzaq when he was on 32 and again in a tough caught-and-bowled chance by Shahid Afridi when he was on 89 not out.
Razzaq had to leave the field after he split the webbing in his hand in trying to take the catch while Pakistan were also without their first choice wicketkeeper Rashid Latif after he went to hospital for precautionary X-rays after being hit on the head while batting earlier in the day. Latif was later cleared after undergoing a CAT-scan but still felt dizzy, according to team officials.
Pakistan’s bowlers all suffered at the hands of India’s batsmen, with captain Waqar Younis claiming two wickets but at a cost of 71 runs in 8.4 overs and Shahid Afridi 1-45 in nine overs.
Earlier, Pakistan opener Saeed Anwar scored his fourth century against India as his side set a what looked like a highly-competitive target of 273 for seven.
However Inzamam ul-Haq’s poor form continued as he was run out. Inzamam made his intentions clear at the start, lofting Anil Kumble back over his head for four.
But Inzamam was left stranded by a perfect throw from Virender Sehwag from backward square-leg as he started off too early and was sent back by partner Anwar to be out for six. He has now only scored 16 runs in his five World Cup matches and faced just 26 balls in the tournament so far.
Inzamam will hope to put that right next week and that his side can also yet resurrect their disappointing World Cup campaign, but for India it is very much a case of so far, so good.

Man killed as violence erupts after cricket match

VIOLENCE erupted between Hindus and Muslims last night after India defeated its arch rival Pakistan in a World Cup cricket match.
At least one person was killed and three others were injured, while shops and cars were burned.
The violence broke out in India’s western state of Gujarat, where the country’s worst religious clashes in a decade left more than 1,000 people dead last year.
Tension has simmered since, and divisions between Hindus and Muslims have remained acute.
Police fired gunshots after they were attacked by a group of Muslims, apparently angered by Hindus who lit firecrackers and handed out sweets in Ahmadabad’s Shapur area to celebrate India’s victory in the crucial match in South Africa. A Muslim protester, named as Zubair Mohammed Ismail, was killed as the police opened fire on the crowd.
Rioting was reported in at least six neighbourhoods in Ahmadabad, the state’s largest city.
An unidentified man was rushed to a hospital after being stabbed, police said.
Two police officers were injured by stones thrown by the Muslim mob, a spokesman added.
Meanwhile, shops and vehicles were burned by rioters in several other parts of Ahmadabad.
Siddharth Khatri, the deputy commissioner of police, said last night: “The violence began between 10.30pm and 10.45pm. Police lobbed tear-gas shells to disperse the mob.”
In Vadodara city, police officers used tear-gas in three areas to disperse rioting mobs after three cars and a restaurant owned by a Muslim man were burned.
India is a secular nation where more than 80% of the population are Hindus. However, many Hindu nationalists accuse Muslims, the largest religious minority, of secretly backing Pakistan, India’s Islamic neighbour and its bitter rival in three wars.
India was divided in 1947 by British colonialists, who carved out Pakistan as a new nation. However, millions of Muslim citizens remained in India.
Two of the countries’ three wars have been fought over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan, though both nations claim the entire area.

Kenya seal historic win

KENYA threatened to alter the pattern of cricket history yesterday when a dramatic and unexpected victory over Sri Lanka propelled them to within touching distance of being the first "emerging nation" to qualify for the Super Six stage of the World Cup.
Emulating their 1996 triumph over West Indies and Bangladesh’s victory four years ago over Pakistan, the non-Test playing nation dismissed the 1996 world champions for 157 after posting 210 for nine. Leg-spinner Collins Obuya claimed a Kenyan record of five wickets for 24 as he destroyed the Sri Lankans’ batting.
The 53-run triumph was particularly poignant because of its venue. Nairobi was hosting its first World Cup match, and it will remain a solitary occasion because of New Zealand’s refusal to visit the Kenyan capital on safety grounds, which may yet backfire on Stephen Fleming’s men.
Ironically, that snub could turn out to be the catalyst that propels East African cricket forward. Steve Tikolo’s side now lead Pool B with 12 points, thanks to the four that were forfeited by New Zealand, and victory over Bangladesh on Saturday would lead them into a potentially decisive clash with West Indies a week today.
Yesterday’s result threw open the outcome of Pool B, as the previously unbeaten Sri Lankans still have to play West Indies and South Africa. Should Kenya finish within the top three, it could even be at the expense of their fellow- hosts.

Australians make ready to rule the world - again

AUSTRALIA look head and shoulders above the rest of the competition at the World Cup after a second crushing win over powerful Asian opposition in a week.
Just four days after putting Pakistan to the sword, Australia proved even more clinical at Centurion Park yesterday as they crushed India by nine wickets.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting was delighted with the way that his bowlers, particularly Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, intimidated the Indian batsmen.
"Bowling short of a length at them was a definite plan, and it worked very well today," said Ponting. "Their players had struggled on the recent tour of New Zealand, and we wanted to continue with the way they had bowled to them - fairly short and aggressive.
"The tactic was designed to unsettle the batsmen, and it did it fairly well, as it didn’t let any of their batsmen get away from us."
Australia, the current title-holders, controlled the Pool A contest from the start as they strangled India’s innings, and limited them to their lowest World Cup score of 125.
Such a total was never likely to trouble prolific openers Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, who set about the target with typical relish to wrap up another four points with more than 27 overs to spare.
A lapse of concentration that saw Gilchrist stumped by Rahul Dravid for 48 proved only a temporary blip as Hayden, who finished unbeaten on 45, and Ponting (24 not out) finished the job.
It was yet another disappointing performance from the out-of-sorts Indians following their unimpressive success over Holland earlier.
India failed to cope with the Australian attack, and particularly man of the match Gillespie, and they were soon made to regret their decision to bat first.
Speedster Lee applied pressure right from the start, and had them in trouble early on as he twice broke through to have captain Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag caught behind by wicketkeeper Gilchrist.
"India’s weakness is sheer pace and bounce, and if anyone will get that out of the wicket, it will be Brett Lee," Ponting observed. "I wanted him to blast out a couple of their top order, and he did that, which set us up from there. Glenn McGrath then bowled a couple of maidens in a row just as Jason Gillespie came on, and we really tightened things up against them."
Rahul Dravid, whose ability to score runs while in the side as wicketkeeper remains a matter of debate, followed soon after when he played on to the impressive Gillespie. Yuvraj Singh followed immediately as he was trapped leg-before for a duck by McGrath, and when Mohammad Kaif hooked Gillespie into the diving Andrew Symonds’ hands at deep square- leg, India were reeling on 50 for five.
Sachin Tendulkar alone survived the top-order onslaught, and looked to have at last found a reliable partner when Dinesh Mongia came to the crease. But Tendulkar, too, after a patient 36, was to succumb when Gillespie - who finished with figures of three for 13 - pinned him in front, and at 80 for seven after Mongia had gone soon after, India’s prospects looked bleak.
Harbhajan Singh helped to take the total into three figures with a brief flurry that saw him hit four fours and a six in a rapid 28, but Brad Hogg put an end to his slogging with another lbw decision.
Darren Lehmann got in on the act to remove Zaheer Khan in similar fashion before executing the run-out of Javagal Srinath with a brilliant direct hit to end the innings after 41.4 overs - another imposing performance with the ball from Australia.
"The key is that our bowling line-up is flexible, and we can use them all at different times and in different situations.
"It was great to see Jason, who has been a new ball bowler for so long, come on and do a fantastic job as first change. It says a lot about him and the way he has developed, and the same is true of the way Brett performed when he opened the bowling."
With an asking rate of just 2.52 per over, the prolific Gilchrist and Hayden partnership was never likely to feel the pressure. They steadily began to crank up the run rate with Hayden being particularly savage with straight sixes off Khan and Harbhajan. Gilchrist falling to Harbhajan two short of his half-century hardly held up proceedings, as Ponting came in to finish off the job.
The skipper was pleased with the way his side performed, but will allow no complacency in the ranks.
"We have played particularly well in these two matches [against Pakistan and India]," Ponting said. "We knew they might be among our toughest, so we geared ourselves up to making sure we were somewhere near our best for them. In 1999, we made a slow start, and we spoke about not wanting to do that again, so we focused on doing well in these two games.
"We have done that now, but we can’t take things easy: we have just got to keep working and improving."
Australia’s next match is against the Netherlands in Potchefstroom on Thursday.

England's cricketers refuse to play in Zimbabwe

ANY last hope that this week’s ill-fated World Cup cricket match between England and Zimbabwe might take place as planned appeared to have been dashed last night when the England team management made it clear the players would not travel to Harare.
Another day of acrimony and confusion ended with Tim Lamb, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, announcing in Cape Town that fresh safety concerns had persuaded the players to stay away from Zimbabwe.
Death threats received from a group calling itself the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe had proved too much for the players and persuaded them to abandon any hope of travelling to the fixture.
The ECB yesterday submitted a new, formal, request to the International Cricket Council asking for the match to be moved to a safer venue.
But there was continuing uncertainty in the team’s camp in Cape Town later after Mr Lamb stressed the ECB was still waiting for an official response from the ICC, due this morning, before a definitive decision could be made. He also took a swipe at the world cricket body for leaking private correspondence from the ECB - including yesterday’s request to have the game moved - to the press.
The ICC has taken a consistently hard line against England’s appeals and is not expected to change its approach today.
The statement from the ICC is expected to turn down the request to have the match moved, handing the result and all four World Cup points to Zimbabwe.
The loss of all the points will make it difficult for the team to qualify for the later stages of the tournament and the English cricket authorities will also be fined, possibly as much as £10 million, to cover lost television coverage and sponsorship.
England’s scheduled home matches against Zimbabwe in the summer are expected to be cancelled in a tit-for-tat move by the Zimbabwean cricket authorities and the money-spinning five-Test series against South Africa this summer is also in doubt.
This week’s fixture has been overshadowed for weeks by wrangling over threats to player safety because of the turbulent political situation in Zimbabwe. There have also been calls for England to boycott the game in protest at President Robert Mugabe’s regime

Ghost of Hansie and political meddling haunt the hosts

GOVERNMENT pressure has ensured that the South African team, who included two black players for the first test against Sri Lanka three months ago, now have five in a World Cup squad of 15, who open their campaign in Cape Town today against the West Indies.
The affirmative-action policy, together with the selectors’ decision to include an out-of-sorts Lance Klusener and all-rounder Andrew Hall, means the absence of an additional specialist batsmen. That cost Graeme Smith his place, and he responded by smashing 151 in a record-breaking opening stand with Herschelle Gibbs at Newlands in the shadow of Table Mountain in the second test against Pakistan last month.
The bowling attack are also hanging by a thread, and the South African squad have returned from an Outward Bound course designed to build team spirit. It included orienteering and crossing fast-flowing rivers on empty oil drums, and left the notoriously fragile fast bowler Allan Donald nursing a strained buttock - and critics wondering why the core of a squad that had been living in one another’s pockets for months needed to lift their morale in the first place.
The answer could well be found in the actions of Donald and Jonty Rhodes, and the bizarre dedication of their World Cup campaign to the memory of the disgraced former captain, Hansie Cronje, who was killed in a plane crash last year - a move that initially annoyed coach Eric Simons.
"We had a long chat about it, and now I’m much happier," Simons revealed. "Jonty said that Hansie had done so much for him, and that it was a very personal gesture. It isn’t a team dedication, simply a personal one from Jonty and Allan."
But the team’s former psychologist expressed concern about "this hankering after Hansie". Dr Ken Jennings, who quit his role 18 months ago, declared: "The pair may be expressing some concern for the present leadership of the side. The Cronje issue still has the potential to divide the side on some level in the future, especially in stressful situations."
To most observers Cronje’s legacy is related to his involvement in match-fixing which, according to former Pakistan test player, Safraz Nawaz, is still alive and well. "The gambling mafia is active, and the World Cup cannot be held without match-fixing," he maintained.
That view was supported by the Indian police chief, KK Paul, who trapped Cronje during South Africa’s tour of the subcontinent three years ago. Paul claimed that his investigations were still being hampered by the unwillingness of South African officials to co-operate. "The match-fixing case is very much alive," maintained Paul.
If that were not enough baggage for the South Africans to cart around, a fickle public headed by their most mercurial fan, sports minister Ngconde Balfour, serve only to raise the stakes. The noble tenet that sport and politics should not mix is not taken too seriously here, and Balfour enjoys a profile greater than any sports minister should be allowed.
He is a teddy bear-like figure with an engaging manner, always revelling in the company of top sportsmen and squeezing into team photographs whenever he can. But six months ago, he threw the sport into turmoil with a racially-charged diatribe, claiming that he does not go to Newlands to see players such as Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis, but Makhaya Ntini and Paul Adams.
It was prompted by the United Cricket Board of South Africa’s announcement in July that they were planning to scrap racial quotas. Balfour responded by telling the sport’s authorities that "if it was not the World Cup next year, I would disband cricket".
But domestic cricket does not need disbanding: it’s already on its knees. Such is the funding crisis that provincial cricket’s two main competitions are propped up by the subscription television channel, Supersport, who have exclusive rights to all domestic competition, including the once highly competitive Currie Cup.
That was completed in October - weeks before the start of the traditional season - and the only first-class match that has taken place during the main season, other than tests, was South Africa A against the Pakistan tourists in December.
The future looks even bleaker because Balfour is attempting to wrest control of sports programming from Supersport by introducing legislation that protects the interests of free-to-air broadcasters. As noble as that sounds, cricket officials claim the inevitable drop in income from TV fees will bankrupt them.
While Balfour may be a laughing stock, the overwhelming power of the South African government ensures that he holds great sway. Rumours abound of phone calls that he makes to team officials during international games, and before the third test against Australia in Sydney 13 months ago, he was behind the last-minute replacement of a young, white batsman, Jacques Rudolph - who was denied his debut because the team were perceived to be "too white".
Only results will tell whether political interference or the ghost of Hansie have fatally undermined South Africa’s cricketers’ effort to emulate the rugby Springbok counterparts.

Bet large on the Big Two

So who will be crowned World Champions on March 23rd? Often in international one-day cricket it pays to side with the outsiders due to the unpredictable nature of the game. However, I believe it is frighteningly simple as there are only two sides who can possibly win the World Cup - Australia or South Africa. As 7-4 and 11-4 shots the bookmakers concur but I don’t believe those prices reflect the vast superiority between these two sides and the rest of the World.
India (best price: 10-1 with Bet365) are in the same mould as the under-achieving Spanish football team, Pakistan (10-1 with VC) are world cricket’s mavericks and unable to string enough wins together, England (22-1 with BetDirect) aren’t good enough and Sri Lanka (20-1 with Skybet) have no chance on South Africa’s bouncy pitches. New Zealand (12-1 with Skybet) are being well touted to succeed in the World Cup but they lack the class to win it and have an appalling record in South Africa over the last ten years - played 12, won 0, tied 2, lost 10.
Of the outsiders the most interesting team are the West Indies (16-1 generally available), who have been written off by the layers. Under Carl Hooper the West Indies are emerging from the doldrums and were impressive in the 4-3 series win in India late last year. They are tempting at 16-1 each-way but, as potential semi-finalists, they make a better bet as a buy on the tournament spreads.
The fact is that Australia have a psychological hold over every other cricketing nation - they are often in charge before a ball is even bowled.
Even South Africa have a habit of folding against the Aussies. Therefore even at 7-4 with Coral Australia look a great bet to win the Cricket World Cup: they have the sign over South Africa, who in turn are a distance clear of the rest.

The secret Zimbabwe policeman's cricket ball

HIS light-hearted nickname ‘Danny Boy’ is in stark contrast to his murky past as the head of Robert Mugabe’s dreaded secret police.
Dan Stannard, the ruddy-faced Irishman once regarded as the most powerful white man in Zimbabwe and one of Mugabe’s chief enforcers, has once again emerged from the shadows.
This time, however, Stannard has not been ordered to root out political dissidents under the auspices of the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO). Instead, he has resurfaced as the man tasked with assessing the safety of the foreign cricketers who are due to play World Cup matches in the strife-ridden African nation later this month. Until recently Stannard was manager of the Zimbabwe cricket team. These days, the man who once saved Mugabe’s life, is the team’s security manager.
Last week the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced that the controversial matches in Harare and Bulawayo should go ahead despite fears that players could be attacked, kidnapped or caught up in violent demonstrations against Mugabe’s regime. The decision to press ahead with the six matches, including an England fixture against Zimbabwe on February 13, was based on an assessment by the American security consultants Kroll. ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed, said: "The Kroll report, which was discussed at length, was categorical in its ultimate assessment that it is safe and secure for all six matches in Zimbabwe to proceed as planned."
However, Stannard, one of Mugabe’s most trusted former aides, is widely believed to have been working behind the scenes to persuade ICC inspectors and senior executives from Kroll that foreign cricketers will not be in danger.
"We’re safe as houses," Stannard insists, adding that security preparations in Zimbabwe have been first rate.
However, Amnesty’s Zimbabwe desk officer, Sharmala Naidoo, who has just made her own tour of the country, is sceptical of the authorities’ claims: "The [Zimbabwean] people who are re-assuring the England team are the same people who have been arresting human rights workers and journalists for years."
Last night a spokesman for the ICC, which commissioned the Kroll report, refused to confirm or deny that it or Kroll had been involved in talks with Stannard.
In the 1990s Stannard served as an intermediary between Mugabe and worried white farmers, assuring them they had nothing to fear from Zimbabwe’s president.
Little is known about his early years, other than the fact that the 65-year-old has spent most of life in Zimbabwe, Rhodesia and South Africa.
Stannard’s long friendship with Robert Mugabe started in 1980 during the country’s first one man, one vote elections. The former British South African Police was drafted into the CIO as the fledgling state prepared for black majority rule. Members of the CIO were originally trained by the East German secret police, the Stasi.
Stannard was brought in to train a new generation of agents who infiltrated rival political parties, broke up anti-government demonstrations and destabilised political groups.
White soldiers boasted they would kill Mugabe before British Governor Lord Soames could install him as the country’s first black leader. And, just days into the election campaign, Mugabe was the target of an assassination attempt.
In February 1980, Stannard was driving Mugabe towards the Midland town, Masvingo. Suddenly, he swerved off the road. Moments later the highway on which they would have been driving exploded into a sheet of flames.
Stannard’s actions not only guaranteed him rapid advancement through the ranks of the CIO but, more importantly, earned Mugabe’s trust.
He was appointed head of the internal wing of the CIO, which opposition parties claim has been responsible for the arrest and torture of hundreds of human rights workers, black politicians and journalists over the past two years.
Stannard went on to work for two of the CIO’s most efficient "opposition hunters", Emmerson Mnangagwa, minister of state for security, and Dr Sydney Sekeramayi, the head of the organisation.
It was the CIO which masterminded the invasion of Matabeleland by Mugabe’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to crush rebellion by guerrillas loyal to the ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo, whom the president had accused of planning to overthrow the government. It has been claimed up to 50,000 civilians were killed.
Mugabe, who effectively turned his country into a one-party state as a result, has refused to apologise to survivors, describing the dead as "dissidents" bent on overthrowing his new government.
In 1987 Stannard was awarded Zimbabwe’s highest honour, the Order of Valour. Interestingly, there was no citation for the medal.
In 1996 Stannard retired as head of the internal unit of the CIO. He acted as a private business consultant, urging white farmers to ignore the anti-white rhetoric emerging from Harare Some of the same farmers were to become victims of the state-orchestrated land-grabs by squatters and ‘war veterans’.
Then, in March 2000, in what appeared to be a strange twist, Stannard was appointed manager of the Zimbabwe cricket team on a three-month tour to the UK. Farm invasions were under way and players were worried that their families back home would be killed. Stannard was expected to smooth the situation by assuring his young side that all would be well.
Asked at that time how he felt about being a cricket team manager and a former head of the CIO, he replied: " As far as my appointment as team manager is concerned, there is nothing sinister. It has nothing to do with my past - I just love cricket."
So does his former boss. Mugabe is often seen sipping tea, eating cake and clapping at Harare Sports Club while revelling in the magical thwack of leather against willow. He once said: "I want all my young men to be gentlemen and play cricket."
Nevertheless, Mugabe’s ambition of hosting World Cup matches may yet be thwarted. The fixtures could still be switched at the very last moment, if the security situation in Zimbabwe deteriorates. In the meantime, Stannard continues to push the party line, commenting recently: "It is as safe here now as it ever has been." In a country such as Zimbabwe that isn’t saying much

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