Another one bites the dust

ALEC Stewart has been the first casualty of the World Cup, his axing being the first indicator that the English selectors actually thought they had a chance of making some progress in the competition beyond the first stage. A bit ambitious that, for despite all the hope vested in the team, they were really nothing more than an outside chance. In any case, at 35, Stewart could have expected a couple more years at the helm at the most. He may well be back in the team as wicket-keeper again.

Probably part of the expectation stemmed from the performances on the last tour Down Under when the team was even rated good enough to win back the Ashes. That did not eventuate but some of the younger elements went home with enhanced reputations. It does not pay to hope for miracles, not in English cricket . There is some kind of malaise within the system and until that is eradicated the Poms will continue to play the way they have over the last few years -- flattering, only to deceive.

It is anybody's guess as to who the second casualty will be. Rumours have been flying hither and thither about Arjuna Ranatunge, with more than one newspaper report speculating that the Sri Lankan captain will pay for the unceremonious exit which the team made from the World Cup. Some say he and Aravinda de Silva will be around as players, other reports seem to indicate that their days as international cricketers are over. I have the feeling that Ranatunge will go only on his own terms, probably after the series against Australia in September. Aravinda may well have a few more years of cricket left in him.

The other captains whose heads seem to be on the chopping block are Wasim Akram and Mohammed Azharuddin. The reasons for Wasim's position are too well known to be outlined: he has denied rumours of his reported retirement from international cricket but in Pakistan cricket anything can happen overnight. The reaction in Pakistan to the World Cup defeat seems a bit over the top; conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen in the country and every little thing is attributed to this or that sinister force. In these circumstances, it would be interesting to see what the Qayyum commission produces.

The team would have been spared a lot of heartache had the panel released its report before the World Cup. There was tremendous pressure on the players due to this, with the report hanging over their heads like kind of Damocles sword. Politics plays too much of a role in cricket and that is one of the main reasons why the team seems to swing from a high to an absolute low.

Imran Khan's reaction to the setting up of an inquiry into the World Cup loss has been more political than anything else; the former Pakistan captain has taken the opportunity to shoot as many barbs as possible at the country's politicians. This is not surprising, given that Imran fancies himself as some kind of saviour of Pakistan. Of course, whether all this blabber will ensure that he wins even a single seat in the Pakistan parliament remains to be seen; last time, he had nothing to show after a lot of bold talk.

And now to the other man who must be feeling the heat. If Azhar has any inkling that he is to be replaced, it is very likely that he will retire. He has had a couple of stints as skipper, seen enough of the game, piled away enough moolah for the next few generations and probably will not want to take the humiliation of being demoted again. The question is, if not him, who will be given the reins? Ajay Jadeja? Or will the selectors deem Sachin Tendulkar mature enough to take on the reins again? Rahul Dravid looks like an excellent long-term prospect to me but then he is from the south and that means that he will need a sponsor in the selection panel to make any headway in the captaincy stakes.

All this means that cricket boards around the world take the World Cup seriously. That does not make sense to me. The way most teams approach it, one-day cricket is essentially a gamble and the fortunes of a Test player should not be decided based on a couple of games in coloured garb. And vice versa. Unfortunately, the mandarins who run the game think otherwise.