KAPALKO: Cricket’s version of March Madness takes it way too far

Jamie Kapalko

It truly is March Madness.

Die-hard fans cheer for their favorite teams, celebrating wildly after victories.

One of the top four teams in the tournament gets knocked out in the first round by an out-of-nowhere underdog.

The coach of the losing team is brutally murdered hours after the loss, possibly by someone with a stake in his own team.

Have you figured out yet that I’m not talking about NCAA basketball?

The real March Madness this spring is the Cricket World Cup – and I don’t mean the fun, face-paint-and-tailgate kind of “Madness.” I mean the crazy, violent, jail-cell or straightjacket (ideally both) kind of “madness.”

Cricket is popular in nations like England, Australia, India and Pakistan. This year, two billion television viewers will watch the World Cup, and an estimated 100,000 fans will travel to the host islands of the West Indies for the tournament. Over $300 million have been spent on stadium construction. Most Americans wouldn’t recognize cricket if a bowler hit the wicket’s stumps and smacked their heads with the bails (got that?), but in much of the world, it’s huge.

For centuries, cricket was known as a gentleman’s game, based on courtesy and fair play. In the past half-century, however, it has been marked by the opposite of the values it once espoused. The International Cricket Council cancelled the 1996 World Cup semi-finals after fans rioted, lighting fires and hurling bottles at the players. Recently, players have been suspended for testing positive for banned substances. Particularly problematic is the prevalence of player bribery by gambling rings, including match- and spot-fixing. Match-fixing is the throwing of the outcome of an entire match by one player or team. Spot-fixing, comparable to the fixing of a player’s point or rebound total in basketball, is more common. Large amounts of money are often involved; in the 1990s, the captain of the South African team took a $100,000 bribe from gamblers and was caught and banned for life.

His coach at the time was a prominent figure in the sport named Bob Woolmer. Woolmer later became the head coach of the Pakistani team, which was also heavily involved in fixing scandals. His team, one of the best in the world, was one of the top seeds in this year’s World Cup, expected to last far into the tournament. The cricket world was shocked when the team lost to Ireland, the last-seeded team in their pool, in its first match. Fans were outraged, chanting, “Death to Woolmer, death to Pakistan,” after the devastating loss.

Whether they were serious or not, they got their wish. Woolmer was found strangled to death the next day in his hotel room. There was no sign of forced entry, which, coupled with the Pakistanis’ intense devotion to the sport, leads many to believe that someone close to the team committed the murder. All team members have submitted DNA and fingerprint samples to police.

Some insiders, however, believe the crime is more complex. Woolmer has not been shy about his opposition to cricket corruption, and many believe that he was preparing to expose a new scandal in the sport. His murder may have been an attempt to quiet it, although his family denies this rumor.

As college basketball fans, we think we take March Madness seriously. We update our brackets immediately. We laugh at losing players crying into their jerseys. We mope around when our predicted bracket winner is knocked out early, and we badmouth the coach whose team falls in untimely fashion.

But we don’t go to his hotel room in the middle of the night and strangle him. Alando Tucker did not throw the UNLV game for a hefty cash prize from a gang-sponsored gambling ring. I am fairly certain that no Villanova students lit the school on fire in protest of our first-round loss.

We love sports, but I am confident that most of us prefer our relatively tame March Madness to anything resembling the Cricket World Cup. We love when our favorite teams win, but we know that no matter how much we cheer or sob, it is a game. It is not a cause for riots. It is not a cause for murder.

I knew nothing about cricket before I heard the Bob Woolmer story, but I feel sad for the cricket world, anyway. Their sport was created around the values of sportsmanship and respect. American sports fans can relate; we may not have murder, but we have performance-enhancing drugs. We have ultra-competitive Little League parents. Like cricket, American sports are full of people who do not love the game. This is the root of the problem.

The theme song for the 2007 Cricket World Cup is called “The Game of Love and Unity.” We may wear different uniforms and root against each other, but sports bring us together. All fans – of basketball, football, cricket, everything – should take this to heart.


Jamie Kapalko is a sophomore English major from Belmar, N.J. She can be reached at [email protected].