Dubai: Every World Cup produces its share of memorable moments, but some off-the-field moment can give us nightmares too. As one gears up to cover yet another ICC Cricket World Cup, many such incidents from the past come flooding back to my mind.
The most unforgettable and tragic one is the death of Pakistan team coach Bob Woolmer during the 2007 World Cup in West Indies. Woolmer had joined the Pakistan team bound for West Indies after he had conducted a short coaching camp for youngsters in Dubai.
Before the opening ceremony, we had a long chat when we met in West Indies in Montego Bay where the team stayed. A few days later, when Woolmer was found dead in the bathroom of his hotel room in Kingston, we were numb with shock. It was an uphill task chasing this story in the following days since a number of versions about his death kept surfacing — starting from the theory that it was a murder, suicide and a heart attack. The mystery still remains, but what I will never forget is his smiling face when I bid goodbye to him before I left Montego Bay, a face that exuded warmth and positivity.
Then there was this episode when Shane Warne was tested positive for a banned drug during the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. It was only two days into the World Cup and I had arrived for Australia’s match against Pakistan in Johannesburg. After that incident, it was a mad chase trying to get details about this. Australian Cricket Board’s chief executive officer James Sutherland announced through a press conference that Warne was tested positive for a diuretic on samples he had provided in Sydney and that he was being sent home.
It was later revealed that Warne tested positive since he had taken a flu-prevention medication, but was banned for one year. The spin maverick then justified that he had taken the medication to treat a shoulder dislocation of his bowling arm. He was also heard saying that the tablet was given by his mother to get rid of his double chin so that he would look good in front of the camera.
While reporting this incident, I was also reminded of another Warne incident during the 1999 World Cup when he had stated that cricket would be better off without the then Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga.
The ICC had fined Warne and also handed him a two-match suspension. Warne was then the vice-captain of the Australian team.
In 2007 West Indies World Cup, another vice-captain fell into trouble. England vice-captain Andrew Flintoff, after their opening game against Sri Lanka, got drunk and fell off a boat at night in St Lucia. He was removed as vice-captain and banned for one match. Five other England players: namely James Anderson, Liam Plunkett, Jon Lewis, Ian Bell and wicketkeeper Paul Nixon, who visited the nightclub with him, were also fined. The incident, since then, has came to be known as the ‘Fredalo’ incident.
In the 2015 World Cup, soon after I reported the Pakistan-West Indies match, Pakistan’s chief selector Moin Khan who visited a casino after the match was sent home by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Though Khan had not conducted any breach of discipline, his presence in a casino created a huge uproar in Pakistan where gambling is considered illegal.
The 2011 World Cup did not produce any off-field controversies. However, just as everyone was getting ready to flash the news on who would bat first in the India-Sri Lanka match, confusion over the toss occurred.
Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni threw the coin up and Sri Lankan skipper Sangakkara called what Dhoni thought was ‘tails’.
As the coin landed ‘heads’, Dhoni promptly told commentator Ravi Shastri that India would bat first. When match referee Jeff Crowe said he did not hear Sangakkara’s call, the toss was deemed null and void.
Off-field dramas are bound to happen again but as long as they don’t tarnish the image of the game, one can look forward to an eventful World Cup!