CRICKET World Cup RIP. It is hard to know whether to feel more sorry for England, South Africa or the game itself after politics, the weather and poor organisation have reduced the tournament to a shambles.

Even allowing for the lamentable fact that we could watch it only on Sky, this should have been cricket's chance to counter the monopoly of football. But from England's point of view it never took off, while the hosts are left in the unenviable position of trying to attract crowds to Super Six matches involving Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Perhaps it will be good for the game in those two countries, and we shouldn't begrudge Zimbabwe anything at the moment. But from a competitive point of view most of the nine matches in the Super Sixes, spanning nine days, will be a waste of time.

Yet because of the ridiculous format, whereby points are carried forward from the group matches, Kenya could be thrashed out of sight in all three Super Six games and still reach the semi-finals. To deny them, New Zealand must beat either Australia or India.

Upsets are good for sport, but for three of the top six one-day sides to fail to reach the Super Sixes is a travesty for this competition. Politics aside, the event has suffered from having too many teams, meaning reserve days have not been scheduled for rain-affected matches, while day/night matches have been decided on the toss of the coin.

Nasser Hussain has done the honourable thing in stepping down as one-day captain as he is not an especially good limited overs batsman and in this form of cricket there is not such a high premium on leadership skills.

But it is impossible not to sympathise with him as he must feel that everything has conspired against him. First there was the Robert Mugabe factor, then came extraordinary performances from Ashish Nehra and Andy Bichel, and still England would have gone through had the weather allowed Pakistan to beat Zimbabwe on Tuesday. Rain in Bulawayo is a rare phenomenon.

Yet South Africa must be even more gutted, especially after the agony of going out in that tied semi-final against Australia four years ago. This time they tied again under the Duckworth/Lewis calculations when rain ended their decisive match against Sri Lanka with five overs left. One more run and the hosts would have been through.

Hussain may well be England's best captain since Mike Brearley, but his two biggest gambles of the winter had disastrous results. The first was to ask Australia to bat first in the first Test and the second was to saddle James Anderson with bowling the penultimate over last Sunday.

He felt the youngster's variation offered a better bet than Andrew Caddick's more predictable fare. But after putting England firmly in the box seat with his four early wickets it seemed ridiculous that Caddick was left with an over unused. If he's not suitable to bowl at the death he should have bowled straight through his ten overs and perhaps taken another wicket.

Well as Michael Bevan played, England were beaten by Bichel, who wouldn't even have played had Jason Gillespie been fit. Were Bichel a racehorse there would have been a stewards' inquiry into his vastly-improved performance.

Now, no doubt, he'll revert to being an also-ran, while the thoroughbred Aussies gallop to the title, leaving we mortified English cricket-lovers with the miniscule consolation that we came far closer than anyone else to beating them.

JUST as England declined to go to Zimbabwe, the Japan High Schools rugby team has cancelled a tour to England because of the threat of war in Iraq, and Tiger Woods has opted out of the Dubai Desert Classic for the same reason.

Sport exists partly to offer an escape from reality, but international competition is clearly suffering in these safety-conscious times. Or perhaps in the case of Woods he no longer has any need of his large appearance fee at Dubai. Judging by the stories emanating from Las Vegas about his astronomical gambling losses he already has far more money than he knows what to do with.

NO sporting event, not even Formula One, can be quite so sullied by money as yachting's America's Cup. It has been hailed as a magnificent triumph that landlocked Switzerland has just won it, but the deed was achieved by billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli signing up former New Zealand skipper Russell Coutts plus five other Kiwis. The Swiss now have to find somewhere to stage their defence of the trophy, and I don't think Lake Geneva will be quite big enough.

AS football continues to reduce all other sports to minority pursuits, can I be alone in wondering if pressure was brought to bear on the top clubs to take the League Cup seriously this season? With Worthington's sponsorship coming to an end a new backer is required and a high profile Liverpool v Man United final certainly wouldn't do any harm in attracting one.

Published: 07/03/2003