In his famous piece about the Kasparov versus Karpov chess match - one of the most vicious and destructive of all 'sporting' encounters, which lasted an entire winter and almost destroyed Karpov's mental and physical health - Martin Amis noted that cheating, or at least gamesmanship, was more than possible, even in a board game.
'Sit your opponent with the sun in his eyes' said one player; another smoked 'a particularly noxious cigar' at the board; another let his cats weave around the place on the off-chance that his opponent would have an allergy. Boris Spassky once messed with Korchnoi's mind by spending the entire match in a curtained booth on the stage, emerging only to make his move. When he did appear, he wore an off-putting sun-visor.
The point is that when things get intense, it doesn't take much to ratchet up the pressure even more. I thought of those things when I saw Shoaib's boots in Pakistan's first game - pure white they were, with long tongues that flopped up and down under the brilliant green of his trousers. What a sight he was, too, sweating like a boilerman from ball one, rolling from side to side with the effort of his charge to the crease. Still quick though, and cunning with it.
On closer inspection of the boots today against Sri Lanka, they have 'S.A. 100.2 mph' embroidered on them in red stitching. Superb. He even took one off and replaced it with another style of boot entirely. He's only just warming up, be sure of that.
For me, Shoaib's been the star of the World Cup so far. Pakistan look up for it. They'll probably lose the next one by about 300 runs, but they're dangerous.
So is Sreesanth, the other candidate for man of the tournament up to now. 'Everyone played well, except Sreesanth' said Sehwag after India's opening win. He was then told to stop irritating his team-mates. Yesterday in the nets, he hit Yuvraj on the helmet with a beamer.
The World Cup is up and creaking. In about a month, it might even get good.
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