A Lackluster Affair
THE Afro-Asia Cup is fast becoming another blip in the jam-packed schedule of world cricket, in its second season it already seems out of place. One may liken it to attending a third cousins wedding when showing up is all that matters, it has become the after dinner mint in the ever increasing buffet of world cricket where seemingly more is better. That is not the case.
The brainchild of the money minded Jagmohan Dalmiya, the Afro-Asian Cup was created to raise revenue for the Asian Cricket Council and the African Cricket Association. In an effort to raise the standard of the games, they somehow convinced the ICC to grant the matches full ODI status and with that the first real mess was created. Granting full status to games that are played with the intensity of benefit matches was a ludicrous decision, and it only served to lure the sponsors in. This year's installment proved to be problematic from the start, as firstly the big names all dropped out one by one and soon the sponsors followed. It was only ESPN-Star who saved the day as Nimbus Sports who originally owned the rights backed down at the last moment, claiming it did not continue to make financial sense to back the starless lackluster series.
In the end the series went on as planned without the big names of Shoaib Akhter, Chaminda Vaas and Sachin Tendulkar. The Asian IX was a good combination of youth and experience as the Africans put forward a sub-standard team which took even more of the gloss off an already jaded tournament. Before the "International" matches there was to be a one off 20/20 game.
The match was uneventful but Bangladesh had much to cheer about as four of their World Cup stars were included in the line up. Most of them performed against what could only be called an under cooked African team. After batting first Africa was bundled out for a paltry 109 as Mashrafee Mortaza and Abdur Razzak bowled beautifully on the lively M.Chinnaswamy track in Bangalore. Mortaza picked up two cheap wickets as Razzak proved to even more miserly and picked up a wicket to boot. Chasing down a small score Tamim Iqbal got stuck in relatively early as he blazed 30 off 22 balls and then characteristically fell attempting one shot too many. Mohammad Ashraful fell for 1 but a composed knock from Tillakaratne Dilshan guided the Asians home with ease.
The first ODI was to be played at the same stadium and Asia won the toss and elected to bat first. On a featherbed pitch they never looked under pressure as the African bowling was wayward and never built up sustainable pressure. Mahela Jayawardene and Mohammad Yousuf put together neat fifties without ever looking troubled and the inexperience in the African bowling was visible for all to see. The crowd never really got into the match and with consummate ease Asia ended their total on 317. The Africans got off to a rocky start as Mohammad Asif and Zaheer Khan ripped the heart out of the African batting line up at one point they were reduced to 87/7 and the game looked over even before it began. In walked Shaun Pollock and played the innings of a life time as he smote 130 runs off 110 balls. He was given able support from Chigumbura and Odoyo as he belted his way to within 34 runs of victory. In the end it was not enough but remarkably the last three wickets put on nearly 200 runs!
The second ODI was played in Chennai and the sapping heat proved to be a real damper as Asia won the toss again and elected to bat first. They continued to pile on the misery as everyone chipped in with a decent score, from a rapid fifty by Sehwag to fifties of note from Ganguly and Yousuf. The captain Jayawardene and Yuvrag Singh also made quick fire thirties to take the total to a commanding 337. The reply was far better than the first game as Dippenaar and Boucher imposed themselves on the game with two fifties which kept the African hopes alive. But when they fell any hopes of a competitive game went with them and only a 21 ball cameo from the last man Morkel took the score to over 300 as they wilted in the heat and under pressure.
In the final game of the series Asia won the toss and elected to bat first yet again in hot and humid conditions. With the series already decided this was supposed to be another fairly mundane game with everyone getting a bit of practice in. Asia were in for a shock as the African's bowled with gusto and reduced them to 72/5 in the 16th over. Then came a partnership of epic proportions as MS Dhoni and Jawayardene came together to rebuild the innings. The scored slowly and carefully at first and then having seen themselves in, opened up and showed their full repertoire of strokes. While Jayawardene was elegance personified Dhoni was gritty, combative and unpleasant on the eye. Yet both knocks were of the highest class as they put on 218 runs for the 6th wicket, a world record. Jayawardene scored 107 at better than a run a ball and Dhoni whacked his way to 139* of just 97 balls. They ended with an impressive 331 after being 72/5. Africa took the game to them as they tried their best to chase down the score, AB de Villiers slapped the bowling around for 70 quick runs but was then out done by the wily Mohammad Rafique who then picked up two in two balls. His bowling was accurate and nippy as he bowled with great control and was soon rewarded with another wicket. The innings went pear shaped from there and only a belligerent 86 from Justin Kemp kept Africa in the game. In the end his magnificent knock was not enough to save the game and Africa from a 3-0 whitewash.
The tournament was far from a success, and no doubt it will be played again but the real question is why? With one record being created this time around (that of the highest 6th wicket partnership) , its legality is seriously tainted. Where does the ICC go from here? For more money spinning cricketing ventures keep an eye on this space.
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