By Hannes Bez 22/08/05
The recently launched series pitting Africa against Asia reminds me of birthday parties from my childhood.
You remember those, right?
Everyone in class got a cute little personalised invite hastily scribbled by someone’s mother. On the happy day, the twenty or so saps that arrived were ushered inside to praise the deity known as the Birthday Boy or Girl for three hours while their mothers had tea and biscuits. Then they were unceremoniously shoved out, a consolation bag of treats and the complimentary slice of cake shoved in their palms on the way out the door.
Children having fun was only a coincidental byproduct of these parties. The real issue was how much loot the Birthday Boy or Girl happened to rake in. The smart ones always invited every class member in their grade. That way, by the end of the day, they could have as much as 30 to 40 presents. A beautiful scam, don’t you think? And it worked every time!
Likewise, the Afro-Asia Cup is a hollow ceremony geared to putting money in the Birthday Boy’s pocket. It is a sham, a decoy, a monstrosity of a tournament that has no right being on the international schedule. The Cup, of course, is meant to support junior cricket across Asia and Africa – that is, once all “tournament expenses” have been met. Jagmohan Dalmiya, the main driving force behind the tournament is already a rich man leading a rich council (the ACC), but, as they say, the rich get richer.
Some might argue that Dalmiya did not get the television deals that he expected. This is true. However, if the idea wasn’t as financially delectable as Dalmiya first thought, why did he press ahead regardless? Clearly, as the brain behind the proposal and head of the organising committee, Dalmiya recognised the possible windfalls this pet-project could provide still outweighed any negatives.
While it is easy to find fault with Dalmiya, the real problem is the assistance he received from the International Cricket Council. As usual, the ICC didn’t dare climb out of the pockets of those financial powers that continue to rule the game. It gave the proposed Cup its blessing without any protest, by anointing the matches with full official ODI status. This, despite a packed international schedule and recent debate over the validity of giving the Rest of the World XI matches full international status. It also ignored the fact New Zealand would be touring Zimbabwe during the tournament, making the latter’s participation impossible. This further dilutes the tiny talent-pool available to African selectors trying to create a truly representative African team, rather than another South Africa ‘A’ squad.
The first match in the series exposed the Cup for the farce it was always going to be. Played in the midst of the South African winter in front of less than 1000 spectators, the highveld grass had to be spray-painted green to lend the match any semblance of credibility. The scores were close, but nobody cared, and that, if nothing else, is the clearest condemnation of this “birthday party”.
As frustrating as this series is for genuine cricket lovers, one cannot help but feel disappointed by the missed opportunity. Here was a chance to truly expand the game in the best way possible – by giving amateur players the chance to compete with the best cricket has to offer, with the substantial prize-money divided amongst the participating nations.
The ideal solution would have been to sign up three or four big-name volunteers from each side. I imagine nice guys like Shaun Pollock and Rahul Dravid wouldn’t deny such a proposal. Around this core, the selectors should’ve picked the best and brightest from the ICC affiliates in the two regions. Teams like Zambia, Uganda, UAE, and even China and Papua New Guinea (which is almost Asian) would’ve received massive benefits from such a project, both financially and, more importantly, in terms of player experience.
In addition, the tournament would be staged at a more viable venue. My suggestion is Bangladesh, whose cricket-rabid fans would’ve ensured sold-out stadiums, easy television coverage, and pitches that don’t need chemical revival – although a bit of landscaping may still be in order at Chittagong Stadium.
You see, this way, Dalmiya could’ve kept his birthday presents and all the kids could’ve had some fun too. Unfortunately, all we’re left with are empty treat bags and more fuel to add to the ICC bonfire. The Afro-Asian Cup was never a bad idea. Sadly, it’s the thought that counts, and no thoughts count when Jagmohan throws his own birthday party.