Some big names have been left out of the cup this year do you think it will lessen the quality of the cricket to much.In 2001, when cricket was embroiled in possibly its biggest crisis ever, the Condon Report into corruption and match-fixing in the game was issued. One of its recommendations was that essentially meaningless, or 'dead', matches should be kept to an absolute minimum. The rationale was simple, the less importance a match has, the more open it is likely to be to match-fixing.
For a couple of years this was generally adhered to, as the exhibition matches and tournaments in places like Sharjah and Toronto were dropped, but after 2003 Lord Condon and his Anti-Corruption Committee disappeared off the cricketing map. The ICC arbitrarily claimed that the match-fixing threat had been all but eradicated, and the trials of 2001 are a distant memory.
Yet this week sees the return of the most fatuous and reviled tournament in the ICC's chequered history. The Afro-Asia Cup first reared its ugly head in August 2005 in South Africa, hardly the ideal time for cricket in a cold and barren Highveld. For the South Africans it was little more than a warm-up for their domestic season, for the Asian players it represented a trip that most would have preferred not to have made - yet more international matches crammed into an already packed season.
The concept in itself seems a poor one: the cricketing powerhouses of the Asian subcontinent pitted against an African side which could draw on players from South Africa and, well, that's about it actually. Of the 17 players who turned out for the African team in 2005, 13 were South African, complimented by two Kenyan veterans and a pair of disgruntled Zimbabweans. Since then Zimbabwe have gone backwards at an alarming rate and Kenya are treading water. South Africa v Asia anyone?
The 'Super Series' matches of 2005 proved, as if proof was needed, that players' desire and drive to win is greatly decreased when they are not representing their country. A disinterested 'World XI were rolled over by Australia in a series of matches which rivalled the Afro-Asia Cup for most pointless event of the year.
So what does anyone gain from the Afro-Asia Cup? For the players, the motivation to succeed is greatly reduced, likely resulting in a lack of competition. For the fans there is little incentive to watch the games, especially with the Asian side shorn of major names like Sachin Tendulkar, Shoaib Ahktar and Lasith Malinga. The fans can also be excused for a lack of enthusiasm, after all, Africa-Asia rivalry isn't exactly England v Australia or India v Pakistan.
Indisputably, the people who gain from such a soulless series of matches are the administrators and board chiefs. Each board will make a tidy profit from any match featuring their players, so they have every incentive to organise as many matches as they can. If there's an audience, no matter how small, then there's money to be made, and who can really blame them for trying to maximise their income? If only it wasn't the cricket that loses out.
There is merit in an Africa v Asia contest, but not as a money-making venture. The big names should be allowed to stay at home, and a number of young players could be picked from the likes of Nepal, Malaysia, Namibia and Kenya. Supplement that with some promising young talent from the Test nations and you have a tournament which, while not a great money-spinner, will benefit cricket at grass roots in all the countries. Advocates of the current structure will claim that the revenue gained from the series is ploughed back into state cricket in each country, but little evidence of that is forthcoming.
Tuesday's Twenty20 match is a step in the right direction for Africa at least, with no fewer than five Kenyans in an XI captained by the talented young Tanmay Mishra. They'll more than likely get hammered, but at least it's a team representative of African cricket. Don't hold your breath for much excitement in the subsequent One Day' Internationals', however.
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