Afro-Asia Cup Twenty20

The first ever Twenty20 International to take place in India saw the Asia XI comfortably beat the Africa XI at M.Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.

Unfortunately, the game itself will be remembered more for this first than the standard and relevance of the cricket.

The Afro-Asia Cup has always had many critics with one main concern being that the format is a major departure from the traditional nation versus nation competition and that the teams are not a true representation of the best players from either continent. Today’s game provided more ammunition for the detractors.

For the ICC to take such a radical departure, for it to work and gain credibility, the games have to be executed in a fashion that means they cannot be ignored. This would require big names, playing a high level of cricket in exciting and competitive contests. None of these were on display tonight.

The teams read like a “Who’s Who of Ordinary Cricketers” with the African team being especially weak. Africa’s dominant cricketing nation, South Africa, provided only 4 of the 11 players and they only had a combined 13 International caps. The rest of the team was made up of players from Kenya and Zimbabwe that would be unknown to the casual cricket fan. The Asia XI was far stronger on paper but was also devoid of ‘star’ players apart from the popular inclusion of Shahid Afridi. In fact only one of the Asia XI (Shoaib Malik) averages over 30 with the bat in One Day International cricket.

There was little to separate this game and the hundreds of charity, exhibition and benefit games that are played around the World.

There were two other aspects of the game that were far more interesting than the cricket. These were the terrible standard of umpiring (including strange 3rd umpire decisions, and Sreesanth being called for a wide when the ball passed between the stumps and the batsmans pads) and the awful uniforms the Asia XI wore. The Asia XI uniform had a grey front and this and showed perspiration and exaggerated it to the point that it made the Asian players look like they all had a medical condition.

One bright note was the newly laid pitch at M.Chinnaswamy Stadium which offered good pace and carry for the pace bowlers and was sporting enough to encourage bowlers of all types. With this in mind Asia XI captain, Shoaib Malik, decided to bowl first when he won the toss.

The early overs were always going to be important as the Africa XI opened with their only two experienced professional cricketers. If Africa were to post a competitive total then Gulam Bodi and Loots Bosman would have to build a substantial foundation. However, Bodi was a victim of his own aggression and he holed out off Sreesanth for 12. This opened up the inexperienced and fragile Africa XI batting lineup to a bowling attack that was taking advantage of the conditions. Wickets continued to fall at a steady rate and Mashrafe Mortaza was the pick of the Asian bowlers. After the Bodi dismissal, Bosman watched from the non-strikers end as all the other African batsmen failed to reach double figues. Particularly disappointing was the highly touted, young, Kenyan that captained the Africa XI. Instead of impressing, Tanmay Mishra seemed to be trying to see how well he could bat without moving his feet. The answer was ‘not very’. Bosman was the only African that looked comfortable at this level and to the joy of the crowd he took a particular liking to the bowling of Afridi. Bosman finished with 52 off 55 balls and Africa would have been lost without him.

In reply to the pedestrian African total of 109, the Asia XI started shakily. The young, South African fast bowler, Morne Morkel, was impressive and he generated good pace and bounce from the surface. Unfortunately, given the difference in quality between the two teams an upset was never a realistic possibility.

Tamim Iqbal started aggressively in the chase of the meager African total but he saw three wickets fall at the other end, before he himself was dismissed for 30 off 22 balls. At 61-4, and a number of batsmen to come, there was little chance of Asia losing the game. With victory looking an easy proposition, the crowd turned their attention to wanting one more wicket to fall to bring Shahid Afridi to the crease. However, it was not to be and the crowd was left disappointed in this regard as Dilshan, in partnership with Shoaib Malik, brought the game home in a comfortable fashion. Tillakaratne Dilshan finished on 47 not out off 36 balls and he played with class and composure.

Dilshan also provided a moment of contrast when he batted bareheaded against the medium pacers and the spinners. In this ultra-modern format that is Twenty20 it was charming to see the throwback of a player batting without a helmet or hat.

The Asia XI reached their target with 4.1 overs to spare and the generous Indian crowd celebrated.

Throughout the game the crowd had built and by the end there was a substantial attendance and great atmosphere. We can but wonder what the crowd would have been like if there had been real entertainment on offer.

Africa XI 109-8
Loots Bosman 52
Mashrafe Mortaza 2-17, S Sreesanth 2-26

Asia XI won by 6 wickets

Asia XI 110-4
Tillakaratne Dilshan 47*, Tamim Iqbal 30
Nehemiah Odhiambo 2-21

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