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Rediff.com  » Cricket » Afro-Asia Cup: History in the making

Afro-Asia Cup: History in the making

August 19, 2005 16:19 IST

"All that glitters is gold."

It is the slogan that goes with the official Mandela Coin, minted to celebrate the 130th anniversary of South Africa's first gold coin as well as 10 years of democracy.

While the politicians are equating gold with its rich and often bloodied history, the cricket administrators are hoping it would pave the way for a greener future for the game and more gold in return.

The inaugural edition of the Afro-Asia Cup kicked off on Wednesday to empty stands on a winter day in Johannesburg but the brains behind the concept firmly believe that "it is history in the making."

Dubbed as made-for-television, the series pits the two continental teams, with players drawn from their respective one-day international playing countries.

The opening match at the Wanderers proved to be some kind of a pot-boiler with the hosts winning by two runs.

Most of the thrill, at the sight of the fast ball darting off the seaming pitch and beating the bat, might have been vicarious pleasure because the grounds were hardly at their best and true conditions.

Hastily planned in the off-season, with title sponsors found only four days before the start, the tournament has had its critics.

Contravening the game's tradition of pitting two countries against each other has been openly pointed out, and the strengthening of the vote bank in the ICC secretly.

But all such talk has been summarily dismissed as rubbish.

"Africa and Asia are two continents of similar backgrounds and missions. They share the same socio-economic situation. In the case of cricket, cricket was played by the elite before it became a game of the masses. And we need to develop it further. There is so much to be done that there is no time for politics," said Peter Chingoka, chairman of the African Cricket Association.

Referring to the game featuring two continents as against the convention of two countries, Chingoka said new ideas are needed to further the game.

"That's what somebody would have said about the Ryder's Cup [golf]," the Zimbabwean said.

"When someone first thought of it, people would have said 'he must be crazy'. But now if they don't have it on  the calendar, you wonder why they didn't have it.

"There is no point in sitting and talking over a cup of coffee. You open up and bring other people in, the game gets bigger and better.

"It was inconceivable that we have 20,000 people on day one. We have got to start somewhere. We have made a start and its a long journey."

ACA's acting chief executive officer Cassim Suliman said his continent is the fastest growing region in cricket with more and more countries taking upto it.

And he said the game could prove to be the much needed distraction for the region's youth, turning them away from guns and bombs.

"Africa is bleeding ... from war and genocide. Cricket can turn them. It has given them a chance to live, hope and courage," he said.

Suliman, whose great great-grand parents hailed from Gujarat, must know. A sixth generation Indian-origin citizen, Suliman is a key figure in the South African cricket and has held many posts in the Cricket Board.

He was a Director of Cricket South Africa until resigning recently, and still the CEO of Easterns Cricket Association.

As one who grew up in the apartheid era, he played an active role in thwarting the rebel tours in the 1970s and 1980s.

Naturally, he stresses on the humane aspect of sport.

"It is about building relations, making new friends. It is a very positive thing. This is history in the making," he said.

Suliman believes the response for the event will go up as it progressed.

"It is correct that this is not the right season [for cricket], particularly in Johannesburg in the winter. But to see 5,000 people come and watch the game on Wednesday, a working day in South Africa, is a miracle. I am sure there are going to be many more on Saturday and Sunday and then you will know the enthusiasm for the game in South Africa."

Both Suliman and Chingoka talked about ambitious plans for the game in Africa.

Cricket co-ordinators in four regions of the continent would be appointed soon to conceive and implement programmes for the development of players, coaches, umpires and infrastructure.

The Asian angle would come in sharing talent and resources, having tours with teams visiting from both the sides.

Curiously, the administrators have not thought about the Afro-Asia Cup beyond 2007. At present, there are plans only for three years with Asia to host the event next year, and Africa again the following year.

"After that, we will see how it had progressed. We will go back to the drawing board and see if we had achieved what we set about, whether it had been good or bad, whether it is worth it," Suliman said.

"You will never know how good is something unless you test it. We are testing it now."

 

K Kumaraswamy in Durban
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