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ODIs: A futile exercise?

The finals lived up to the expectations : Pakistan defeated a defiant Bangladesh in a thriller and lifted the Asia Cup for the second time. For the hosts, it proved to be a tournament where they showed the world that they can more than just compete. The enthusiasm of the crowd, possibly rejuvenated by the recently concluded Bangladesh Premier League, ensured that the stadiums remained filled and the sponsors laughed their way to the banks. But despite the success of the championship, one cant help but ask, was it all worth it?

Rahul Dravid in his memorable Bradman oration had urged the cricket world to cut down on meaningless one-dayers but the cash hungry cricket boards paid no heed. Apart from academic interest, the hastily scheduled four way tournament, with each team playing against each other just once, served little. Had it not been for Sachin Tendulkar‘s much awaited hundredth hundred, the tournament would have hardly been remembered one year down the line. In fact, such was the irrelevance of the event that Tendulkar getting selected instead of being rested made headlines.

The first edition of the Asia Cup was held way back in 1984 in Sharjah. Back then, India were newly crowned World Champions and India and Pakistan had won the rights to host the next World Cup jointly and the Asia Cup served as a platform for the Asian bloc to make its presence felt. With Sri Lanka and Bangladesh coming through the ranks, the championship also promoted the game in the subcontinent.

But now, more than 25 years later, squeezing out dates to schedule the eleven day event between the same four teams makes little sense. While India and Sri Lanka came back from a grueling summer in Australia, Pakistan had just ‘hosted’ England in UAE. Even the hosts Bangladesh were a bit jaded after their own blockbuster, the Bangladesh Premier League. The history of the championship also proves that it is not rated highly among its participants.The volatile nature of South Asian politics meant that the game got affected in a big way and pull outs and tournament cancellations have become a passing thing. The big boys India and Pakistan (in 1986 and in 1990 respectively) have skipped the event once, clearly signalling that their priority lies elsewhere.

In such a scenario, it would have been much more fruitful had the Asian associate members of ICC been allowed to compete with the Test playing nations. The matches involving the likes of Afghanistan, Hong Kong or United Arab Emirates would not have made the kind of revenues the tournament eventually did, but looking at the bigger picture, taking cricket into newer territories would have been a greater gain. Not only would the associate members have got a chance to rub their shoulders along with the big names in world cricket, it could also have served ICC as a barometer to measure how well the non Test playing nations are improving.

The next Asia Cup is scheduled to be hosted by Sri Lanka in 2014. Going by the present trend, its hard to imagine how relevant Test cricket will be then. With just nine teams playing the purest form of the game, cricket remains one of the most unknown games in the globe, struggling for its identity. Before it gets too late, the office bearers need to realize that saving the future of the game should be their top priority.

Hopefully, couple of summers hence, the Asian Cricket Council would have become wiser and willing to look beyond the revenues.

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