Amateurs find the going rough
Karachi hasn't taken very warmly to the one-sided first round of the Asia Cup. While the Pakistan-Hong Kong match on the first day managed to draw around 100 spectators, the encounter between India and Hong Kong couldn't even manage that. Security guards, present in each stand of the ground, outnumbered the few who ventured to watch. But even those guards couldn't do anything but watch in silence, as India slaughtered the Lambs in Red.
Neither is it a good idea to throw minnows in the same cage as Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, and opening with military-medium bowlers who send down length deliveries make it a no-contest. As Sehwag and Gambhir toyed with Hong Kong as they would a Ranji second XI, India got their fastest first 100 in an ODI - in 10.5 overs, their previous best being the 100 in 11 overs against Bangladesh in the 1997 Asia Cup.
After Hong Kong pulled things back with three quick wickets, giving away only 47 in a 15-over spell, thanks to some stifling bowling from their left-arm spinners, Suresh Raina took this opportunity to score his first international century - in his 40th ODI. Along the way, he launched an outrageous assault in the second half of his innings, scoring 50 in 16 balls, which included five sixes and three fours. He hit sixes with the ease he batted with against Orissa in the Ranji season-opener last season. He also scored the second-fastest century by an Indian, the quickest being Mohammad Azharuddin's against New Zealand in 1988.
Raina's celebrations at reaching the century might not suit one scored against Hong Kong, but it was his first, and a much overdue one. He felt the pressure all this while; failing to deliver much despite the obvious promise. Whenever he has looked good, he has thrown his wicket going for an ambitious stroke. Although a century against Hong Kong doesn't mean a lot, repeating something is always easier than doing it for the first time.
Tabarak Dar, Hong Kong's captain, said yesterday, after having lost to Pakistan, they were a team of amateurs and it was tough playing professionals. Packed with players not originating from Hong Kong, the only purpose served by the Asia Cup would be showing them first-hand the gulf between them and the rest of the cricketing world.
Back home they play all their cricket on matting wickets, and astro outfields. Most of their players are students, part-time coaches, and other professionals. While the concept of spreading the game is well-argued, the administrators need to rethink the policy of packing an event they want to see become more prestigious with as many minnows as regular opponents. And will it not help Associate countries more if money was spent to improve the game at the infrastructure level rather than throw them to the slaughter? Hong Kong tried to practise in actual cricketing conditions before the start of the Asia Cup but were not afforded that luxury by the ACC. Such embarrassments will only demoralise them further.
In the end India came out "ruthless" and did all the things well, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni commented after the game. To go with the earlier-mentioned records, India made the highest score in Asia Cup, and registered the second-biggest win in one-day cricket, falling short by one run of the 257-run drubbing they handed Bermuda in the 2007 World Cup. But they know these numbers will count for little when they meet Pakistan tomorrow, or just as much as the 140-run win over Pakistan in Dhaka mattered the next time they met them in the final.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo