July 29, 2000

Rest of the World Triumph in Wonderful Festival of Cricket

A crowd of 17,500, most of them British Asians, basked in glorious sunshine at the Oval Saturday, to watch the Rest of the World edge out Asia in a tightly fought contest. The match, the brainchild of former Prime Minister and Surrey stalwart John Major, was an attempt to raise funds for further developments to the Oval. The capacity crowd did not just see an exhibition match: they saw a tightly fought contest go down to the wire, only for the World to triumph by 15 runs.

Whilst many were disappointed that Sachin Tendulkar was ruled out of the Asian side due to an untimely bout of chicken-pox, those who watched the match will be delighted that they made the effort.

The Rest of the World won the toss and elected to bat. Batting in England is a very different prospect to batting in Dhaka, and runs were always going to be hard to come by. The Asian openers, Wasim Akram and Javagal Srinath turned the screw, nipping out the World's openers with the score on only 16. Nasser Hussain and Nathan Astle launched a recovery mission, putting on 97 in fine style. Both men looked intent on attacking, and both pulled square with a great deal of force. Hussain lost his head: having lofted Chopra into the stands for a big six, he tried to repeat the feat, only to see the ball drop into Kumble's hands at long on. Astle reached his half century, but was removed by a brilliant Saqlain, mystifying the Kiwi batsman with his `magic ball.'

With Thorpe going quickly, and a brief flurry between Stuart Law and Chris Cairns stopped by the Pakistani spin-wizard, it was left for Ben Hollioake and Heath Streak to put some respectability in the Rest of the World's total. Hollioake crashed 23 from 16 balls, lofting his Surrey team mate Saqlain into the stands, whilst Streak's cameo of 17 took 16 balls, as the World closed on 219.

Asia set about the Rest of the World straight away. Though Courtney Walsh was impeccable as always, Streak struggled against an onslaught from Aravinda de Silva, which saw the little man pull and drive with such timing and apparent lack of effort that it leaves one to wonder just why he is not playing for the Lankans at the moment. De Silva made 35 when a leading edge saw him caught and bowled by the excellent Chris Cairns.

Mohammad Azharuddin too gave a glimpse of old, and he worked the ball to the leg side with masterful skill, using the bat like a wand when he decided to change line and drive through the covers. Ajay Jadeja too, looked a picture, with three crafted off side fours.

Sadly for Asia, these knocks were only cameos. Azhar was caught behind by Stewart, whilst Jadeja was run out thanks to a 70 metre direct hit from Streak's catapult arm. Wickets were tumbling far too quickly for Asia's liking. Wasim came and went, and it was left to Nikhil Chopra and Anil Kumble to try and see Asia home. Chopra was underway with a scorching hook, then lifted Neil Johnson straight for the biggest six of the day. With Kumble swinging merrily outside off, the pendulum swung toward Asia once more. Chris Cairns however, got rid of Chopra, and when Mullally rearranged the stumps of first Kumble then Saqlain, the game was all but gone. It was too tall an order for Prasad, and he missed a swipe at Cairns, the Rest of the World completed a 15 run victory. Saturday's game was played in a terrific atmosphere, with a result that barely mattered. The crowd saw everything that is good in cricket, particularly ironic as three of the days star players have match fixing allegations hanging over them. A sobering thought to what was an otherwise very fine day.