May 15, 2006

Cricket's wafer-thin mint

The greed of cricket's administrators in relation to the Afro-Asia Cup
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Muttiah Muralitharan appeals as the Durban crowd goes wild during the 2005 tournament © AFP
I once owned a dog that would happily have eaten itself to death had it had been allowed to. Right through his adult life he devoured his daily meals with same voracity a wild dog would employ on a freshly caught rabbit. He ate as though he had not been fed for weeks yet it was all we could to stop him devouring the garden, from logs to garden furniture. And he wasn't fussy. You should have seen him tackle a fresh pile of horse droppings.

He always reminded me of that great Monty Python sketch where the world's fattest man is dining in a French restaurant and consumes a mountain of the richest food available, everything from foie gras to duck breast and truffles. Just as it appears he couldn't possibly fit anything else into his distended and bloated body, he insists: "Just one more, wafer-thin mint..."

As he slips the after-dinner mint into his mouth and starts chewing his entire body explodes in an eruption of vomit, fat and half consumed food - and diced carrots, too, no doubt. It is both funny and disgusting in equal measure, which is the whole point.

After-dinner mints seem to have gone out of fashion in recent years (at least in South Africa, anyway) but I recently spotted one in the strangest and most unlikely of places. On the ICC Future Tours Schedule!

At first I missed it completely because it's the thinnest thing on all six pages, but a second glance confirmed the reality...the Afro-Asia Cup is alive and well!

Apart from a week spent by New Zealand in Scotland during their 2008 tour of England, it appears to be the only single week event on the ICC calendar. Even the Asia Cup and the Twenty 20 World Championship have been allocated a fortnight. But there they are, sitting innocently in the second week of November this year and first week of June 2007, the words "Afro Asia."

This giant of inter-continental sporting rivalry has not, in fact, perished from cold having been born in the middle of the South African winter last year. The two Highveld grounds had to spray-paint their dead outfields green to convince Indian television audiences that it was perfectly normal to play cricket in August, but that does not mean the tournament lost or even lacked credibility. Apparently.

The 'African' team was weakened from its potential strength by the inclusion of players from Kenya and Zimbabwe and the players from both sides treated the tournament like a working holiday. Well, sort of working...

Last August I so infuriated the organisers of the series with comments about the validity of the Afro-Asia Cup (most notably the ICC's decision to confer full ODI status on games of absolutely no consequence thus ignoring the advice of their very own security unit who suggested that such games were ripe for match-fixing and corruption) that they banned me from the media box.

Such tactics rarely work, of course, and I was reinstated so at least I had someone to talk to. The stands were very lonely places. So I made an appointment to see Jagmohan Dalmiya during the third match in Durban and we had plenty of time to chat because it rained for much of the match. As it does during winter.

He convinced me that raising money for the development of the game throughout Africa and Asia was a good thing - as was the money donated to various charities attempting to eradicate blindness from both continents. He is a compelling man, 'Jagu', and I wasn't about to disagree.

Like my dog, I have accepted that the ICC, ACC (Asian Cricket Council) and ACA (African Cricket Association) can do nothing to control their own appetites. But as they continue to munch their way through the calendar, devouring spare weeks with the same relish my dog reserved for his dinner, would it be futile to make just one reminder?

It doesn't matter who plays in these games. Everybody knows they are meaningless and, anyway, supporters of Africa and Asia are supporters of the shirt and the name, not of the individuals. So give the senior guys a break and use some new faces this time around.

Another mint, anyone?

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency