Morocco Cup, 2002

Duncan Steer

There was something rather old-fashioned about international cricket's newest venue. True, it was big money from the man behind cricket in Sharjah, Abdulrahman Bukhatir, and his new TV network, 10 Sports, that brought South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan to Tangier for north Africa's first top-level cricket tournament. True, too, that the stringent anti-corruption measures extended to CCTV cameras in the dressing-rooms. But as the seven games were played out in front of a handful of travelling supporters and curious locals lured partly by close-of-play raffle prizes (skateboards, mountain bikes), there was a certain village-green air about the proceedings. The $4m "stadium" - the money had been spent largely on a state-of-the-art grandstand - was, on three sides, merely grass banking strewn with parasols. The players' shouts echoed across a ground basking in perfect weather throughout. Even the elaborate Wallace-and-Gromit scoreboard looked 100 years old, although it had, in fact, been put together by a Tangier carpenter weeks before the tournament. It took a dozen local students to work the thing. In such a low-key atmosphere, you could almost forget that there was $250,000 prize money at stake, making the Morocco Cup one of the most lucrative one-day events on the calendar.

In Tangier, Bukhatir had found a perfect location for cricket in the months when Sharjah is too hot and the rest of the cricket world (except, arguably, England) too cold. For Pakistan, especially, the attractions of another neutral venue were great. The PCB had lost an estimated £20m worth of revenue in the previous 18 months thanks to the difficult political situation in the region.

Sri Lanka, whose last away trip had brought heavy defeat in England, were worthy winners, beating South Africa three times out of three, including the final, and they had the man of the tournament in their captain Sanath Jayasuriya. For South Africa, it was the first action of the new season and a first outing for the new coach, Eric Simons. For Pakistan, despite the commitment of supporters who had travelled from Britain, Pakistan and even Denmark, the tournament ended in typically enigmatic and disappointing fashion.

But the event itself was more important than any of the results. Though batting first on the new pitches seemed to offer a distinct advantage, reaction to the Morocco Cup was consistently positive, from players, media and spectators alike. Despite Morocco's lack of background in the game, the project was by no means all about subcontinental TV audiences. The former India batsman Mohinder Amarnath, recruited as national coach by Bukhatir, had persuaded nine football clubs to set up cricket teams in the previous three years, which had attracted some 400 active players. These young players were all in town, swelling the tournament attendance and in many cases taking the chance to bowl at the stars in the nets. Perhaps there was, after all, method in the apparent madness of handing out leaflets explaining the lbw law in French in the middle of Tangier.

The ICC chief executive, Malcolm Speed, attended the first match and pronounced himself "very impressed". All three competing teams signed up for further tournaments with Bukhatir and a second Morocco Cup was pencilled in for August 2003.

Match reports for

1st Match: Pakistan v South Africa at Tangier, Aug 12, 2002
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2nd Match: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Tangier, Aug 14, 2002
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3rd Match: South Africa v Sri Lanka at Tangier, Aug 15, 2002
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4th Match: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Tangier, Aug 17, 2002
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5th Match: Pakistan v South Africa at Tangier, Aug 18, 2002
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6th Match: South Africa v Sri Lanka at Tangier, Aug 19, 2002
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Final: South Africa v Sri Lanka at Tangier, Aug 21, 2002
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© John Wisden & Co