The Afro-Asia Cup, already undermined by the non-availability of several big-name players, has received another jolt with Nimbus Sports, which owned telecast rights for the tournament, pulling out of the deal. In a desperate bid to salvage to tournament, which is scheduled to begin on June 5 in India, the Asian Cricket Council are now trying to finalise a last-minute deal with ESPN-Star.
"We will not be part of the event in any way," Harish Thawani, the Nimbus chief, told PTI. "We will not be telecasting the event. Neither will we be producing nor bringing sponsorship for the matches."
Nimbus Sports bought the rights for three editions of the tournament, which was first played in 2005 in South Africa, for $12 million, and cited the absence of several big stars in the Asia XI as the reason for pulling the plug. Among the names missing are Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Muttiah Muralithran, Chaminda Vaas, Kumar Sangakkara, Shoaib Akhtar and Lasith Malinga.
"Nimbus committed the money on the understanding that the teams will be drawn from the best available talent," said an industry source. "This is clearly not the case with this tournament and the thus terms on which the deal was signed are not valid anymore. It would be understandable if the players were injured. But this is not the case here."
Muralitharan, Vaas and Sangakkara are currently playing county cricket with permission from the Sri Lankan Cricket Board, and Shoaib was pulled out by the Pakistan Cricket Board on the grounds that he had not regained full fitness. The last straw, according to the source, was the voluntary withdrawal of Tendulkar a couple of days ago. Dravid had not been originally picked in the XI that will be captained by Mahela Jayawerdene.
"By no stretch of imagination this is the best Asian XI," said the source, adding that the Twenty20 team, which doesn't feature a single player from the one-day XI, has only one Indian player in Sreesanth, who is hardly an automatic choice for India's limited-overs matches. It is hardly a secret that India is the biggest source of television revenue in cricket, and the absence of the top Indian stars have left Nimbus with little chance of recovering their fee.
However, the tournament is likely to go ahead with ESPN-Star being roped in at the last minute. While no financial details are available at the moment, it is understood the deal will be significantly lower than the original sum. Though ACC officials and ESPN-Star refused to comment, an official decision is expected to be announced on Monday.
The brainchild of Jagmohan Dalmiya, the former president of the Indian cricket board, the first Afro-Asia Cup was held in South Africa in August 2005. The idea was to raise money for the Asian Cricket Council and the African Cricket Association, and the whole venture was given a massive boost when the ICC agreed to give the series of one-day matches full ODI status. It could not be held in 2006 owing to a busy international calendar.