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Roving reporter

A tournament dripping with artificiality

Neil Manthorp on a forgettable day at the Afro-Asia Cup

Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp

The grass is always greener ... on the highveld © Getty Images
Rarely, if ever, could a one-day international have been played in more bizarre circumstances. The inaugural Afro-Asia Cup match was watched by less than 1000 people at Centurion Park, traditionally the country's best attended venue. But an empty stadium was the least of the oddities on display.
Take the outfield for example. It was spray-painted green to counter the effects of the Highveld winter which kills the grass and turns it white, and to please the television audience in India, for which the tournament was designed. That was just the most obvious sign of the artificiality which swamped the entire afternoon. The match began at the illogical time of 12 noon, once again confirming that the Indian television audience was the only serious target for the organisers.
When Jacques Kallis described the "contest" as a "warm-up" for the season ahead, he wasn't referring to the temperature - but it was an apt description for the players' most pressing concern as the cold winter sun disappeared into the grey, winter sky.
Players came together to celebrate wickets in the same manner that accountants gather to discuss a book-keeping oddity and the tiny band of Indian supporters waving their national flag allowed it to droop in confusion when Shahid Afridi and Kumar Sangakkara teamed up to dismiss Nicky Boje.
Just when things couldn't get any more ridiculous, they did. The African squad has promised each of its 17 members at least one game and Kenya's talented allrounder, Thomas Odoyo, was named in the starting XI. But when the "home" side slipped to 164 for 8, Odoyo was jettisoned and replaced by South African allrounder Justin Kemp - the substitute. "Sorry, Thomas, we wanted to give you a game but things have become pretty serious now, so, be a good chap and toddle off, will you."
It wasn't Kemp's fault that he came to the crease at No. 10 when he would have been selected at No. 6 if the team had been chosen on merit, and it certainly wasn't his fault when his rescue mission was ended by Billy Doctrove's comically inept lbw decision to a Shoaib Akhtar inswinger that would have missed leg stump by a country mile.
Talking of Shoaib, what on earth was he doing here in the first place when there was much better money to be earned carrying on with his short-term contract at Worcestershire? "He needs the big stage," said an insider with the Asian Cricket Council. "He wants to get back into the Pakistan team and this gives him the perfect platform to showcase his talents."
Presumably he was talking about the television cameras because the real life stage was the theatrical equivalent of performing on a matchbox. Even the Bouncy Castle erected by local organisers to provide amusement stood motionless as the hardcore supporters watched in bemusement. What was the point of it all? Who cared?
Fortunately the answer was provided during the supper break in which the traditional African drummers and dancers provided the best and most convincing performance of the day.

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