2005 Standard Chartered Afro-Asia Cup Tournament Report

Great cause – cricket development. Great concept – the best from two continents head to head. Great contest – the best really did their best.

Coming as it did at the end of the southern hemisphere off-season, the Africa team in particular had a lot to prove. Emerging players such as AB de Villiers, Ashwell Prince, Justin Kemp and Dale Steyn would all have been hoping to impress South Africa’s selectors, and their new coach Mickey Arthur, against top-class opposition. As for the Asia team, only the Sri Lankans really had any pedigree match practice in the weeks before the tournament, but even they had a number of players who were looking to further their claims for national selection.

Fans and selectors’ minds can be fickle and the likes of Zaheer Khan. Ashish Nehra, Anil Kumble and Shoaib Akhtar were hoping to use this tournament to make a mark. In fact all the players who had something to prove, came out of the tournament well.

The ‘winner take all’ prize-money for each match certainly helped to focus the players’ minds but as someone who spent a great deal of time with them throughout their time in South Africa, it was evident how very focussed the players on both sides were on winning – not for the sake of money – for the fact that they had their own reputations to secure, their careers to advance, their pride to be buttressed and their team-mates to be not let down.

The Asia dressing-room towards the end of the first match in Centurion, as the game swung one way and then another, as Asia eventually lost by just two runs, was a seething cauldron of competitive fire. Every run was applauded greatly, every setback absorbed sullenly. Asia’s players were extremely disappointed to lose.

Of course, those of us in the dressing-room have a privileged view. But any doubts any one had – and doubts there were many before the first match got under way – would have been resolved by witnessing the on-field celebrations of the Africa team when Dale Steyn’s inswinger castled Ashish Nehra to win the match for Africa. Arms pumping, voice screaming. embraced by all his team-mates Steyn, moments after having been hit into the stands by Shoaib Akhtar, had pulled the match out of the fire for Africa.

Africa were absolutely thrilled to win. This had become a super serious contest.

Stung, Asia had to bounce back in the Durban double—header and they did. The addition of Mahela Jayawardene undoubtedly boosted Asia as, in sublime form, he held the middle order together during the first Kingsmead match. And his slip-catching was pretty good too. Around him his team-mates all blossomed. One stroke in particular, by Yousuf Youhana lingers in the memory still. A drive backward of point to the boundary off Heath Streak, played with maximum authority and bisecting two boundary fielders, was absolutely imperious. Asia, with the sun on their back, were enjoying themselves and in scoring 267 put on a great show for the crowd.

Africa were always going to be struggling chasing that score but they were getting pretty close when Steve Tikolo and Shaun Pollock were together. It took some smart thinking by Kumar Sangakarra in conjunction with Muralitharan to force Tikolo’s run-out and then Asia had the match in the bag.

The deciding match in Durban was all set to be a terrific contest – Asia did marvellously well to bowl out Africa for 106 because under the cloudy conditions it wasn’t going to be an easy chase. Graeme Smith’s decision to bat after winning the toss was rather strange but no doubt, Zaheer Khan and Shoaib Akhtar made full use of the conditions.

Asia lost two early wickets, Sehwag to a superb leg-cutter from Steyn, and at 8 for 2 after three overs would have been fully aware that victory for them wasn’t assured. But then the rain which had fallen intermittently, returned with force and the match had to be abandoned.

Broadcast figures coming in from India showed that the tournament had been pretty well-supported. Certainly the cricket, between two well-matched teams was of a high intensity and competitiveness.

The Man of the Series was Zaheer Khan. The outcome of the series was more of the same please.