As a country with an overwhelming expat population, the UAE has the capacity to fill up stadiums
Sarfraz Ahmad, the genial Pakistan captain, stops by to return your greetings. Sri Lankans amble past the motley crew of mediapersons for a net session on a balmy evening while a few steps away — under the lights at the ICC academy ground — ‘Fizz’ (Mustafizur Rahman) comes in hard at one of their batsmen in a practice game.
A visit to the ICC academy these days brings you up close with the cream of the cricketing talent from Asia — the continent which provides the sport with the majority of its raucous fans. The constellation of stars will only increase come Friday, when Rohit Sharma & co are expected to start their practice sessions in pursuit of laying their hands on the Asia Cup trophy.
The ambience is a far cry from the madness that one associates if the tournament had been held in a country like India or Pakistan — and that’s one reason sportspersons often love it here. All that is, however, going to change once the action begins on Saturday and the anticipation reaches the fever pitch for the India-Pakistan clash on September 19.
It’s common knowledge that the Asia Cup has had a chequered history since its beginning in 1984, but one cannot help but feel it’s been a great idea wasted. While the unstable political relationship with the two neighbours had been often a stumbling block for the tournament to reach it’s potential, the choc-a-bloc international calendar these days has also played it’s part to make this tournament feel like an unwanted guest.
Just ponder this, the innumerable ODIs that teams such as India and Sri Lanka often play against each other make for such meaningless exercises (remember the series late last year before India’s tour of South Africa?). A fixture like this suddenly acquires more relevance if it’s in a tournament like the Asia Cup — and this is what the decision makers of the game need to think about.
While India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka remain the powerhouses in the region, the growth of Bangladesh in the shorter formats and emergence of Afghanistan as the surprise package can actually the benefit the Asia Cup to thrive in future. Past experience tells you that there could always be a question mark over India-Pakistan contests — apart from the ICC events — and this is where the UAE can step as the neutral venue like in this edition.
From its tentative steps with Sharjah in the Eighties, the UAE has come a long way for an associate country to establish its credentials as capable hosts of big-ticket cricket events. If it had been acting as Pakistan’s second home since 2009, the country has won the confidence of the Indian cricket board with its successful hosting of the first leg of Indian Premier League in 2014.
As a country with an overwhelming expat population from the playing nations of the Asia Cup, the UAE has the capacity to fill up the stadiums for a tournament of this duration. If the powers that be can press for a window for this tournament even at the expense of some of the pointless bilateral series as I mentioned earlier, the event may still thrive on a regular basis.