Lack of interest and big stars mars series

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The withdrawal of top cricketers such as Graeme Smith and Sachin Tendulkar, and an unseemly broadcasting row, have taken the gloss off the Afro-Asia cricket series that is starting tomorrow.

Top stars su ch as Sri Lankans Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, Kumar Sangakkara and Lasith Malinga, and Pakistan’s Shoaib Akhtar are also unavailable for the three-match series because of either prior commitments or injuries.

Smith, who was originally named captain of the combined African side , was replaced by his South African team-mate and wicketkeeper, Mark Boucher, after undergoing knee surgery last month.

Mahela Jayawardene, who led Sri Lanka to the World Cup final in April, is captain of the combined Asian side for the one-dayers to be held in Bangalore (June 6) and Chennai (June 9 and 10).

The series, a brainchild of former world cricket chief Jagmohan Dalmiya of India, was launched in 2005 with the aim of raising funds for cricket development on both continents.

It has yet to catch the public imagination despite being granted official one-day status by the International Cricket Council.

The series was first held in SA, but it was in the off-season because of a crammed international schedule and was hit by a spate of withdrawals and poor attendance . It was not played last year due to lack of suitable dates.

This time, the series comes immediately after India’s tour of Bangladesh and was in danger of being scrapped after original rights-holder, Nimbus Sports, pulled out of the venture, citing lack of public interest.

It was eventually thrown a lifeline when the pan-Asian ESPN-Star network agreed to broadcast the matches.

“The circumstances were such that the tournament could not be cancelled, considering that the matches were designated as official one-dayers,” said the CE of the Asian Cricket Council, Ashraful Haq.

It is no surprise that fans, cricketers and sponsors have shown little interest in the series since it will be played amid a busy schedule and just before the start of the monsoon season in southern India.

Sri Lanka and India are both preparing for serious engagements later this month. Sri Lanka will host Bangladesh while India will tour Ireland and England.

But the coach of the combined Asian side, Roger Binny, believed the series could still provide a lot of excitement despite the absence of top players.

“We still have got some big players in both sides,” said Binny, a member of India’s 1983 World Cup-winning squad.

“One cannot really blame those players who pulled out because of prior commitments. We had foreseen the problem.”

The series will be preceded by a Twenty20 match between the reserve players of the two sides in Bangalore today.

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