The Asian Cricket Council has faced criticism at the scheduling of the six-nation competition currently underway in the United Arab Emirates. Teams have complained about lack of clarity on how the second round Super Four works. Another complaint raised by the teams is the favouritism towards India, who will remain in Dubai for all their games while the others teams have to commute between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two cities that host the competition.
The Asia Cup is hosted by Emirates Cricket Board on behalf of Board of Control for Cricket in India. It was India's turn to host the biannual regional tournament but was shifted to the Gulf region due to Pakistan's inability to travel to India due to political differences.
Questions have been raised on why the Indian team should be treated differently. All teams are based in Dubai and they have got to make a 90-minute commute to Abu Dhabi for the fixtures there. Why can't the Indian superstars spend 90 minutes on the road like everyone else?
The Indian cricket board has clarified that India playing in Dubai alone is commercially profitable for the event through tickets and corporate box sales. Abu Dhabi would not have generated the revenue that Dubai does, it has been said. However, for India's opening fixture of the competition against Hong Kong, only half the stadium was full.
While India, having won both their clashes in the first round, would have anyway remained in Dubai, it is unfair on Bangladesh who, even before completing their first round, have been positioned as the second team in Group B.
Not that this kind of labelling has not been done before. The ICC World Cup followed similar patterns in some of the past tournaments. However, there was clarity on the labelling prior to the tournament whereas in this case, teams had little clue how they will be placed.
"It is very disappointing. Basically what has happened is that we were made the second team in Group B even before we played the last game," Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza said.
No team has been labelled Group champions or runners-up as Mashrafe claimed, but his grouse is understandable. Bangladesh play Afghanistan on Thursday in Abu Dhabi and the next day they play India in Dubai and the schedule is physically demanding for the players. Bangladesh have already lost opener Tamim Iqbal due to injury.
"It is an international match where we are representing our nation, so of course it's important. But whether you are talking about group stage matches or Super Four matches, there are certain rules within which they operate. We are getting away from the rules, so it's disappointing," he added.
Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed too didn't take to the scheduling kindly. "Travelling is the sort of issue if during matches you've to travel for one and a half hours, and then it's difficult for you. I believe things should be even for all teams, whether that's India, Pakistan or anyone else."
The format and the scheduling has been a farce as there is no reward for teams for finishing as Group champions.
Among the six nations that are participating in the competition, India (2) and Pakistan (5) are the highest-ranked followed by Bangladesh (7), Sri Lanka (8) and Afghanistan (10). In that case, how come India and Pakistan ended up in the same group while the three lower ranked teams were pooled in one group? Ideally, India, the highest-ranked team should have been in Group A and Pakistan, the second-highest ranked team should have been in Group B.
It seems that the only criterion the organizers looked at when scheduling was to get the maximum amount of India versus Pakistan clashes and as it stands, there is a possibility that the arch-rivals could end up playing each other as many as three times. This ensures a financial windfall for both the ACC and the official broadcaster.
The India-Pakistan clash is a goose that lays golden eggs. The administrators should be watchful not to kill the goose in a bid to get the maximum out of it. As the saying goes, too much of anything is good for nothing and the interest levels would go down if the top-two ranked teams reach the finals.
Hong Kong gave a scare to India in their group game having qualified for the competition after beating UAE. Should the ACC have allowed more teams to take part in the competition by making it an eight-team event is another question that has been asked by enthusiasts.
Teams like Nepal, Oman and UAE have some exciting talents and the only way they are going to improve is by playing stronger teams regularly. Sadly, the ACC seems to have not looked beyond the commercial values of the competition in conducting the event by accommodating only one qualifier.
Cricket already has the classic example of Kenya. The African nation stunned everybody by reaching the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, but they received little support from rest of the cricket world and the International Cricket Council, and at present, are not a force to be reckoned with.
Cricket cannot afford the same mistake with other promising teams like Nepal, Oman and UAE.
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