Not a sport for dream teams

Individual genius has rarely gelled in cricket, and these matches more often than not produced skewed results, writes Vijay Parthasarathy.

The African side that took on Asia strove manfully but was never really in control — the matches were one-sided even if they weren't entirely boring.

For the record, Asia XI took the Afro-Asia Cup 3-0 but whether this tournament — so interesting as a concept — holds any relevance for cricket, remains to be seen. It's hard to contextualise the sport in the larger inter-continental spirit: Team Europe would be a farce, although Australasia might cobble something together — and the dynamics would be fascinating, considering the Australians and the Kiwis share a rivalry that borders on the unhealthy.

Shaun Pollock's 130 in the first match and Justin Kemp's 86 in the last breathed life into what many had expected would be a dull series. It held out the hope of a dogfight; and a dogfight is precisely what this format in general, featuring a champion against the rest, has failed to produce. Admittedly, the Africans formed a significantly weaker outfit than their Asian counterparts, but at least they combined well and managed to cross 300 twice.

Individual genius has rarely gelled in cricket, and these matches more often than not produced skewed results. The Rest of the World versus Australia series in 2005-06 was a disaster; Australia was imperious. That is largely why, despite the novelty factor, the prospect of seeing Zaheer Khan complement Mohammed Asif does not seem to grip people. Seeing the big names, the public unreasonably craves non-stop action, and when that hope is not fulfilled, there is disenchantment.

The experiment had proven successful for a tsunami benefit match pitting Asia against the Rest of the World — but that was for a cause, and it was in the cricketers' interests to perform. Even so, often there are murmurs regarding the legitimacy of the international status of such games. Dream teams, so popular in football and basketball, have not won over cricket fans.

The level of play that an all-star professional outfit like Real Madrid brings to football is starkly missing in the cricketing equivalent. Obviously, great prestige is attached to club-level football, whereas in cricket these sort of games tend to be isolated events without anything significant at stake.

There has to be incentive for players to perform. As viewers, we identify best with a match between nations; it is in tournaments like the World Cup that our emotional investment is highest.

Unless top players commit to tournaments like this, there is no point. As it happened, the replacements for high profile Asian dropouts were equally high profile; but the Africans, drawing mostly from the Proteas, were significantly weakened.

The players themselves were professional but relaxed. As Asia captain Mahela Jayawardene pointed out, the international calendar is loaded, and there is no point in pressuring players. The ICC has not helped by scheduling two matches on consecutive days.

Under the circumstances, both sides did put up a decent show, even if the BCCI meeting to pick a coach and the French Open finals overshadowed these matches.

The scores Third ODI, Chennai

Asia XI 331 for eight in 50 overs (Yuvraj Singh 31, M. Jayawardene 107, M. S. Dhoni 139 not out, M. Morkel three for 50, P. J. Ongondo three for 35) beat Africa XI 318 for seven in 50 overs (A. B. de Villers 70, V. Sibanda 45, J. M. Kemp 86, S. M. Pollock 58 not out, M. Rafique four for 65, Harbhajan Singh three for 48).

Second ODI, Chennai

Asia XI 337 for seven in 50 overs (V. Sehwag 52, S. C. Ganguly 88, M. S. Dhoni 33, M. Jayawardene 45, M. Yousuf 51, Yuvraj Singh 30 not out) beat Africa XI 306 in 49.5 overs (V. Sibanda 35, H. H. Dippenaar 67, M. V. Boucher 73, S. M. Pollock 35, M. Morkel 25, D. Fernando four for 36).

First ODI, Bangalore

Asia XI 317 for nine in 50 overs (V. Sehwag 45, S. C. Ganguly 32, M. Jayawardene 65, M. Yousuf 66, Yuvraj Singh 31, M. Morkel three for 68) beat Africa XI 283 in 47. 5 overs (M. V. Boucher 25, S. M. Pollock 130, E. Chigumbura 40, T. M. Odoyo 39, M. Asif three for 57, S. Jayasuriya three for 53).

Twenty20, Bangalore

Africa XI 109 for eight in 20 overs (L. L. Bosman 52, S. Sreesanth two for 26, M. Mortaza two for 17) lost to Asia XI 110 for four in 15.5overs (T. Iqbal 30, T. M. Dilshan 47, N. Odhiambo two for 21).