Inspired by Rustom Deboo’s throwback to the 2000 Asia Cup, I wanted to look back on a more recent edition of the tournament.
Of all of the changes and disappointments in the cricketing world due to COVID-19, the one set to have the largest impact is Afghanistan’s debut Test match in Australia later this year.
This is an historic clash that deserves better than the squabbling over where it will be played and how long the match will go for.
It has been 18 months since the current Future Tours Program was released, and we found that Australia would indeed play its first Test match against cricket’s newest Test nation.
Since that day, the tour group that I am a part of pencilled in that Test as one we would be definitely attending. Why? Its historic nature, to be a part of that first ever clash between the two nations at the highest level, as well as to see at close range just how players like Rashid Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman would go.
Some will scoff at this, seeing the match as a waste of time that will probably be over in two days.
To me, the result is meaningless. For cricket to survive and grow, other nations must dip their toe in, and they need to be promoted.
Zimbabwe (1992) and Bangladesh (1999) have both been relatively ignored by Australia since their elevation to Test status, as cricket Down Under becomes more concerned about money, gate takings and TV ratings than the development of other nations. It needs to be addressed as we move into this post-pandemic period.
COVID-19 has done Afghanistan no favours, and assuming they are able to tour and compete in this Test match, they will likely do so in front of an empty stadium. Again, the naysayers will suggest no one would turn up to watch them, but these are the people who rarely attend any cricket unless they are sitting at the bar.
While the match won’t draw attendance days of 10,000, outside of England and India, no other touring team is guaranteed of doing that in Australia either.
The Afghanistan Test is set to be played in Perth, which has missed out on one the four Indian Tests. There is plenty of indignation from the city given they have two Test venues and they are getting the ‘booby prize’. They believe their brand new Optus Stadium is a far better venue than the ageing facilities of the Gabba.
On the other hand, Australia has not lost a Test at the Gabba since the 1988-89 season, against the West Indies, and it is no secret the national team see it as their good luck charm. As a result, Cricket Australia has chosen results over facilities and the WACA is not happy about it.
Added to this is that, due to arrangements with the venue and the fact that the men’s T20 World Cup seems less likely to go ahead this season, the Test will be played at Optus Stadium, spectators or not, even though the WACA would be a much more suitable under the circumstances.
To add more imbalance, the match is going to be a day-night Test with the pink ball, which Afghanistan have not experienced but Australia thrives in. It hands another advantage to the home team that they don’t need.
This match should have been played in Canberra, allowing a greater population well of three capital cities and large country areas the ability to turn up. Securing India for a five-Test series would also have allayed the problems of one of the five major cricket centres being deemed not good enough to host a major Test match.
What seems easy on paper obviously is not so negotiable to cricket boards around the world.
Together, this means the Afghanistan Test match will become an afterthought rather than a landmark. No one knows yet whether spectators will be able to attend, or if the day-night conditions hand Australia’s mighty pace attack another huge advantage.
While no one truly believes Afghanistan can survive the might of Australia, surely making it a traditional match would have been a fairer setting.
If the gates are opened to the public, my intention is still to be there, to witness history and hopefully some excellent cricket from an emerging team on the world stage.