x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Less can be more in Sri Lanka

Last time round it was a bloated affair, with one-sided matches and little excitement, but a re-packaged tournament starts today.

India's Virender Sehwag has a point to prove in Sri Lanka when he returns from injury for the Asia Cup.
India's Virender Sehwag has a point to prove in Sri Lanka when he returns from injury for the Asia Cup.

Short, sweet and to the point. Not exactly the words which most readily spring to mind when considering the virtues of one-day international cricket tournaments - especially the ones staged in Asia. The new, slimline Asia Cup starts today in Dambulla, when Sri Lanka meet Pakistan. The competition between the continent's top-four sides will be all wrapped up in a little over a week.

The group stages of the football World Cup will still be being played by the time it finishes. This is 50-over cricket, but not as we know it. The last time the Asia Cup was played, in Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan in 2008, it was a bloated competition memorable for little other than the fact there were more armed policemen than spectators at most matches. The matches were dire, and all one-sided. As one official from that tournament put it during a moment of down time: "This is the best advertisement for Twenty20 cricket there is."

The Asian Cricket Council (ACC) have evidently realised that the 20-over format is now the leading mode. They have slashed the length of their 50-over showpiece to seven matches, thereby cutting down the prospects of dead fixtures. By the time it next comes around, it may be in a different guise altogether, due to T20's growing appeal. Some things have been lost during the cull, however. The UAE played at the last two Asia Cup tournaments, meaning the computer programmers, store keepers and students who make up the national team got a chance to bask in the same limelight as the sport's top players.

The scenes were joyous at the Selangor Turf Club in Kuala Lumpur in 2008 when the UAE qualified for a third trip to the competition - or so they thought - by reaching the ACC Trophy final. The two non-Test nations - Hong Kong and the UAE - are not the only noteworthy absentees this week. Sri Lanka are bidding to defend their title without two of their most recognisable stars. Two years ago, Ajantha Mendis, a little-known spin-bowler who had been playing B Division cricket in Colombo for the Sri Lankan Army, announced himself as the new star of world cricket.

The mystery-spinner unleashed his box of tricks, including his newly unveiled "carrom-ball", and blazed a trail through the competition. His crowning glory arrived in the final, when his astonishing haul of six for 13 brought at abrupt end to India's title hopes. That, too, on a pitch that MS Dhoni, the India captain, had deemed the flattest track in world cricket. He is not the only one who will be conspicuous by his absence. Sanath Jayasuriya, the veteran Sri Lanka all-rounder, has finally lost the faith of the selectors.