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Asia Cup: Cricket's only chance to have tournament like Euros
Asia Cup 2018

Asia Cup: Cricket's only chance to have tournament like Euros

The Euros is a big deal in sport. It is the strongest region of football, the one that makes the most money, produces the most World Cup winners, and has the largest media market. So when the Euros are played, it's a big deal. 24 teams played in 2016, in one group was Italy, Ireland, Belgium and Sweden. A former winner, one of the oldest football nations, the hot new team and Zlatan. The quality in that tournament is incredible.

Cricket's only chance to have a tournament of that kind is through the Asian Cup. But the Asia Cup is, like almost all non-World Cup and World T20 tournaments, a bit of a shit show.

Its first tournament was in Sharjah in 1984. India boycotted the second tournament, Pakistan missed the third. They cancelled the whole tournament for the fifth edition. And then it was played every two years, but sometimes every four until it became a bi-annually in 2008. Then in 2016, it was changed to T20, and then for the 2018 tournament at the last minute it was announced it was going back to ODIs.

Most of the cancellations were because of India Pakistan tensions. Oddly, that tension is also the only reason this tournament has continued to exist.

That doesn't mean it's not a prestigious tournament for the smaller nations. Bangladesh have used it to show they are no longer the play-doh tigers of yesteryear, being runners-up twice. But for the smaller teams like Oman, Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong it is another chance to develop their cricket and get noticed. If you'd been hanging around Hong Kong cricket twitter this last week you'd have seen how much this matters to them.

And this was their third time at the Asia Cup. So imagine what it means to young Malaysian or Nepalese cricketers, who still haven't qualified once yet. The world cup is still a fantasy to them, but the Asian Cup is a possibility. 11 teams have tried to qualify or played in the Asia Cup, it is cricket's most fertile area. And in those 11 that doesn't include potential teams like Japan or China. Non Test playing nations from Asia are on the rise. Rashid Khan was a T20 phenom before Afghan's first Test, Sandeep Lamichhane helped notify casual cricket fans to the rise of Nepalese cricket and both Global T20 and CPL both had young Hong Kong batsmen playing.

 Rashid Khan has been a sensation from Afghanistan ©AFP

Rashid Khan has been a sensation from Afghanistan ©AFP

You could see how - if everything went right - it could be an incredible tournament. But, it isn't. There are only four strong teams in Asia, and a Rashid Khan propped up Afghanistan. The tournament is two significant events, the final, which is nice, and India v Pakistan, which is enormous.

The India Pakistan match is one of the world's most anticipated events. So the drop off from a billion people caring about the result and a game against Hong Kong is massive. The third biggest moment of the tournament on paper will be the burgeoning grudge match between Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

That doesn't mean there won't be good cricket played, and the odd incredible moment. Multi-team tournaments produce great cricket memories. For the Sri Lankan players there are chances to stand out, Bangladesh will want to prove they can continue to push teams, this is Afghanistan's first tournament as a Test nation. But the real problem is that there are only six teams. The tournament is gerrymandered to get rid of the two weak sides as soon as possible, and then we see a weird round robin before we get to a one off final.

Hong Kong cricket has done a magnificent job to turn themselves drunken-party joke-tournament destination into a strong associate team. But their best player now plays for New Zealand, their bowling is friendly, and a recent captain all but retired because he can make more being a teacher. If they are the sixth best team in Asia right now, we're a long way from this being a real tournament. But in Afghanistan, we have at least have hope of what the Asia Cup could become.

If the growth of cricket in Asia continues, this tournament could be something special. Grand old teams, exciting new ones, all battling out to be the best team in cricket's new heartland.

While it might never be as big an event as the Euros, you could see how this could eventually be a brilliant tournament for cricket. At the moment it's just like too much of cricket, it exists only to make cash and is small because cricket is small.