What increasingly appears to be favouritism towards cricketing powerhouse India has turned the Asia Cup into a near farce. Even with two group matches left and Group A and Group B champions yet to be decided, on Wednesday morning the Asian Cricket Council has published the fixtures list of the Super Four stage starting on Friday.
That should not have been possible, because the original schedule had Super Four matches set as 'Group A winner vs Group B runners-up', 'Group A runners-up vs Group B winners' and so on. Therefore, unless group champions are determined -- as they will be after Wednesday's India vs Pakistan encounter and Thursday's Bangladesh vs Afghanistan Group B match, it is not possible as per the original schedule to name the matches for the Super Four stage.
The four teams have already qualified, but it should have all come down to the last group matches to determine the standings and the shape of the second-stage.
India had expressed a desire to play all their matches in Dubai and not visit Abu Dhabi during the tournament. It seems they have gotten their wish, and the fixtures have been set in such a way that while other teams will have to adjust their plans, India will play all their matches in Dubai.
"We knew nothing of it," said Bangladesh Cricket Board CEO Nizamuddin Chowdhury, now in Dubai. "We have verbally sought an explanation from the ACC, and if not satisfied we will take it up in the ACC board meeting after the tournament.
"It is very disappointing," said Bangladesh skipper Mashrafe Bin Mortaza yesterday after learning of the change when they arrived for practice at the ICC Academy. Bangladesh and Afghanistan were the most disadvantaged even in the original schedule because they will have to play on successive days in heat that exceeds 40 degrees Celsius in the daytime. The organisers made sure that neither marquee names Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka -- had they made it through -- would not suffer that fate.
However, the reason this latest tweak will rankle both sides -- apart from the fact that favouring one side at the expense of three others destroys the credibility of the tournament -- is that if the Super Four matches have already been decided, then today's match becomes completely academic and unnecessary if it will not even determine who the winner plays to start the next stage.
As such, a day before matches infinitely more important, the players are well within their rights to feel aggrieved and abused as they will play a full match with less than 15 hours of recovery time before starting the next one.
"Basically we were made the second team in Group B even before we played the last game. It is frustrating," Mashrafe, normally a very diplomatic public speaker, said.
"We'll play -- of course 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 other matches, there are certain rules within which they operate. We are getting away from the rules, so it's disappointing.
"Even a mad person would be upset," said Mashrafe when asked whether this state of affairs has upset the team.
ACC officials, meanwhile, have been tying themselves up in knots to explain the farce.
"We asked them for an explanation and they said that this was how it was originally intended -- Bangladesh would be B2 and Afghanistan B1," Bangladesh team manager Khaled Mahmud said. "When asked what would have happened if Sri Lanka qualified, they said that it was Sri Lanka/Afghanistan in the original schedule."
That means that they presumed Bangladesh's qualification -- a generosity of estimation not reflected in the scheduling. Another official said that it was written in the small print when the fixture was first released that India, if they qualified, would be A1 as they expressed a preference to play in Dubai. The fixture list the media received at the start of the accreditation process contained no such small print.
Roshini Jayakrishnan, the media consultant of the ACC, was asked in the Dubai International Stadium press box yesterday whether the organisation had any explanations for the change. She said that she would ask the BCCI, although the decision was supposedly made by the ACC.
The bias towards India in cricket is now common knowledge; it was only the nakedness of its presence in Dubai that surprised.