Specials – Morocco’s tryst with ODI cricket

  The only time top-tier international cricket was played in North Africa was in August 2002, when an ODI triangular series between Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka was contested in Tangier. This tournament was the brainchild of Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the man instrumental in bringing cricket to Sharjah. It was a lucrative affair – the prize money at stake was $250,000.

  The venue was the purpose-built National Cricket Stadium, as ODI cricket embraced yet another offshore venue after Sharjah, Singapore and Toronto. Christened as the Morocco Cup, this series provided a great opportunity for the game to further spread its wings globally. Morocco had become an affiliate member of the ICC in 1999, and by 2002, a national team was in place.

  Around four million dollars were spent on the building of the stadium, a large chunk of the amount going towards a state-of-the-art grandstand. Not wishing to take any chances, the organisers pulled out all stops to prevent any shady goings-on – the anti-corruption measures included the presence of CCTV cameras in the dressing rooms. 

  Malcolm Speed, the then ICC chief executive, said after the first match between Pakistan and South Africa that he was ‘very impressed’ with the arrangements. In the event, it was Sri Lanka, smarting from a disappointing tour of England, who clinched the title. They were served well by their captain Sanath Jayasuriya, who finished with a tally of 299 runs from five innings.

  A well-paced 114 from Herschelle Gibbs was the cornerstone of South Africa’s 283/9 in the opening game on 12th August. The stylish opener faced 130 balls, and hit eight fours and three sixes. Pakistani captain Waqar Younis bowled his heart out, taking 5/38. Despite a flying start from Imran Nazir, Pakistan kept losing wickets regularly and were bowled out for 229 in the 44th over.

       Sri Lankan captain Sanath Jayasuriya in action, en route to his match-winning 71 in the Morocco Cup final against South Africa (source – espncricinfo.com)

  Pakistan bounced back with a 28-run win over Sri Lanka. Half-centuries from Saeed Anwar (70), Inzamam-ul-Haq (63) and Younis Khan (56* in 39 balls) powered their side to 279/5. Sri Lanka’s top four all crossed 31, but none of them could go beyond 42. They were eventually limited to 251/8, with Abdul Razzaq returning figures of 3/36. Younis was named man of the match for his quick fifty.

  The third match saw Sri Lanka open their account with a bonus-point victory against South Africa. Veteran Aravinda de Silva held the Sri Lankan innings together with 73*, in a total of 267/7. In reply, South Africa were never in the chase. Except for Kirsten (55), the batsmen were found wanting against pace and spin alike, leaving Sri Lanka victors by 93 runs with five overs to spare.

  Sri Lanka extended their lead at the top of the table with a 39-run defeat of Pakistan. The Lankans slipped to 53/3, but Jayasuriya was in his element. He cracked 97 off 94 balls, lit with 12 fours and a six, to help his team post 242. Chaminda Vaas (3/30) and Pulasthi Gunaratne (4/44) reduced Pakistan to 29/3, and despite a knock of 80 from Yousuf Youhana, the innings ended in the 44th over.

  South Africa’s narrow win against Pakistan meant that Waqar’s men failed to reach the final. Wasim Akram and Waqar turned back the clock to have South Africa reeling at 49/5, before Boeta Dippenaar (55) and Mark Boucher (57) redeemed the innings. Replying to a modest 196/8, Pakistan caved in from 118/3 to 188 all out (Shahid Afridi 62) in the 49th over, Allan Donald starring with 4/43.

  A third win in a row ensured that Sri Lanka topped the league table. A disciplined bowling effort, led by Upul Chandana (3/32), kept South Africa to 220/6. Jacques Kallis top-scored with 84, having come at 11/2. Jayasuriya hit a run-a-ball 46 to set the tone, before Kumar Sangakkara (57) and Aravinda de Silva (77* in 75 balls) took Sri Lanka to a six-wicket win with 47 balls to spare.

     Sanath Jayasuriya receives the Morocco Cup after Sri Lanka beat South Africa by 27 runs in the final (source – espncricinfo.com)

  Sri Lanka were the better-placed side coming into the final on 21st August, and so it proved. After deciding that his team would bat, Jayasuriya and fellow opener Marvan Atapattu put on 78, the former striking a belligerent 71 in as many balls, with ten fours and a six. The innings stagnated from a position of 167/2 in the 33rd over, as the Proteas fought back to restrict the total to 235/7.

  South Africa would have fancied their chances, but the top order let them down again. At 91/6 in the 26th over, a Sri Lankan win seemed a formality. However, not for the first time, it was Dippenaar (53) and Boucher (70 from 65 balls) who repaired the innings. The pair added 101 for the seventh wicket to reignite hope, but the rising required rate eventually took its toll.

  Boucher was the last man out as South Africa were bowled out for 208 in 48.3 overs. No one could deny that the best team had lifted the trophy. Jayasuriya was named man of the match for yet another match-winning effort, and his 299 runs in the series was 109 more than the second-highest, de Silva. The leading wicket-taker was Waqar with 11 victims, closely followed by Donald (ten).

  The tournament generated positive response from the players and the media, and a subsequent Morocco Cup was slated to be held the following year. However, it never saw the light of the day. The next time Tangier played host was in 2004, when the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), who had among their ranks future Irish star Kevin O’Brien, toured for two games against the national side.

  Morocco’s first appearance in an ICC tournament was in 2005-06, when they participated in the eight-team World Cricket League Africa Region Division Three in South Africa. They beat Rwanda by 114 runs in the fifth-place playoff. It has been over five years since Morocco last played in an ICC tournament, their most recent outing being the WCL Africa Division Three T20 in 2011-12.    

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