Monday, 11 April 2016

Cricket Needs to Give Associate and Affiliate Members a Chance

There have been soft murmurs advocating more involvement of non-test playing nations in ICC events and have become more vocal in the recent past. Ireland skipper William Porterfield recently asked ICC to increase the involvement of associates and affiliates so that cricket grows as a global sport in their respective countries. Netherlands made India work hard for their win back in a 2003 World Cup game, Ireland emerged as giant killers in 2007 WC. Afghanistan is making grown ass test playing nations piss their pants ever since they arrived. Taking a cue from Bangladesh team – a test playing nation, resembling an associate, finally seem to have come of age banking on exposure against their subcontinental neighbors. The question is why ICC has been trying to make cricket exclusive to test playing nations and inviting associates nations as and when it suits their interests? Wouldn’t it help throwing some cricketing experience their way right when they are in amazing form and filled with confidence?

Cricket began with one of fiercest rivalry in the sport between England and Australia leading to all that Ashes crap. Other than them, India, Pakistan, West Indies, South Africa and New Zealand were the only test playing nations for a long time, with South Africa suspended for a good 20 years owing to Apartheid. Limited overs cricket became a thing in the 1970s and the first World Cup was took place in 1975. Eight teams participated, including a sneaky little team from Sri Lanka, who were an associate nation back then. From then to now, the World Cup has gone on to include a mind boggling 14 teams and the next edition will feature 10 teams. To someone studying the history of cricket over time, this would be remarked upon as ‘an awfully snail-paced growth of an otherwise popular sport’ not to mention the ironical use of the word ‘world’. Sri Lanka became a test playing nation in 1982 and won a World Cup 14 years later. Not only that, they have made a name for themselves as a respectable cricketing culture which gave us remarkable players like Jayasuriya, Ranatunga, Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Muralidaran. Just one example of how proper cricketing exposure can do wonders for not only one country but the entire community as a whole. Ryan ten Doeschate of Netherland has a prolific batting average of 67 in ODIs but doesn’t get the credit he deserves, being from an associate nation. He’s impressive in IPL though. O’Brian brothers from Ireland have been good too. Kevin currently holds the record for the fastest century in an ODI world cup.

Potentially talented teams like Ireland, Netherland and now Afghanistan need an ample dose of big games on a regular basis to identify their strengths and weaknesses and keep evolving into a better side. Quality games against top test playing nations will prove instrumental in the growth of such teams to graduate to the level of teams like Australia, India and the rest and eventually earn test status. Such games should not be limited only to major ICC events as they amount to nothing over a longer period of time. "We played nine ODIs against top-ten teams in the last four years between the World Cups, which is nothing.” points out William Porterfield, the Ireland skipper. A decent confidence in the national side will inspire a generation of youth at the grass root level to aim for the highest level and prevent fizzing out of talent as seen in the case of Zimbabwe who are still searching for their next Heath Streaks, Andy and Grant Flowers. 

A good start would be to include more teams in the major ICC events instead of trimming down the size of the tournament every 4 years. World Cup 2019 will feature 10 teams, down from 14 in the 2015 edition. Instead of making the tournaments favorable for the test playing nations, it should promote even competition with a different format than being used currently, probably take a cue from FIFA World Cup. Another option would be for every team to play a qualifying tournament for ICC World Cups, including all the test playing sides as well. This would ensure the associate nations getting a shot against quality cricket. Associate and affiliate members of ICC could be invited to train and play in the domestic tournaments in the test playing nations. With the advent of multiple T20 leagues in different countries, this seems like a certain possibility. And the richer boards could provide monetary support to promote the game in member countries.

The most popular sport in the world – soccer is played in over 150 countries. Each of them has a shot at playing in the World Cup. The qualifying campaign is not taken lightly as every single country has to earn the right to play in the FIFA World Cup. The second most popular sport, which happens to be cricket has only 10-15 active countries in the public eye. This needs to change soon. Cricket can be addictive. The rest of the world needs to feel the addiction as well.

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