ICC Conference: Hosted in Edinburgh
I suppose we should be gratified that they’re coming and I’m sure the delegates will be royally pampered when they turn up for an ICC congress in Edinburgh next week.
The spin will be that cricket’s governing body is gracing the Scottish capital with their presence for nearly a week while they discuss the sport’s future. But this meeting might as easily have been convened in Edmonton, Essen or Eldorado for all the practical benefits it will bring to the game at the grassroots.
Yes, we know that the ICC panjandrums will be grappling with such issues as the introduction of a two-tier Test structure, which might involve promotion and relegation between their Full Members and the Associate nations, such as Ireland, Afghanistan, The Netherlands – remember them? – and Scotland.
But maybe the delegates should be enlightened on a few realities, which tend to make a mockery of the ludicrous notion that William Porterfield, Preston Mommsen, Peter Borren or any of their colleagues will ever be involved in a Test match at any stage in the next decade.
Firstly, how can the ICC expect these sides to develop without a meaningful fixture list? I know – because I pay attention – that the Scots and the Dutch have about a fortnight of significant cricket this summer. My compatriots – one of the best Associates and a side which swept all before them a decade ago – currently have seven players on full-time contracts and 13 on part-time deals. They have six ODIs this summer against Afghanistan – so far, so good – the UAE – we’ll get back to you – and Hong Kong – hello, is there anybody there? – and that’s it. How on earth can any emerging country improve in these circumstances?
On the face of it, the Irish are better off. Or are they? Porterfield’s side – who are mostly in the latter stages of their careers – have just been thrashed twice by Sri Lanka on the ODI stage in Dublin and there was nothing in these contests to suggest they will fare any better against Pakistan at home in August or South Africa and Australia in the land of the Proteas come September.
If you take the view that one-day games are a great leveller, Ireland’s woes in the last week seem to offer a compelling counter-argument. But the Scots will have similar problems when they meet Afghanistan in Edinburgh next month. Essentially, none of Grant Bradburn’s team will have enjoyed the remotest participation in a coherent fixture programme and while they have plenty of youthful potential, heaven knows how two ODIs in isolation can possiblyoffer any conclusive evidence as to how these countries might perform in the future.
The ICC recently flung cash at Ireland and Afghanistan – both received $500,000 which represents Croesus-style largess for Associate nations, although Chris Gayle probably earns more for endorsing a bat manufacturer. But nothing answers the question: how can you get ready for Tests, on and off the pitch, when the Intercontinental Cup exists in its own crowd-free, media-absent void?
I would like to think that somebody would politely tell the ICC representatives to stop paying lip service to short-term solutions and making up policy on the hoof and they could also drop a quick memo to their hapless chief executive Dave Richardson, reminding him of the merits of silence if the alternative is half-baked gobbledygook.
But honestly, one of the main problems for the Scots and Irish is the lack of any meaningful assistance from their English counterparts. Surely, it would make sense for the ICC to create an integrated structure involving the best sides in Europe – regardless of political decisions taken elsewhere – and it would benefit England as well if their second or third tier was involved in a full-on programme with the Scots, Irish, Dutch, and even one or two other sides such as Jersey, Norway or even a composite squad.
These initiatives invariably have teething problems, and one has witnessed the early struggles of Bangladesh against the ICC Full Members or, in rugby, the persistent travails of the Italians.
But what is the alternative? I’ve spoken to Craig Wright, an articulate champion for the Associates and he has told me repeatedly that there can be no genuine development if the second tier has to scrabble around for slivers of opportunity.
Another former Scottish captain was privately even more dismissive about the idea of Associates playing in a new Test circuit in three or four years.
He told me – and I hope Dave Richardson heeds these words: “The ICC is going down the totally wrong path. How many folk watched the England v Sri Lanka series, apart from at the weekend? Very few.
“There will never be Test cricket in Scotland or Ireland. We can be good in 50-over or 20-over games, but people don’t turn up for longer matches. Just look at the figures.”
Now, it might be the case that the ICC will surprise us with a raft of dazzlingly innovative proposals to improve the sport and make the Associates feel genuinely appreciated instead of existing as teams which are either left as lambs to the slaughter in major events or hung out to dry in the cricketing equivalent of The Twilight Zone.
But I wouldn’t be indulging in an excess of optimism on that score.