T20 Cricket World Cup
You won’t find many sports governing bodies who don’t love talking about development and expansion.
Their mantra is bigger is better, and especially if it offers greater opportunities to make money from broadcasting rights.
Football’s World Cup has doubled in size since the days when Bobby Moore lifted the trophy in 1966, while this summer’s European Championship will have 24 participants, eight more than in 2012.
That inevitably means more games, more corporate revenue, more fans in different parts of the continent… even if it might dilute the quality a little, you can understand why officials do it.
Cricket, though, seems to live in a parallel universe as we move towards the World T20 competition next month. How else to explain the fact that many of the ICC’s Associates are having to travel halfway round the world just to see if they can qualify for the main event?
In 1975, when the game launched its first World Cup, there were eight nations involved including East Africa: this was in the days when South Africa’s apartheid system meant it was ostracised from international sporting competition.
Since then, there have been a range of formats for the global event, and fleeting success for some of the lesser nations, including Kenya in 2003, but the tournament has invariably struggled to move beyond its traditional heartlands
One might suppose the solution was to invest more in the grassroots and reward those who thrive.
But instead, the ICC seems hellbent on driving ahead with plans for the World Cup in 2019 to feature just ten teams, four fewer than were involved in the tournament staged across Australia and New Zealand last year.
Frankly, this decision makes no sense. For the last two decades, the ICC has ploughed money into the Associates and nurtured cricket throughout the planet.
In some places, the process has fallen on barren territory and stony ground. The USA is apparently still convinced that, as the late Robin Williams once remarked: “Cricket is baseball on valium”.
The Kenyans have gone downhill fast in the last decade, the Dutch have plummeted from beating England in a World T20 contest and Scotland have spent a significant period rebuilding after winning the 2005 ICC Trophy.
Yet there have also been success stories, with the Irish beating Pakistan and England in 2007 and 2011 as the prelude to trouncing the West Indies in last year’s event.
Afghanistan, too, have produced a group of committed, resilient players who have climbed swiftly up the global ladder.
The reality is that new stars don’t emerge overnight; this isn’t The X Factor. But rather a sport which requires decades of encouragement, allied to the creation of junior programmes, a philosophy of preaching to the unconverted, and allowing developing countries to create the correct infrastructure and facilities.
This simply won’t happen if the ICC restricts the World Cup to a ten-team shoot-out.
Indeed, as things stand, they are effectively admitting the controversial admission of Bangladesh to the Test circuit in 2000 was an act of folly, which has yielded no positive reward.
Cricket can’t afford to stand still, or narrow its horizons for an instant. And that is why Associate supporters need to pull together in the build-up to the World T20 in India next month.
It won’t be easy for those such as Preston Mommsen, the Scottish captain, who made optimistic noises prior to his squad leaving Glasgow for the short-form competition on Monday.
After all, the ICC Full Members are gorging themselves on an apparently endless diet of 20/20 competitions, including the IPL, the Big Bash and similar events in England, the West Indies and South Africa.
As their elite performers devise new ways to flay bowlers – Brendon McCullum has brought an element of it to the Test arena – and pacemen and spinners strive to resist the flow, skills are being honed and perfected to the nth degree, while the leading players earn fortunes, beyond the wildest dreams of the best Associate personnel.
It’s not anybody’s idea of a level playing field. But, regardless of that consideration, Mommsen, Paul Stirling, Peter Borren and their confreres must produce shocks and upset the established order in India.
The Scots start their qualifying campaign against Afghanistan – who narrowly defeated them at the World Cup – and ICC Full Member in name, but not substance, Zimbabwe, on March 8 and 10.
If they lose either or both of these tussles, they’ll be eliminated. So, no pressure! Yet all the Associates must approach this event with a positivity and passion to keep rattling cages and producing shocks.
Because there could be no better means of showing the ICC that their 2019 World Cup decision is completely misguided.
The only way to help Scotland, Ireland, Afghanistan, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Namibia and other emerging countries is to expose them to more regular interaction with the cream.
Yes, they will suffer some horrible reverses along the way. Yes, the process might be painful on and off the field.
But eventually, as the Irish have shown, the best of the newcomers will get their act together and face down the superpowers.
Rugby is spreading its gospel into Russia, China…wherever there is any interest in rucks and mauls.
Football, for all its faults and corrupt stewardship, is soaring in popularity in Asia, Africa and North America.
How dare cricket, which has always been an activity confined to a small clique, attempt to limit its horizons and turn back the clock?