The ICC Under-19 World Cup has got under way in Bangladesh and there have already been some outstanding performances. England’s Dan Lawrence has been dominating at the top of the order while teammate Sam Curran continues to excite.
Sarfaraz Khan has made two classy scores of 74 as India have brushed aside everyone so far, with Avesh Khan the bowling highlight.
Elsewhere, hosts Bangladesh comfortably beat England in a warm-up before securing a quarter-final spot with wins over Scotland and South Africa. Bangladesh found a hero in Nazmul Hossain Shanto whose hundred against Scotland was all class.
England, India and Bangladesh have emerged as the teams to beat. It is hard to look beyond one of them for champions. However, we are less than a week into this tournament and it already has a lot in common with the men’s event from a year ago.
While chances are that one of the “big” teams will win the event, the real story has been scripted by the associate nations who have been performing brilliantly. Nepal made the quarter-finals, having defeated New Zealand. Namibia are through to the knockout stages having beaten the current champions, South Africa.
Nepal are a really interesting case study for associate advancement. They have something that so few up and coming cricket nations can boast of – a massive fan following at home.
Anyone who has ever come up against Nepalese cricket fans on Twitter know just how that support can overflow into nastiness but no one can doubt their passion. The members of the full national team are superstars at home, appearing on chat shows and their every move making news.
Yet come the next Under-19 World Cup, Nepal and Namibia will be made to qualify for the event. New Zealand and South Africa will be given a free pass because their boards are inside the cosy full member’s club.
There is no other sport that has such a callous disregard for meritocracy but the continued success of associate nations at every level is showing up the foolishness of such despicable self-interest.
The next men’s World Cup will have 10 teams — and despite a change of heart that meant there is an element of qualification now involved — it is very likely that those 10 will be the ICC full members.
There are two spaces up for grabs and there will be 12 teams competing for them at the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. Baring a miraculous upset the West Indies will claim one; that means 11 teams are in the running for one place.
It is likely that we will be deprived of Nepal and their excitable fans; we will lose out on seeing Afghanistan continue on the journey that is one of the most heart-warming in sport. Ireland remain a competitive team with a well-run board, chances are they will miss out on a World Cup spot for the first time since 2003.
It is important when discussing development to acknowledge the good work that ICC development employees have done in growing the game.
They have done a brilliant job at the ICC Academy and with the High Performance Programme to turn associate nations into professional outfits. The vast majority of those that work for the ICC care about the sport growing and do a fine job at doing just that.
This falls down at board level where the full members and the “Big 3” boards of India, England and Australia invariably vote out of self-regard rather than what is good for the sport. The automatic qualification of full member boards for the Under 19 World Cup is a perfect example of this. As long as their young players get to compete at every tournament they don’t care if talented teenagers from other countries are not given the same opportunities.
As ever with cricket it is simple to fix this situation. Regional qualifiers along the lines of the World Cricket League that associates play where the whole event lasts a week in one location would mean the best teams make the tournament, not just the ones who have the most influence.
The full members should walk through these qualifiers thanks to the infinitely better funding and infrastructure they have.
The real shame is that this simple solution will not happen.
The delighted faces of the Nepal side in their team selfie as they defeated New Zealand was bitter-sweet. These young men have beaten the odds to make the latter stages of this event, and that should be a cause for celebration.
The problem is that the sport doesn’t want them. Those that run it are only interested in maintaining the status quo, and the people that lose out are millions of cricket fans as the sport they love is poorer because of the absence of these teams and their brilliant stories.