Teams from non-traditional cricket countries hogged a healthy share of the World Cup's limelight during the group stage. This is noteworthy because it is essentially the first time the state of cricket beyond the Test world has been widely examined and debated.
Previously, critics bemoaned the participation of Associates, unfairly often derided as 'minnows', because too many uncompetitive matches ensued. The rigid belief persisted that cricket, the quaint British sport, would never be able to infiltrate unfamiliar terrain. So, why continue with the delusion that the sport can make inroads past its traditional boundaries?
Even the ICC was uncertain cricket could realistically extend beyond the Full Member nations after it made the contentious decision to limit the 2019 World Cup to ten participants. "Every match should be very competitive and having ten teams at the 2019 World Cup will make sure that will be the case," ICC CEO Dave Richardson said.
The resounding success of the Associates at the World Cup have made Richardson, and others with similar sentiments, look foolish. Worse, the ICC is seemingly reinforcing cricket's perception as a relic of British imperialism. It is not hard to see why cricket is ridiculed in certain parts of the world.
The Associates have energised a generally underwhelming and lengthy opening month of the World Cup. Ireland's hardnosed brand of cricket, complete with exuberant fielding, won many admirers and it is increasingly becoming evident that they would be competitive in Tests if given a chance.
Afghanistan has become a cult favourite, especially their effervescent pace attack, and produced one of the most enduring memories of the event when they defeated Scotland. There is anticipation within Afghanistan cricket of an exciting crop of teenagers set to emerge. Surely, they deserve a road to Test cricket?
Scotland and UAE were overshadowed by their counterparts but a bevy of talent was evident in both teams and their development should be properly nurtured.
Fears persist that the goodwill generated towards the Associates will evaporate once the World Cup is merely a memory. UAE coach Aaqib Javed hopes regular development for Associates will be deemed a priority.
"I think it is up to Associate teams to prove a point, and I think that is what has happened at the World Cup," Javed told Firstpost during a phone interview. "The teams have provided excitement and have proven they can compete. What is needed now is more exposure against the full members. I think the ICC should pair an Associate team with one full member, which would allow them to play in a full member's domestic competition and against their A-team."
Javed, who played 22 Tests and 163 ODIs for Pakistan, believes the UAE could greatly benefit with partnering with his country of origin. "I think UAE and Pakistan would be a good relationship, as they want teams to tour Pakistan again and we would consider that because we really want to continue developing," he says. "We rely on ICC for funding, as we don’t get support from the government. But if we start playing against big teams and do well, then government and sponsors will want to invest."
While UAE has coveted ODI status, their players have regular day jobs. Javed dreams of his players becoming full-time professionals. "Cricket is not the top priority for these players because they have to work five-six days a week," he says. "Some get up at 5am to work and can only train in the evenings. They don’t get home until midnight. It is hard on them and makes it difficult to prepare the team. We have a lot of talent here but it would be good if it can be harnessed properly."
It's not only Associates that needs investment. In recent years, I have reported on the fledgling cricket development taking place in many surprising destinations, including in the Baltics and Balkans in Eastern Europe. Yes, cricket is still largely invisible to the mainstream populace in these areas and is mainly played by immigrants. But there is a growing number of local players developing an affinity with cricket, largely due to the rise T20 cricket.
There are numerous untapped countries around the world, with China potentially being the most prominent and intriguing cricket backwater. Former Perth local cricketer Charlie Burke works closely with developing cricket in China during his role as Hong Kong national cricket coach. He believes for cricket to truly ascend into a worldwide sport, China needs to be lured.
"I have put pressure on the ICC to develop China more because there is massive growth there," Burke tells Firstpost. "For cricket to get that global audience and reach, it needs China. Everyone should want China in the World Cup T20."
Hong Kong has ODI status and were on standby for the World Cup if the West Indies’ contractual dispute imploded. Burke hopes his team will have an opportunity to play against full member teams.
"We are only going to get better if we play against the best," he says. "Cricket needs more than 10 countries competing. We can't just keep it in our own backyards. Cricket has a slick and exciting product in T20 that is catching on and we need to make the most of that. Cricket also needs to be in the Olympics, as that would provide it with more prestige and catch China's interest, amongst others no doubt."
The four teams collectively added some much-needed pizzazz to cricket, which at its elite level feels at times overly repetitive. For instance, Australia has played England and India on an endless loop in recent years. It can be dreadfully dull watching the same teams playing each other.
Imagine cricket one day being in the limelight of the Olympics, with countries such as China propelling it into a true global game. That might not be as farfetched as it sounds.
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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2015 16:22:54 IST