While most of my pieces for Dennis Does Cricket have been pitiful attempts and humour and satire, I feel it’s time to write something that hits a more important note. It’s a subject that has been discussed a lot recently, but as something with a particular interest in Associate cricket, I hope to enter a worthwhile opinion.
We all know that famous quote: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Although repeated to the stage of being cliché, it’s still an important and accurate notation of human nature.
It’s a quote that I think of with monotonous regularity whenever the subject of the ICC comes up. And although it’s easy to be over critical of the organisation – often, the profit-seeking is through necessity – I can’t help but feel that our game is staring into the abyss.
There are an infinite array of issues – from N. Srinivasan, to the ‘Big Three’, to corruption and cover-ups.
But one that has struck me deeply recently is the omission of the Associate cricketing nations from the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
Many suggestions have been made for an alternative through social and conventional media – a large majority of them un-implementable, for cost, size and logistical reasons.
What is absolutely obvious, however, is that a ten team World Cup would be a farce.
One Day Internationals, more than any other format, are being diminished through sheer over-use. Kumar Sangakkara brought up 400 One Day International caps, for crying out loud.
The game is piqued solely by the Cricket World Cup, a four-yearly bonanza of ODI matches – but matches that have meaning, depth, reason, purpose.
Having the Irish, the Scots, the Afghanis, the Emiratis at the World Cup gives the world a chance to see players and teams otherwise tucked into divisions light years away from ‘proper’ cricket.
Yet we often see the Associates do well. The gap has been closing for years. In 1992, Zimbabwe beat England, helping them achieve Test status. In 1996, Kenya beat the West Indies. In 1999, Bangladesh beat Pakistan, leading to Full Member representation. In 2003, Kenya made the semi-finals. In 2007, Ireland beat Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 2011, the Irish thumped the Poms. And in this World Cup, we’ve already seen the Irish hammer the West Indians, the Scots scare New Zealand, the Afghanis trouble the Sri Lankans, the Emiratis pushed the Zimbabweans.
It’s not only in ODI World Cups either; the Dutch have beaten the English every time they’ve met in T20 World Cups. Zimbabwe were behind both Ireland and the Dutchmen in their 2014 World T20 pool. The Dutch ran New Zealand and South Africa hard in that tournament too.
Players from the Associates – the two O’Briens and Ryan ten Doeschate, for instance – are snapped up for leagues all around the world, while countless Scottish, Dutch and Irish players play County or Sheffield Shield cricket.
No longer are they Associate nations in the way we saw them fifteen years ago – rubbish sides who everyone backed in the hope they could pull a miraculous upset if pitches and weather played to their favour.
They are level-pegging with other nations, developing domestic structures, and producing their own players – not just relying on cricketing immigrants of the Dirk Nannes ilk.
If the World Cup seems important for those of us who support Full Member sides, it’s even more crucial for the little brothers.
It’s a chance for them to prove themselves, a chance to show just how good they really are. Even more than that, it allows them the global exposure. It says to all the up-and-coming youngsters, “Look! If you keep playing, you can play on the world stage against the best in the world. You can vie for the title of best in the world if you try hard enough.”
George Dockrell, the Irish left-arm spinner, said to me in an interview that:
“Yeah, it [the 2007 CWC] was great. I was 15 at the time, and all my friends and I were still at school, and a lot of people after that game, and after that success, started playing cricket and getting more interested in it. So it was great to be able to see from that side of things, the effect it could have. And then to be a part of a similar kind of feeling, and a similar kind of movement, in 2011 at that World Cup was great, knowing the effect it was going to have back home, with increasing numbers and getting more people involved in the game.”
If the ICC are truly dedicated to making cricket a world game, they simply have to let the Associates in. No, the Scottish aren’t likely to win the World Cup in 2015, 2019, or indeed 2023. No, the United Arab Emirates won’t make it to the knockouts.
But so what?
That’s not the point.
It’s about expanding our game, developing nations, growing more players and teams and supporters. So what if the odd hammering occurs; England were relentlessly rogered by New Zealand, but the Poms aren’t going to be omitted any time soon.
Unless the Irish, the Scots, the Dutch, the Emiratis, the Papua New Guineans, the Hong Kongers, the Afghans, the Nepalese, the Kenyans, the Canadians, the Ugandans and all their Associate and Affiliate brothers and cousins get the chance to play on the world stage, unless they get the chance to prove themselves, unless they get that chance to make a name for themselves, those nations will retreat back into the shell they came from.
And that won’t be good for anyone.