Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Cricket Opens Up

Cricket has always called itself a gentleman's game. And in order to ensure the gentility remains, there have strict regulations on who can play and which matches get "official" status and which don't. All of this reeking of colonial hangover and class segregation. Where every other sport is opening up to new markets, cricket had constrained itself to remain within its own little club. The club was expanded but very gradually. and new members could trickle in, say once is a decade or two! But once inside, no power could nudge them out, whatever their atrocities (looking at you Zimbabwe!) [except South Africa who got banned for over 20 years that too a decade after  they had been thrown out of the Olympic movement].

Once a member gets full status, they stayed in and tried to make life more difficult for the next ones in the queue (Bangladesh and Kenya). Ireland might have bloodied many a Full member nose over the last decade, and Afghanistan were creating an almost unimaginable fairy-tale across all sport. But the two of them couldn't play Test cricket. For a game which talks all about fair-play, the officialdom was making a mockery of fairness where South Africa beating Zimbabwe inside 2 days a 4-day match got the exalted Test status, while a keenly contested 5-day Intercontinental Cup Final between Afghanistan and Ireland is only a First-Class fixture! And to further elaborate the point, recently there was a 10-team qualifier for two spots in the 2019 World Cup. Matches involving Netherlands and Nepal had List A status while all others had ODI status. Different statistical rules for the game in the same tournament! Ironically both these teams "achieved" ODI status by the end of the tournament!

Its in the context of this class-ism and reduction in the World Cup teams came two recent announcements by ICC. One, taken last year to provide Afghanistan and Ireland, full member and Test playing status. And two, just last week to provide T20 International status to matches played between all its 104 members. What a drastic, unexpected and welcome change!

The expanded cricketing world - Hoping to see the coverage go and all in a single colour!
Certainly exciting times ahead for the cricket tragics and statisticians! Imagine the number of new entries which will come up in cricketing databases. And we could go into the era of some really funny stats! Some new landmarks could be broached in a game between Bhutan and Iceland (come to think of it that would be a game of fire and ice!). But that's how expansion happens. And honestly, cricket is over-focused on the arbitrary statistics. [Well, Slipstream Cricket is also guilty of the same. Come to think of it that section will see a boom in entries].

Apart from statistics, there could be a whole new dynamics opening up in the game. This could also create a stronger case for the franchisee/club model which is prevalent in football. The Knight Riders are already creating a multi-country franchisee, maybe some others will also jump in! We already had some top Associate cricketers (and some full member ones too) who had become mercenaries for hire. Given that ICC has also relaxed the eligibility criteria for playing for another country, there could be some interesting career jumps across the globe. Someone struggling to break into a Ranji team might soon jump shores and play international cricket for some other country! This would really open up the game. Retiring cricketers may get a fresh lease of international life through a second passport or having a grand-parent from another place. And finally with 104 country base (split West Indies and incorporate some into Great Britain), cricket could make a serious case for inclusion in the Olympics. 

Good to see ICC finally make real progress in expanding the game. Hopefully, they will also increase the World Cup participants. Maybe they can find new revenue sources, which will not have them dependent on the whims and fancies of the Big 3 and the other Full Members!

Certainly good times ahead for the cricket tragics!

Nishant Kumar for DieHard Cricket Fans
Follow Nishant on Twitter @NishantSKumar

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