Is it really Inter-nation-al cricket?
For the people of our country, cricket is religion. We follow it whole heartedly. Here a 3 yr old grows up with a pair of plastic ball and bat in his hands. You walk around in the streets on an evening and you will see youngsters enjoying an exciting game of cricket, shouting animatedly, and running swiftly to grab the ball. The heroes of every ‘galli’ are given nicknames. A bowler in our group was named ‘goli’ because of the rocket pace he bowled with.
I remember watching the 2003 world cup. There was a match to be played between India and Netherlands, before the game a cricket analyst was in the streets of Netherlands with a cricket bat in his hand. He showed people the bat and asked them if they knew which sport it was concerned with. After a dozen people stared at the bat clueless someone said ‘Baseball, may be’ (emphasis added). The question arose in my mind as to why a world cup has a mere 14 teams in the competition when the world comprises of almost 196 countries. Compare it with some other sport— member countries of football in Asia itself are almost 47.
Associate/affiliate cricket teams like Ireland and Kenya have participated in the cricket World Cup editions and given some of the top teams a run for their money. The 2011 World Cup saw an extraordinary match in which Ireland defeated England. Soon after the World Cup campaign ended, in an ICC meeting it was decided that the number of teams in the 2015 World Cup would be reduced from fourteen to ten. This decision invited a lot of criticism by different associate members and the full members. Seeing the reaction, the ICC rolled back its decision to reduce the number of teams. The 2008 edition of Asia Cup saw the participation of six teams: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Hong Kong, UAE whereas the 2012 edition of the Cup had only four teams in the competition. The associate teams Hong Kong and UAE were omitted. For making cricket acceptable across the globe, ICC has to refrain from making such irrational decisions.
However, ICC did organize the ICC WORLD TWENTY20 QUALIFIERS 2012, which had a total of sixteen teams that included Afghanistan, Netherland, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Denmark, Nepal, USA, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, and Oman. A Pakistan vs. Afghanistan ODI series in UAE 2012 was also organized where Afghanistan did manage to show that they have the potential to participate in mainstream cricket events with good training and responsible team management. Such events do help in popularizing the game in such countries but it still has a long way to go. One may say ICC has made little efforts to integrate the new cricket playing nations into the mainstream cricket scenario. As a result, the associate teams hardly have any influential cricketing events and the players have no choice but to take up other part time professions. For example, Bermuda’s Dwayne Leverock is a policeman and also drives a prison van (source: Wikipedia).
For the people who belong to countries that are not involved in cricket, the game is often conceived as a complicated one. The change of rules often and the umpiring decisions requiring so much of technical reference bring stoppage in the game taking away the excitement and flow of the game. With changing rules the comparability is lost. People from other non-cricketing countries often carry this false notion that cricket does not require the tactical, mental, and physical toughness that other sports require. People laugh and mock when they hear that a format of cricket match has a lunch and a tea break. Well, one can never know unless they experience it. Cricket can be as strategic as any other sport. The mental and physical strength is as demanding as any other sport. One must not forget that every sport is unique in its own way. The stoppages that take place in cricket during the referrals take the excitement to another level; there is anticipation and aggravated pulse as spectators wait for a decision on a batsman getting run out or controversial fielding at the edge of the boundary.
It’s very important that the ICC sees the need to promote the game internationally for the game to be played, followed, and enjoyed across the globe. The ICC can increase the popularity of the game by organizing international fixtures at neutral venues. Since it’s difficult for the associate teams to show their talent as they are not given many chances, these nations can form clubs within the country thereby gathering support and earning fans. The shorter format, Twenty20, can also help the game gain some popularity for starters and then even the associate teams can be introduced to the test format, though it is a far reaching goal, and it will take another few years before the dream of cricket becomes truly an international game.