Cricket: Still elitist, even in the most basic format
T20 offers the ideal opportunity for “the little guy” to challenge the big dog, and sometimes come out on top. The World T20 will begin next week and while it is a global event in name, a number of smaller teams are still being made to qualify for the main event - after already qualifying. Yes, we’re confused too. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
T20 is fun and unique for those seeking something a little more down to earth. It also represents the perfect opportunity for all countries across the world to be competitive. For those who have not yet set up first-class cricket structures to build towards 50-over and first-class cricket, T20 is ideal. It’s short enough to allow those who might still need to work full-time jobs a chance to take part and it gives the underdog a chance to compete.
T20 cricket isn’t without nous, but it can be won through individual brilliance and it is a global stage for smaller-time players to become heroes. If cricket is to grow bigger, stronger and more popular in all corners of the world, this is the format through which that has the potential to happen – with or without the approval of snooty purists.
You’d think, then, that with a World T20 beginning next week, there would be a few underdog teams who had worked and crawled their way to the top. Nepal, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Ireland and the Netherlands are all countries where cricket is growing. Some of these countries have more romantic stories to tell than others, but they are all plankton in a sea of whales.
Some of these teams will be there, but not before they are put through the rigors of another qualifying process before the tournament. Yes, that’s right, some teams will have to qualify after already qualifying. If it sounds stupid, that’s because it is. Yet the International Cricket Council doesn’t seem to think so. In their minds, the tournament has “been expanded to 16 teams”. In reality, it hasn’t. A smokescreen has been erected which gives the illusion of expanding the game without, in the minds of the Powers that Be, sacrificing quality.
The qualifying-after-already-qualifying phase is cunningly being called “the first round” of the competition. Only it really isn’t the first round because not all teams are part of it. That phase will begin on Sunday and carry on until Friday – the day when the competition “officially” begins. Those who progress from there, a measly two teams, then have to head into the “full tournament” with tired legs and minds.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that part of the reason for this kind of qualifying is to eke as much money out of Indian broadcasting deals as possible. With the way the qualifying is structured, a team like India is guaranteed four games against a full-member. Rights to those are much easier and more profitable to sell than say, India playing Nepal. That cricket can make money is a good thing, but that it continues to try to make money under the pretence of the “good of game” is shameful.
World Cups are not all about making money and the ICC World T20 is not a World Cup by name, but it does bill itself as a “world event”. Cricket’s revenue structures are still struggling and while they cannot continue to hand out welfare cheques, ostracising the smaller nations will not help grow the game at all.
Yet the Associate Nations are just happy to pick up the scraps. Nepal captain Paras Khadka is just happy that the world will get to see his side play cricket.
"I think we have been playing cricket since 1996. We have been part of the ACC (Asian Cricket Council) since then. CAN (Cricket Association of Nepal) is one of the oldest sporting associations back home. We are getting there,” said Khadka.
"Football and cricket are the two most popular sports. Everybody follows us. Kids love the game. The game is really growing big time. It is very exciting. We have an amazing fan following back home. The number of cricket fans that we have matches any Test-playing country.
"For most people, Nepal came as a huge surprise to be playing at this level. This will be a breakthrough for the country itself. Once we qualified for the World Cup, the government is very keen to find out how to develop cricket further. I hope we can move forward from here,” he added.
The qualifiers will be broadcast across most channels and that is why the ICC can get away with their masquerading of the competition as being open to participation for all. The current format allows little opportunity for the smaller guys to upset the apple cart and keeps the “members’ club” going for the members.
It’s another example of cricket’s elitism. It’s is difficult to stomach, and with so much rah-rah about what a joke T20 is, there is little joking about just how much the smaller teams are being shafted.
If the ICC really believes a world event is better off without smaller teams, and if they cannot afford to sustain them, that is fine too. But it needs to stop pretending that it cares and, more importantly, it needs to stop assuming that the game’s fans are stupid. DM
Photo: Performers near the boundary breathe fire after a four was hit during the first T20 international cricket match between England and New Zealand at the Oval cricket ground, London June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown