MA in Sports Journalism at St Mary's University

Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Cricket’s Associate Nation Conundrum

The Cricket World Cup 2019 is underway.

Somewhat predictably, the Great British Summer is keeping the groundsmen busy as the tournament looks to gather some momentum after a stop-start few weeks.

Of course, one of the leading storylines heading into the summer was that of the wholesale changes made to the competition’s structure. With the number of teams involved in the strikingly perpetual round-robin stage reduced to 10 (down from 14 in 2015), the lack of opportunity for associate nations has been a controversial bi-product.

The World Cup has oft provided a platform for smaller cricketing nations to disprove their minnow moniker and make their mark on the world stage.

Now, with the International Cricket Council (ICC) taking steps to bypass blowout fixtures and ensure every game is competitive, the associate nations have lost one of their most marked opportunities to prove their worth and expand their yearly cricketing schedules.

If we are to truly see the development of associate sides, such as Bangladesh’s rise since the 1990s, the ICC’s changes can only be seen as a backwards step – a view affirmed by the great Sachin Tendulkar, who recently and publicly bemoaned the tournament’s hindrance in globalizing the game.

Scotland are one such nation who missed out at this World Cup, narrowly losing out in qualifying to the West Indies.

For a more than capable side who stunningly beat World Cup favourites England at the Grange just last year, it is a hammer blow.

Scotland are an associate nation with One Day International (ODI) status since 2018, following their strong performance in World Cup qualifying, yet their yearly schedule is positively barren in comparison to the test-playing, full member nations of the ICC.

Given the severe lack of playing opportunities, there is surely a ripple effect in failing to attract young talent to the national side. Exactly how much motivation can young and exciting prospects have to pursue cricket full time?

Oli Hairs is one batsman on the fringes of the Scotland team, currently maximising his opportunities with Scotland A in order to gain consideration for selection.

Oli Hairs goes to 100 for the Eastern Knights in Scotland

Having played five ODI’s for Scotland in 2010, this is his second push for playing time with the first team.

“Looking back, I was way too young and didn’t really know my game well enough at that level – I got a couple of twenties but that was really about it,” he recalled.

“With an associate nation, there are not many games and fixtures – there’s even less now because the Pro40 isn’t a thing and Scotland have lost that domestic involvement with the county sides.

“Back when I played my first game, I was still at school. Professional cricket was always the plan, but work and university ultimately got in the way.”

Now in his late twenties, Oli now counts himself lucky to be in a position where another shot at the Scotland side is not the be all and end all.

“When I was 18, my mindset was very much ‘this is what I have to do’.  Whereas now, I’m just going out and enjoying it – if it happens it happens, I’m just giving myself the opportunity to get noticed and potentially selected.”

Given the further reduction of World Cup participants, Oli believes the motivation for the associate nation prospects coming through the ranks lies in franchise T20 cricket.

A new franchise tournament called The European T20, involving two sides from each of Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands will kick off at the end of August.

“With the World Cup being shortened, the number of teams have dropped and it does really limit the cricket available to us,” Oli pointed out.

“However, with the new European T20, the six sides will participate in 30 games in 3 weeks before the finals – it will be similar in set up to Australia’s Big Bash and the Indian Premier League.”

Each squad for this new competition will have nine homegrown players as well as six overseas participants.

Franchise cricket holds the key to many associate nation players’ future

Oli sees the tournament as a great opportunity for homegrown associate players to get their name out there.

“I know Brendon McCullum and Shane Watson are involved already and a load of others – hopefully making your name alongside those stars will open up a few doors.

“They have announced a ten-year deal so it’s pleasing to see this franchise set up is in it for the long haul.

“All of it will be either televised or streamed online as well, so if you do well there’s ample opportunity to get yourself noticed and subsequently selected.”

The 2019 World Cup will last 46 days, three more than the 2015 edition, despite the reduced number of teams.

A traditionally long and at times exhaustive tournament has always raised questions over the most appropriate competition structure to implement.

Yet the sad truth of the matter is that we are not likely to see a consistent growth in competitive cricketing nations, if the ICC continue to drop the ball.