Tuesday, March 20, 2007

International Cricket Council have a culture of elitism

Ireland celebrate their victory over Pakistan on St Patrick's day.

I love the game of cricket. It has to be said though that people in North America have always thought of cricket as a posh English game. As an Aussie I know this is not true, but there is still some truth in this accusation. The English once had a great empire. In this once great empire they spread their notions of class division around the world. England and Australia were the only test playing nations in cricket for a long time.

The first test match was played between England and Australia on March 15, 1877. South Africa played their first test in 1889. West Indies did not play a test until 1928 and New Zealand not until 1930. Even in the early days of international cricket it was an elitist club. Until the 1980s there were only 7 test playing nations and only three more have been added in the last 30 years.

A lot of credit must be given to the ICC for their efforts to develop the game among "associate nations" in the last ten years. There are now two international competitions for Associate nations, both in the one day and four day versions of the game. These two competitions are carefully supervised by the ICC and games are given One Day International status or first class status for the four day games. The top six associate nations Kenya, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Bermuda and Netherlands competed in the 2006-07 Intercontinental Cup (four day first class games). But only games played within this Intercontinental Cup are given first class status. Then at the end of 2007 these countries will lose their first class status again and have to requalify in 2008. The winner of the 2006-07 Intercontinental Cup will not be given test status. At least there is a system to qualify as a temporary first class country, but the ICC reserves the right to confer test status, when they see fit. They have set no guidelines in place. They have promised Kenya that they will receive test status in the near future, but not even given a date when this will happen.

Many of the old boys of the World Cricket Club have said that the new boys should not be playing in the World Cup. But teams such as Kenya, Bangladesh, Canada and Ireland have all beaten the heavy weights at the top level. Surely it is clear that all these teams need is more exposure to professional level cricket and they will improve in leaps and bounds. Yet the only opportunity they have is once every four years. It will take a long time for them to improve at this rate.

FIFA have been known for their own snobbery at times, making it hard for Australia to qualify for the world cup of soccer; also allocating a lot more places to European nations and far fewer to African and Asian nations. But at least FIFA does not discriminate between the status of teams. If Solomon Islands play Bhutan in an international game it has the same status as when Germany play Brazil.

The ICC need to accept that it is time to remove barriers to the development of cricket. Countries such as Ireland or Canada may have to wait many years before they can achieve test status. In the mean time they could lose many potential players to other more popular sports. If a young player does not have the opportunity to play their sport at the highest level they may quickly choose another sport instead. John Davison, the current captain of Canada had said that Canada needs to be playing "professional" cricket. He has not been specific about this to avoid controversy, but it is clear that what he says is true, they should not be shut out of the elite Test club any longer.

Ireland is the success story of the World Cup so far. They have drawn with Zimbabwe (a test nation) and knocked Pakistan out of the world cup. They claim that they intend to beat West Indies in their final group game. Ireland is a country that, given the opportunity and exposure could be winning test matches against the heavy weights within ten years. But as things stand they have no guarantee that they will even have test status within ten years.

The comments of some cricket leaders, including Australia's captain Ricky Ponting, that the "minnows" should not be at the world cup is unhelpful. It is ironic that some one of the likes of Ricky Ponting- a working class Australian should be making such comments. But this is a result of the ICC's culture of elitism, that he subconsciously fell into. It is because of this culture of elitism that Bob Woolmer felt such shame when his Pakistan side lost to Ireland. It is true that he had been under a lot of stress anyway, and I am sure that the pressure from Pakistan was a big part of this. But it does not help that, due to the fact that Ireland are only an "Associate" nation, that the shame was greater. This was a contributing factor to his death, likely a heart attack, although this has not been confirmed.

The six Associate nations who have qualified for the world cup should all be given test status. This does not mean that the heavy weights have to play them very often at all, but there needs to be a freedom for countries to invite who they choose, to play on their own soil. Otherwise, what incentive do these countries have but to play a handful of world class games, another 4 years from now?

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