“When I started playing cricket, I thought it was to unite countries, players of different backgrounds coming together to play this beautiful sport. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen in next year’s World Cup and it’s certainly a tough pill to swallow.” These were the words of dejected Sikandar Raza after receiving the Player-of-the-tournament trophy at the ICC World Cup Qualifiers earlier this year, with ICC chairman David Richardson standing just a few feet away from him.
And instead of reflecting on his own brilliant performances in the qualifiers, he used the moment to make a statement and went on to praise other teams – by taking the names of the captains and their teams.
“This trophy will serve as the reminder of hard work, Peter Borren and his Dutch players, Kyle Coetzer and his Scottish players, Rohan Mustafa and his UAE players and all the other countries that came and couldn’t make it to the world cup.”
While his words continue to resonate till day with every stride the Associate nations make, the voices of dejection from Irish captain William Porterfield and Scottish skipper Kyle Coetzer were relatively muffled. While everything didn’t look bleak for the Irish – who now had the ICC Full Member status, the future looked bleak for Scotland.
And their Sunday's win over England was one of those reminders.
There is definitely no dearth of fairy tales linked to the Associate nations realising their dream of playing a World Cup and going on to rock the world stage.
Zimbabwe’s victory over Australia in 1983, Bangladesh defeating Pakistan in 1999, Kenya’s famous run to the semi-finals in 2003, and Ireland’s victories against Pakistan (2007), England (2011) and West Indies (2015). And then came the pause; ICC reverting back to a 10-team format to appease the financiers, putting revenues over the development of the game. Each one of these teams had one thing in common: appearing at the biggest stage in world cricket with a point to prove, with a maximum audience at disposal. That is certainly not going to happen in next year’s World Cup. That audience was a big part of the above-mentioned teams (except for Kenya) making it big later. And the qualifiers gave them hardly peanuts of that, with only a few games being televised.
While we heard Sikandar Raza was the Player-of-the-tournament – perhaps mainly because of his heart-wrenching speech, hardly anyone would have noticed that Safyaan Sharif – who pinged Mark Wood in front to win it for Scotland the other day – was the second highest wicket-taker in the World Cup Qualifiers with 15 scalps in 6 games. Or Calum MacLeod, the centurion against England, who scored 288 runs at an average of 57.6 and finished second on the list of top scorers in the tournament.
In approximately past one decade, since the 2007 World Cup (to include Ireland), the skill gap between the Associate and Full Member nations has decreased gradually. Be it Ireland’s journey to Test cricket since announcing themselves on the world stage with that 2007 World Cup win over Pakistan, or the rise and rise of Afghanistan cricket during this decade. The recent entrants to the list are Nepal.
While Ireland had to toil for a longer period, despite having a long history of first-class cricket, Afghanistan’s rise to the top-level cricket was assisted by Pakistan (initially) and India in the ICC’s corridors of power. And the reputation of some of the young sensations (especially from Afghanistan and Nepal) able to pull crowds from these countries also helped their cause. The IPL deals for players from both Afghanistan and Nepal speak volumes of that.
Ireland’s rise to the top was aided by their consistent showing in the Intercontinental Cup and their three upsets against Pakistan, England and West Indies in World Cups.
With every passing day and every game an Associate side plays with the full members, there will be a painful reminder of messed up priorities of the cricket chiefs.