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We need more Associate vs Full Member games

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Cricket_Money_Power_ICC_associate_nations_minnows_expansionAfghanistan’s victory – actually it was more of a thrashing - over Zimbabwe in the T20 World Cup was not a surprise. They had won the last five T20 games between the two sides, yet Zimbabwe are the only ICC Full Member nation Afghanistan have played in the last year, before they qualified for the Super 10. Zimbabwe, in contrast, have played series against Pakistan, India, New Zealand and Bangladesh.

That, in short, sums up the predicament of the so-called Associate nations. How are they supposed to improve when they don’t get enough games against the big boys of international cricket?

The format of this T20 World Cup has been a case in point. The ICC have billed the opening group stage as the First Round, but in reality it was just another qualifying round for the Associate nations, when they should have been playing in the full competition against the Full Member nations.

The problem is that the ICC treats the Associates as second class citizens, and consequently that is the way they will be viewed by fans and the media alike. It transmits itself to the cricket too; the opening round of the competition was light on entertainment and intensity.

The ICC have decided that the next 50 over World Cup will be a ten team affair, which means no Associate nation is likely to be represented at the tournament in England at all. It is purely a commercial decision: the ICC would lose revenue if an Associate nation progressed at the expense of a Full Member.

There will be some who argue that the Associates have to do better in global tournaments to deserve a place among the elite. That argument has some merit.

Before this tournament, Afghanistan had won only one game in four ICC global tournaments. Scotland won their first game at a global ICC event in 21 attempts when they beat Hong Kong.

Conversely, there have been some success stories. The Netherlands have beaten England in two T20 World Cups. Ireland have had plenty of success, beating England at the 2011 50 over World Cup in India and the West Indies at last year’s edition in New Zealand. And of course, this T20 World Cup’s champions, the West Indies, were only beaten by one team in the entire tournament: Afghanistan.

 

The Associate nations are inconsistent but they should be given more exposure, not less. By consistently playing against the better teams, they will improve. Bangladesh, who lost their first 34 Test matches, are now a consistent one-day team and drew a Test series with the number one ranked side South Africa last year.

They are proof that improvement will come with exposure. It may not be a quick process but it will happen.

The Test nations should share as much of the blame as the ICC. Most do not play the Associate nations on a bilateral basis, although this is slowly beginning to change with the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe playing more.  

The big three Test nations, India, England and Australia, seem particularly uninterested in the Associates, although England do something at least. They played Hong Kong and the UAE in preparations for their Pakistan one-day series in the Emirates late last year and they play Ireland once a season.

Despite this, they have never played a series against an Associate team. What a boost it would be for the cause if one of the big Test nations was to host an Associate team for a one-day series.

 

It is vital for the development of the game, but the administrators are in it for the money; a series between India and Australia is far more lucrative than one between Afghanistan and England. That, therefore, means it is unlikely to happen unless their hand is forced.

Whilst they may not be playing many games against the Full Member sides, the plight of the Associate nations has never been better publicised, due to a combination of the work of journalists in raising their profiles and Associate players speaking out about their struggles.

Tim Wigmore and Peter Miller have written an excellent book, Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts, which documents the challenges and success stories of cricket in places as diverse as Papua New Guinea and China. It is a good place to start for anyone seeking to know more about the game around the world.

Wigmore in particular has raised the consciousness of the English cricketing public and continues to write extensively about Associate cricket and the lack of support provided by the ICC. It has never been written about more.

At the end of the First Round of the T20 World Cup, Ireland’s William Porterfield, Scotland’s Preston Mommsen and the Netherland’s Peter Borren all spoke out against the ICC for their treatment of the so-called lesser teams.

Whilst their cause has become more popular, the number of games they are playing against the Full Member nations is dropping even lower. Ultimately, that is what the Associates need: more games. The ICC needs to wake up and stop lining the pockets of the Full Members; growing the game should be their number one priority.

 

The last word goes to Mommsen who spoke eloquently after Scotland had been eliminated from the T20 World Cup :  "Since the 2015 World Cup I have played in one ODI match – in 12 months. So, you tell me how I’m going to improve my skills and develop as a cricketer.”  Quite.



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