Book review: Second XI
Second teams, up and down the land and across the world, are peopled by a mixture of those on the way up in the game, those on the way down and those who have reached their highest level. Second XIs are natural places of flux.
This new book describes a second XI where there are participants on the way down (Holland and Kenya), but the rest may never progress to a higher level. The lack of meritocracy in international cricket is a clear theme of this collection of essays about cricket in ‘Associate’ nations.
Writers Tim Wigmore, Peter Miller (and contributors) have chronicled the history and current state of cricket in eleven Associate (i.e. non-Test playing) nations. There are intriguing stories and many surprises. I am still shaking my head at finding out from the very first pages of the book that I share a love of cricket with the Afghan Taliban.
In another sense there are lot of issues familiar to those of us in cricket’s senior nations. Conflict between the elite and grassroots development, mal-administration, unease over the representation of non native-born cricketers, over-dependence on a handful of star players or charismatic organisers, the consequences of a narrow defeat. What makes the Associate experience different is how fragile their cricketing culture is; how vulnerable the whole sport is to bad luck or judgement. Kenya provides the cautionary tale: World Cup semi-finalist to lost ODI status in eleven years.
And for many in cricket, that’s the point: if the game in these nations cannot stand on its own two feet, it doesn’t deserve senior status. If you disagree, or hold that view and are prepared to have it challenged, you will welcome the robust response. Wigmore, Miller and co haven’t just prepared a polemic, though. The book is well-researched and choc-full with yarns and characters. The key matches in each nation’s history are recounted in exciting detail and woven into the longer term story. Associate cricketers – whether through the interviewers’ skill or their own openness – give good quote.
The World Cup has provided the ideal context for this book. Four associates have participated. They have suffered some drubbings, but so have the major nations. Many of the most exciting games have featured them on the field. I expect, as they depart Australia and New Zealand, they do so in credit. That, many aver, is their best protest against the ICC’s plans to exclude possibly all Associates from the 2019 World Cup.
Not so, says author Peter Miller on Twitter (@TheCricketGeek), with typical contrariness. Miller argues that the case for Associate participation should not depend upon performance, but a pure commitment to the game’s expansion. A gulf exists between that point of view and the approach of the game’s governors. Just as a few good results at the World Cup can only help the Associates’ cause, so the timely publication of this well-written, highly-engaging book about the neglected history of cricket in its outposts and the cricket establishment’s responsibility towards cricket in those countries may just help move the argument forwards.
Readers who would like to express their dissatisfaction with the ICC’s plans to limit the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams can sign this on-line petition.
I can draw the attention of readers interested in cricket in the non-Test playing nations to the following blogs that participated in the 2014 cricket blogger survey:
Idlesummers (global coverage; includes links to the Associate and Affiliate podcast, featuring Russ Degnan and Andrew Nixon)
Play for Country Not for Self (European, especially German cricket)
The Samurai Cricketer (Japan)
Adamski Loves Cricket (various)
Disclosure: no payment or non-monetary reward was received for this review.