Ryan Rickelton describes both his great successes and his disappointments with the same calm precision. He appears to embrace each extreme of experience, in Kipling-esque fashion, as necessary parts of the road to realising his potential as one of South Africa’s most promising young top-order batsmen.
The modesty and groundedness of Rickelton, who turned 19 in July 2015 while in England playing for Sale CC, comes across when he talks about first recognising he may have a future in cricket. These positive thoughts didn’t occur after a particular innings, or when praised by a coach, but waited for something much grander.
There’s a week at the end of December when all the provinces’ age-group sides get together for seven days and play each other. 13 was my first year. Then under 15, I did quite well. I got two hundreds and two fifties. I ended up being the highest run scorer and player of the tournament. From there I got invited to Cricket South Africa’s national awards, where you get the Test player of the year announced. I was named out as the under 15 player of the country. From there, I had a bit of a go and said. ‘I want to do this’. I realised I could play a bit, but I wasn’t banking on it.
Two years later, a low point came. Rickelton was part of the squad of 23 players preparing for the under 19 World Cup, but did not make the final party of 15:
I was under Ray Jennings, and he was a different coach completely. And so as I walked in, I was a little bit sure of myself at that stage, I guess. But he brought me down. He actually took me apart to show me it was a different level. And it is.
With the World Cup (and Jennings) out of the way, Rickelton was back in contention for South Africa’s junior team and on the 2014 tour of England, had the opportunity to learn from his earlier disappointment. On debut, on the first morning of the 1st test, he opened the batting at Fenners.
The night before they lay out the order and luckily enough I was squeezed in… We won the toss, we batted first and got 400-odd. I got 85, batted through the day, to eventually get out 15 or 20 overs before the end of the day. Very disappointing on my part. Should have got a big hundred. Had a few good partnerships with the other guys and we kicked on and made 420 on a good wicket. From there we were able to control the game.
But Rickelton is very aware that success at the next level will require the same philosophical approach and ability to learn from success, failure, inclusion and rejection. Coming off a first season in English club cricket that sparked, but not consistently ignited, he goes straight into the Gautang pre-season two days after he lands back in South Africa. Aiming for a position in the Lions Second Team and then from there to work his way up, Rickelton acknowledges, “there are very good players in the system.. there are tons of good players out there. It’s not easy. But it always comes down to you.”The key influences
Rickelton acknowledges the role played by two figures in his progress as a cricketer. Firstly his father, Ian (Sports Director at St Stithians Boys College, Johannesburg).
I’d say ‘Dad, can we go to the nets? We were quite fortunate, we lived on the school so could use the nets. We would spend hours in the nets, playing and playing and playing. We’d have fights sometimes. I’d sulk and he’d say, ‘I’m not going to coach if you’re going to sulk’. And sometimes he’d sulk because I’d be doing something else.
My father’s always pushed me on. I think after every game I’ve played, even at Sale, he’s the first guy I’d talk to. After every game played in England and the sub-continent. A bit more than a coach. He knows me inside out: what works for me, what doesn’t work for me.
He played schools cricket and probably could have gone on from there, but wasn’t able to attend a trial for Transvaal schools and then decided to join the army when he left school. So, his cricket fell away. He’s the first one to admit, it was a bit daft, but too late now.
The second influence is Bongani Ndaba.
I used to train with one of the coaches at the school, Bongani Ndaba. He loves coaching more than he loves playing. Knows technically everything about you as a player. So I used to work with Bongs when I was 10, 11 and still work with him today.
The sort of relationship where he knows what I’m doing wrong and lets me find out before he tells me. He’s been a big influence. Even if I kick on further, I’ll always go back to Bongs and Dad.
The stability of his father’s and Ndaba’s mentoring plays an even more important role for a young cricketer whose achievements have seen him move from one team at one level on to another at a higher level and then move again.
Each coach has their own perspective on the game and their own opinion on the player. A lot of them try to correct you or change the way you play for what they think is beneficial for you. There’s been times when I’ve tried to listen to the coach as I’ve gone up and I’ve said. ‘OK he’s my coach. I’m going to listen to him.’
And I’ve tried to do that and I’ll go and I’ll not score runs for a bit and my Dad will take me to the nets. ‘What are you doing? Go back to normal.’ So I’ve swapped back to normal. There’s always differences. Player-wise, it’s what works best for you.
Rickelton accepts that the coaches are trying to get the best out of the player, but the player must take responsibility for their own game.
South Africa and England compared
After a season as an overseas player in the Cheshire League, Rickelton has some interesting perspectives on club and junior cricket in this country.
Club here is way bigger than it is at home. There’s more connection. At home, I play club cricket and I just rock up on a Sunday, play from nine to six and go home. That’s it. There’s no club day where everyone comes to watch the firsts play. It’s not like that.
[In England] there’s a lot more support of club cricket. It’s all over the internet. Even the newspaper that rocks up at my door every week. It gathers a lot more support than at home.
Junior cricket, on the other hand, is markedly less intense in England than was Rickelton’s experience at St Stithians.
Cricket at that age is at school, so it’s forced upon them. After school, they know they’re going to cricket. They’re all friends from school, all in class together, all net together. It’s not club cricket where you can say I’m going to play this weekend, but next weekend I might go away. At school you have to be there.
At nine, ten, eleven, I used to practice four times a week, play two games. You’re there every day, over and over again. Whereas over here, some of the kids will turn up on a Monday, maybe play a game on Wednesday. That could be the difference.
Finally, with England touring South Africa in 2016, I asked Rickelton if he had seen anything this summer that should worry his country’s top cricketers.
Joe Root, as usual. Mark Wood – he’s a bonus to the side. Good pace, good movement. James Anderson might struggle a little bit.
A lot more responsibility on the batsmen to not get knocked over for 200-plus. South Africa’s a place where you’ve got to put on 350, 300 minimum.
We’re going to take it.
Post updated 20 September 2015 to correct factual inaccuracy.
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.
The World Cup runs and runs until the end of March. Just days after the Final in Melbourne, the IPL gets under way. It will employ the world’s best cricketers (or those with most box office appeal) until the third week of May.
Limited overs cricket, at its most exalted and most intense, dominates the attention of cricket followers around the world, even if its not being played on their continent. The late Mike Marquese described cricket in the late twentieth century as a pre-industrial pursuit surviving in an industrial world. Cricket in these early to middle months of 2015 seems to have caught up with the post-industrial, transnational, digitally rendered experience of life in the ‘developed’ world.
The first class game of cricket, the peak of the professional sport in the last century, progressing at a slower tempo, at quieter grounds, reaching an indeterminate result more often than a frenzied finish, might be thought of as squeezed and unregarded. But under cover of the cacophony of the limited overs game, first class cricket continues to beat quietly and insistently. This week, while World Cup quarter finals places are contended, Mashonaland Eagles are playing Mid West Rhinos; Khulna Division host Dhaka Metropolis; Nondescripts meet the SL Army at Galle; Cape Cobras invite ashore the Dolphins; Karnataka and Tamil Nadu compete in a final. Under the noses of the ICC’s grandest world tournament, New South Wales tackle Tasmania and Otago play Auckland.
Of the first class tournaments currently under way, there is a new entrant: WICB Professional Cricket League Regional 4 Day Tournament, as it is titled. This successor to what was once known as the Shell Shield is in the later stages of its ten rounds of matches.
Coverage of the tournament has been sparse. Cricinfo has not provided live updates, just end of day summaries. Its greatest claim to fame may turn out to be that it is the tournament that bankrupted the West Indies Cricket Board – in a round-about way.
Under Director of Cricket, Richard Pybus’s leadership, the WICB has set out to reinvigorate cricket in the Caribbean. A key step was to have a professional domestic game, to be funded by redistributing money earned from the international team’s activities. Securing that funding meant a new contract for its international stars and that was the contract under dispute when the West Indies players packed their bags and left the tour of India in November 2014, to which the BCCI have responded with a legal claim for damages many times the WICB’s annual income.
I hope, though, that the PCL gains recognition for something else: restating the importance of domestic first class cricket. For the first time since 2009, the league will comprise a full set of home and away fixtures, giving players the opportunity to play in up to ten matches for the first time in a decade.
Looking back over the last six decades, my assumption that there had been a decline in domestic first class cricket proved wrong. The only country where there is less first class cricket being played is England.
The figures shown in the chart reflect the number of matches a player could play, excluding later stages of any knock-out tournaments. In countries with more than one competition (e.g. India, South Africa), I have used the first class averages to indicate how many games were available to an individual.
The proliferation of international fixtures has meant that the leading players are no longer available for most domestic first class fixtures. But most of those players will have appeared there before they made the step up to international cricket. David Warner’s progression – leapfrogging the first class game – is not the norm. Cricketers who have come to the fore recently have a solid first class base: Rahane, Ballance, Steve Smith, Philander and Williamson.
It’s for this reason that the West Indies have introduced a new regional competitive structure that affords six months of professional cricket – more than twice the length of the preceding domestic season.
To find out more about the PCL, I put some questions to David Oram, cricket writer and broadcaster based in Barbados. His responses, made early in the PCL season in December, make interesting reading – not just about this new competition, but the whole predicament facing cricket in the region.
Declaration Game: How has the introduction of the PCL been greeted?
David Oram: With a mixed response. The Pybus Report’s idea of more competitive and professional first class cricket was greatly welcomed. The cricket needs radical improvement and for there to be more of it – six first class games per season per team was woefully inadequate.
Also, paying the regular West Indies first class cricketer a professional wage ought to help players concentrate on their cricket, practice more, etc., rather than be worrying about holding down a job and a playing career at the same time.
The reality however has been disappointing: the PCL has been dubbed by some as professional only in name – it is still the same inadequate, amateur cricket.
Pitches are still shockingly poor and the teams unrepresented by ‘stars’ off gallivanting in other overseas T20 leagues or representing the national team.
Most disappointingly of all, the idea that new franchises would strengthen the sides in the Caribbean did not occur. At the Player Draft (which I attended in Barbados) only two players were selected from outside their own territory from 30 picks: Guyana’s Ronnie Sarwan for T&T and Barbados’s Ramon Reiffer for Guyana. With Sarwan’s withdrawal, Reiffer is the only ‘overseas’ player.
The very weak Leeward Islands in particular were expected bolster their squad with imports – but declined to do so. Coach Ridley Jacobs’ rationale appeared to be that, ‘if we don’t pick our local boys, no-one will. We need to look after our own cricketers’ development’. If this was his point, I can see his logic. But it betrays the ceaseless insularity of all the Caribbean territories.
At the moment the jury’s out on the PCL. It’s a good idea, but it is never going to be a solution to the problems facing West Indies cricket.
DG: Is there much media or public interest in the matches?
David Oram: Attendances are dreadful. A wet Wednesday at Wantage Road gets about twice as many watchers as the Kensington Oval does for a four day game between Jamaica and Barbados. But then it’s little surprise when the games are so poorly promoted.
And yet, like the English County Championship, everyone still wants to know the score. Far more follow the scores via the papers or internet, than ever attend. But interest is massively down from the heyday of West Indies cricket – a reflection of the lack of success, the poor stuff being played and the relative lack of star names on show.
Also poor is that many territories have dropped live radio commentary of island matches. When I came to Barbados three and half years ago every home Barbados match had live radio commentary. No more. The two main radio stations (VoB and CBC) believe their listeners would rather hear music and talk shows than cricket – and more importantly, their advertisers agree – so they have dropped commentary coverage. One or two still feature some games (I believe in Jamaica and Guyana?) but this has further diminished cricket as part of Caribbean popular culture.
DG: The PCL is funded from the money the international players ‘agreed’ to forego, which was the cause of the India tour debacle. Will that affect the international players’ commitment to the tournament when they are available for selection?
David Oram: Good question. Maybe, but probably not. Those that masterminded the ODI strike play precious little first class cricket in the region anyway. Pollard has played something like four games of first class cricket in five years; Sammy about the same and Dwayne Bravo even fewer. They are not interested in playing ‘proper’ cricket and would far rather be handsomely paid to sit in a dug-out, not playing in Chennai or Sydney than be fielding for a day and a half at Sabina Park. They have given nothing back to the regional game and while they pay obvious occasional lip-service to the prosperity of West Indies cricket, in truth they couldn’t care less.
One or two players who bridge the first class and one day format do support the PCL and will turn out as and when required. Ramdin is a good example of this. Generally, those who know that their cricketing wealth will come from Test cricket do play the four day games, while the ODIers and T20ers do not. The advent of the PCL hasn’t changed that.
DG: What are your views on whether the expanded season is sustainable?
David Oram: I believe so. The WICB and Richard Pybus have invested a lot of time and thought into this overhaul and while it won’t remedy most things in West Indies cricket, it certainly won’t hurt.
There is little chance that the ODI players will get the money deducted from them returned to them, so it is financially sustainable. Even if an inquiry recommended those monies be returned, the WICB would point out to the grassroots professionals that it’s THEIR wages that are disappearing and effectively the international players would leave, or be ejected from WIPA, so the majority are paid. This is cricketing socialism and is a far fairer system and should be welcomed. Bravo, Pollard, Sammy, Gayle etc. have a very limited shelf life, so their influence two-three years from now will have disappeared.
Interest-wise, the public have long given up, so there’s no change there. I would expect the expanded four day PCL tournament to continue with its increased number of fixtures for some time – certainly three-four years to give it a proper run. It may remain for ever.
But be under no illusions, the increase has not come about because of an increased appetite for the game in the Caribbean. It has happened because the West Indies is facing immense cricketing challenges on and off the field and, unfortunately, commentators, broadcasters, writers and cricket watchers in the general public have all long since lost hope of seeing any light at the end of the tunnel.
Thank you to David Oram for his contribution to this piece. David writes passionately and expertly on West Indies cricket at Roland Butcher’s Hook, tweets @colblimp1983 and contributes to Mason and Guests, Voice of Barbados’s weekly cricket talk show.
If ever a survey deserved a century, it was the cricket blogger survey. Unfortunately, it was sawn off a couple of quick singles short. This first post on the survey results looks at who those 98 respondents are. For those of a more academic bent, a short post on the sample and method has also been prepared.
I start the profiling of cricket bloggers with a review of how else they are active in the sport. Over half regularly attend matches, with 37% playing regularly. The overlap of blogging with professional coverage of the game is evident with 29 doing some paid writing and 15 involved in broadcasting. The range of activities cricket supports and inspires is captured by the ‘other’ category which includes historians, book collecting, gambling, consultancy to sponsors and advice to national cricket boards.
Most bloggers, sooner or later write about their formative cricket experience. By asking a question about which match started their passion for the sport, I have been able to derive how long ago that happened and what type of match first grabbed them. The chart shows that bloggers responding to the survey are fairly evenly distributed across the last forty years. Cricket obsession is neither an older person’s preserve, nor blogging an activity for the young alone. Test cricket was the hook for 58% of respondents. The World Cup and domestic cricket each accounted for 11% of respondents’ first matches, with the former found among the more recent followers and the latter with those whose interest dates back further.
The cricket authorities’ notion of the ‘marquee series’ does earn support from these figures: 26% of all respondents (45% of those citing Test cricket) identified an Ashes Test/series as their starting point, with the 1981 and 2005 series gaining multiple mentions.
The survey respondents appear skewed towards UK residency (49%) and support for the England cricket team (35%) – see the post on the survey method and sample for further discussion of this. The full breakdown of location and allegiance is tabulated below. One point of note is that around 60% of respondents live in the nation whose team they most strongly support – lower than I would have anticipated.
I didn’t ask bloggers to name cricketers who first caught their eye, but many did. Gary Sobers, Viv Richards, David Gower, Richard Hadlee and Kevin Pietersen all got mentioned, but so did Ed Giddens. One of the pleasures of sorting through the survey responses is reading the details remembered of that formative cricket experience.
west indies v australia. adelaide. 26th jan 1993. 1 f-ing run… when Peter Lever’s bouncer almost killed Ewan Chatfield… Quite ridiculously, the 2007 World Cup game between Pakistan and Ireland… Ashes 1986/87. All matches. Liked the cartoon duck. And Bill Athey.
This first post in the series ends with a consideration of why we blog.
I asked respondents to complete the sentence, “I blog because..” Those answers have been sorted for motivations, which have then been clustered into five broad categories. I have taken the love of cricket for granted, and indeed most respondents mentioned it. In this diagram, the distance from the centre represents the frequency with which a motivation was mentioned.
Explanations of the categories and motivations with examples from the responses follow:
INTERNAL – this category comprised the motivations of those for whom the process of blogging brought its own reward, rather than the outcome of the writing.
Enjoy writing: the process of expressing oneself about this pastime provides pleasure enough for many bloggers.
I enjoy it .. I don’t care about readers or payment.
I quite like writing and get a warm, weird glow inside when I put together a sentence which I am proud of.…
To learn about the game: the blogging process develops a better understanding of cricket
it helps to make sense of the messed up game
it gives me a chance to find out what I think
An escape: an activity that demands concentration and helps take the mind off or manage other pressures
Writing allowed me to mentally evade (albeit momentarily) the stresses of corporate life and provided an outlet which helped manage mental illness. As my coping mechanisms evolved, so did my need to write.
It fills time: separated from other cricket fans, blogging provides the pleasure of discussion by proxy
none of my current circle of friends like the sport that I’m quite mad on, so basically it’s a conversation to myself.
PURPOSIVE: blogging as a way of achieving something beyond blogging itself.
(Want) to do it for a living: a small number (given how many we know do write professionally) related their blogging to writing, or wanting to write professionally.
there’s also a vague hope that someday I could find a away to be paid for watching cricket. That’s the dream.
DECLARATIVE: to make use of the web’s almost unique ability to enable people to be heard across the world.
To share/showcase thoughts: wanting and enjoying being heard, getting read.
I like the fact that my views are something that someone else also might be trying to say. It feels good to share your thoughts with random people on the internet.
Have something unusual to say: possessing distinctive insights or perpectives that you don’t hear in the mainstream media.
I couldn’t find anyone out there who looks at the game in the way I do.
I was fed up reading staid, ecb approved media reports.
To promote part of the sport: this motivation is related to that of having something unusual to say, but focused on giving air to a specific element of the sport that gets little coverage.
I want to promote women’s cricket
Also a response to being told I don’t exist – “no-one watches County Cricket anymore” – “well, I do”!
SOCIAL: to be part of a community with shared interests, using a dynamic new social force.
To get feedback/be part of a community: two way communication.
And also because I love the comments. The best part of the site’s the bit I don’t write.
Ease/excitement of blogging: it’s so easy to write and to have your words out there.
I love the sport and the meritocracy and immediacy blogging offers.
REACTIVE: as a way of responding to the cricket world.
To vent at authorities: a channeling of frustration with how the game, or its coverage is run.
Otherwise I’d be shouting at the television
an avenue for expressing a lot of pent up anger at the world and the ECB in particular.
Most bloggers are active in the sport, in the main by attending matches, playing or writing professionally. The duration of their interest in the sport and, therefore we can deduce their age, varies. Most were first drawn to the game by watching an international match, usually Test cricket. Their motivations for blogging differ, but many consider they bring an unusual perspective to writing on the sport or simply enjoy the act of writing or being able to share their views with others. In the next post on the survey results, I will look at the blogs.
This post was re-written after images and text were lost when it mysteriously returned to an early draft version – 8 November 2014
The 2013 Champions Trophy has been a success. High quality cricket played by the world’s best players in front of fans of all eight of the participating nations. Even the soggy day of the final was redeemed by a dramatic match won by the more courageous team. This, we have read and heard – and you and I may have thought or said – is what the World Cup should be like.
And the whispers (actually, tweets) from those in the know is that the ICC may not liquidate the Champions Trophy after all. Something to be pleased about? A common-sense decision? Maybe, but maybe not.
The most appealing feature of this tournament was that it was played by eight well-matched sides, where the result of very nearly every match mattered. A four-yearly, or even biannual, repeat would be very welcome. But how likely is it that cricket will continue to have eight international teams so closely clustered in ability? History suggests not. For much of the last generation, there have been half-a-dozen or so teams of a fairly even standard and one other – Australia – way out ahead. Eight happened to be the perfect number for a short, sharp tournament in 2013, but I suspect, with the diverging (financial) fortunes of the cricketing nations, a competition of the same size in the future will have a few makeweights and so a loss in intensity.
The tournament was played in cricket grounds that hummed with spectators, rather than echoing to the shouts of the players, as has happened at other ICC events when the home nation is not in action. This is another aspect of the 2013 Champions Trophy that it would be highly desirable to replicate. But it is a product of Britain’s multi-cultural and densely located population, which other cricketing nations don’t offer. A top level sports tournament for international teams needs to be rotated around the major nations so home advantage isn’t monopolised, the teams are tested in differing environments and the opportunities to earn revenues for national associations are shared.
So, in terms of two of its most attractive features, the 2013 Champions Trophy may be better appreciated as a one-off, rather than the formula for a sure-fire, repeatable winner.
Other than the misplaced optimism that the Champions Trophy could provide the model for ICC tournaments, the other aspect of this discussion that struck me was the inconsistency with other, earlier comment on international cricket competitions.
Two years ago we heard and read – and you and I probably thought or said – that the ICC’s decision to reduce the number of associate members playing in the World Cup was unfair to those emerging cricket nations and would hinder their development into full members of the international cricket circuit. The critics’ consensus was that the ICC should keep its competitions open, not allow them to be closed-shops for the established nations.
And amongst the very many of us taking the side of Ireland, Afghanistan and other aspiring cricket nations, I’m sure some of us were complaining just a few weeks earlier that too many games in the group stages of the World Cup were one-sided. We want tight competition and we want encouragement to the weaker nations who cannot yet sustain that competition and so we want to keep international tournaments the preserve of the strongest. There are some critics and commentators who have stayed consistently on one side of this argument, but many have flip-flopped between the two positions. I know I have drifted.
For sensible cricket folk to take a series of such logically inconsistent positions suggests there is something else going on; a deeper uncertainty that we cannot resolve but allows us to advocate strongly heading north and then a short while later insist on having east to our left-hand side.
I speculate that the issue that pulls us strongly in varying directions is the game’s global ambition. Should cricket try, or is it even sensible to attempt, to expand its international playing base?
The ICC’s statement of strategic direction suggests an expansionist agenda, but with a clear acknowledgement of standards:
A bigger, better, global game targeting more players, more fans, more competitive teams.
Our long-term success will be judged on growth in participation and public interest and the competitiveness of teams participating in men’s and women’s international cricket.
Motivating that strategy may simply be the business commonplace that an enterprise not expanding is managing decline. Is there perhaps a moral dimension – a cricket crusade? In the ICC’s vision for success, it is aiming for a situation where, “cricket will captivate and inspire people of every age, gender, background and ability while building bridges between continents, countries and communities.”
It seems right to want to share our great sport with others, but let’s go no further than this expression of altruism. Because the next stop on this line is that cricket is a civilizing force for good. That’s the cricket of the racist British Empire, apartheid South Africa, caste-ridden India, aboriginal-oppressing Australia, civil war infested Asian Sub-Continent, etc.
Part of me thinks that cricket has enough to do tending its roots in its traditional soils, whether that’s fighting for its place in the leisure saturated industrialised countries or ensuring its popularity translates into more players and more consumers in the developing countries of cricket-playing Asia.
And then I spend my time consuming cricket works by writers and broadcasters in the USA and Czech Republic; I am moved by the story of the Afghan national team and I want Irish players to have the pride of playing for Ireland, not hopping across to England. These fans and players deserve top level cricket where they are, not merely rendered on their screens digitally.
Then back I swing again. New Zealand cricket cannot afford its players to have first class games acclimatizing ahead of a Test series in India. The West Indies and Sri Lanka shelve tests to accommodate ODIs which will earn more revenue. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have set up shop in a de facto second division. What sort of elite world of international cricket would we be welcoming Ireland, Afghanistan and the USA into?
I cannot decide what shape I want future international cricket tournaments to take. I do recognise, however, that the format selected needs to be consistent with the game’s global ambition.