Give the minnows a chance
do not usually write about sports, but a recent news item prompted me to
pen these words. Cricket’s governing body, which has been experimenting
on and off with the format of the sport’s premier tournament, has
announced that from 2015, the Cricket World Cup will be restricted to
the top 10 teams in the world - in other words, the 10 Test playing
The ICC has also announced that the number of teams in the Twenty20
World Cup would be increased to 16, saying that is the best platform for
smaller teams. But quickfire Twenty20 Cricket is not the best forum for
developing a country’s cricketing talents.
There seems to be a paradox here. The ICC wants to make cricket a
global sport, just like soccer. Towards this end, it has appointed
development officers for the various regions. Cricket is catching up
fast in countries such as the USA, China, Germany and France where even
a few years ago, no one has even heard of cricket the sport, as opposed
to cricket the insect.
It is in the best interest of the game to have a wider audience - in
fact, this year’s showpiece event is being telecast to over 188
By definition, a ‘world cup’ means the broadest possible
participation of teams from around the globe. For example, the Soccer
World Cup held last year in South Africa had 32 teams from all corners
of the planet. Among them were a number of unfancied teams from Asia,
Africa and the Americas. These teams didn’t even make it past the first
round, but that was literally part of the game. Give them a few years,
they will be much better.
We should abandon the notion that the smaller teams are there to make
up the numbers. They are there to play and improve their game. They gain
exposure to the highest levels of the game - and get exposed to a wider
audience around the world. That is part and parcel of their development.
Thus the ICC’s decision to truncate the tournament is at odds with
the spirit of the game. Let’s face it, cricket is a highly unpredictable
game. Anything can happen on a given day. The team that plays well wins
the game - and that team can be the underdogs.
Where would Sri Lanka be if the previous administrators at the ICC
restricted participation to the top teams of the world? Remember, we
gained ICC Test Status only in 1981, although the first Test was
actually played one year later, in 1982. But Sri Lanka did participate
in the inaugural ICC Cricket World Cup and also in the next edition in
1979, creating many memorable moments. Sri Lanka participated in a World
Cup as a Full Member of the ICC only in 1983. Participating in World Cup
tournaments certainly helped Sri Lanka in its journey towards Test
Status - and towards becoming a better team overall.
We were generally regarded as minnows or ‘easybeats’ years after we
gained Test status. Sri Lanka, once ‘no-hopers’ are among the top
favourites to lift the trophy again this year. Yes, Sri Lanka became
World Champions just 21 years after its entry to the World Cup as
The lesson here is that all teams should be given an equal chance. A
chance to shine, a chance to develop their game and a chance to gain
Test/One-Day status. They should have an opportunity to play with the
big boys. Otherwise they will languish where they are, without any
Sri Lanka is a world-beating side today, because someone at the ICC
was farsighted enough to allow minnows to play at the highest level in
1975. Ireland, Netherlands, Kenya and Canada find themselves in much the
same situation today. Give them two decades of top quality cricket and
who knows, they could emerge champions of the world some day. But to
announce that they would be ‘out of the next World Cup’ even before the
present one is over is highly demoralizing for these teams hoping to
make it big.
Moreover, smaller teams add lustre and spice to a tournament that
would otherwise be a ‘big wigs only’ affair. Due to the very
unpredictable nature of cricket, they can send sometimes the big teams
reeling. In fact, Sri Lanka was the first ‘small team’ to create such an
upset at a World Cup.
Sri Lanka were unfancied 32 years ago in England. New Zealand proved
that with a nine-wicket win against Sri Lanka in the opening clash of
the event and India lined up to do the same a few days later at Old
Trafford. Batting first Sri Lanka managed a competitive 238 from their
60 overs. (Note: Today’s tournament is a 50-over event). India, however,
couldn’t handle the Tony Opatha (3-31) and Somachandra de Silva (3-29)
double act and crashed out for 191. It was the first time a Test-playing
nation had been rolled by a non-Test playing nation at the ICC World
Among the other famous upsets achieved by no-hopers are Zimbabwe’s
1983 victory over Australia, Kenya’s knock over the Windies in 1996,
Ireland’s humbling of Pakistan in 2007 and Bangladesh’s victory over
India in the same year. In fact, both India and Pakistan could not go
beyond the first round, A Canadian held the record for the fastest World
Cup century. This year, Netherlands very nearly defeated England and we
do not know what might happen over the next few days.
However, the World Cup is not the only thing that matters. These
countries should be given more opportunities in the four intervening
years to play against each other and of course, the main and ‘A’ teams
of Full Members. These matches should be televised where possible. The
ICC should secure sponsorship deals for the emerging teams.
Their internal cricket structure (school cricket, club cricket etc)
as well as cricketing infrastructure (grounds, indoor nets etc) should
be developed. Full Member countries should ‘lend’ their second-level
coaches to these countries.
Cricket is becoming a global game - there is no doubt about that. The
ICC must give the emerging teams a chance to perform at the highest
levels to enhance the global visibility and appeal of the game. The
Cricket World Cup is already the third biggest global sporting event -
and the ICC should strive to make it the second, behind only the FIFA
Soccer World Cup and pushing the Olympics to third place.