January 30, 2007


A long way from home

Martin Williamson

It won't get many column inches in the mainstream cricket press, but the World Cricket League, which started in Nairobi yesterday and continues into next week, features the best of the rest, the six sides just under the ten Test-playing countries. For the two finalists, the rewards are bountiful - a place among the big boys in the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship in South Africa this September, along with $250,000. For countries used to surviving on annual handouts from the ICC of less than $200,000, that's big money.

With the exception of Bermuda, cricket is not a mainstream sport in any of the participants. And yet it survives, and in some instances thrives, despite the lack of attention and a relatively small number of enthusiasts.

The ICC, who do sterling work in supporting the game's second and third tiers, will rightly use the event to highlight that cricket is not just about the Indians and Australias of the world.

But there remains a nagging worry. The ICC boasts that the game is spreading across the world. But is that right? Is it taking root or is it surviving because more people from its hotbed - south-east Asia - are emigrating and keeping it alive for the duration of their careers?

In last year's Wisden Almanack, Matthew Engel raised this very issue. "Overwhelmingly, the game in non-traditional countries is played by expatriates, mostly South Asian. Journalists were kidded into believing that cricket was about to burst on China, on the basis of some warm comments by civil servants and a couple of coaching courses. I have seen not one shred of evidence to back this up. Are the kids playing with tapeballs on the streets of Shanghai? Are they heck!"

Take Canada. Of the squad in Nairobi at the moment, only three were born in the country, and two of those are over 35. Of the rest, five come from the Caribbean, four from India and each from Pakistan and Uganda. Whereas other Associates have a smattering of expats, Canada are utterly reliant on them.

Engel's comment attracted fierce criticism from those who either argued that England had more than their share of "imports" or that the game only spread in Asia, Africa, Australasia and the Caribbean through expats playing it in the first place.

Anderson Cummins bowls his first over for Canada, Canada v Scotland, ICC Tri Series, Mombasa, January 18, 2007
 © Eddie Norfolk
Does it matter? Yes, because as the ICC looks to develop the game in as many places as possible, that means the financial cake has to be cut in ever thinner slices. The ICC needs to concentrate on a smaller number of countries where the chances of the game taking off. It is invidious that Uganda gets the same basic allowance as Belgium.

Cricket is in trouble in its traditional homes in Africa - Zimbabwe are hell-bent on destruction and South Africa seems to be falling out of love with the game. So efforts should be made in Uganda . And in Asia, which everyone accepts is the game's stronghold, a side like Nepal should really be given the leg up. It's about targeting rather than a scattergun approach.

In fairness to the ICC, they have a tough time and a lot of countries scrambling for a share of the spoils. It's about weeding out the weak and really looking to grow the game in areas where it has the best chance of taking root. It's an almost impossible ask. Look at the repeated failure of American Football to crack Europe ... and if football itself still battles for acceptance outside expats and schools in the USA, then the size of the ICC's task becomes clear.

Of course expats have a key role to play in expansion. But if the game is basically played by them, is it the game spreading or is it more about diehards clinging to the traditions of their homelands? In the UK there are baseball and American football sides, but they are almost all expat Americans and so few would seriously claim the games have taken hold. However, basketball and ice hockey are widely played by locals, boosted by some imported players and expats, and, crucially, the national side can stand on its own two feet. That's the difference.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by zain on (August 6, 2007, 8:13 GMT)

hmmm if only the israeli idiots would let palestinians play im sure they would of qualified for the WC by now.

Posted by Berjo on (June 26, 2007, 14:55 GMT)

Isn't that what is happening in South Africa as well - a struggle to reach the indigenous people. Maybe quotas need to be introduced in other countries as well. What everybody really hopes for is more and more Makahya Ntini's. But then the South African question rises: What about merit and national pride?

Posted by Berjo on (June 26, 2007, 14:55 GMT)


Isn't that what is happening in South Africa as well - a struggle to reach the indigenous people. Maybe quotas need to be introduced in other countries as well. What everybody realy hopes for is more and more Makahya Ntini's. But then the South African question rises: What about merit and national pride? The "

Posted by Abs on (February 10, 2007, 5:09 GMT)

Very well said. I agree that expats making up a team is not goig to do any favours to the upbringing of the game. Here in Oman, the national team is a complete expatriate team. No wonder the Omanis have become disillusioned with this policy and have decided to quit cricket. There goes one country down the drain for the ICC.

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Martin Williamson
Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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