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April 12, 2006
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Writing in his Notes by the Editor, Engel highlights the bloated 2007 World Cup schedule (47 days as opposed to 16 for the Olympics and 31 for football's version) as an example of how things have gone wrong. "The ballooning of the World Cup derives from one fact alone: the delusion of expansion. From well-intentioned beginnings, this has now become an outright menace. The error is right up there at the start of the ICC's mission statement. It will lead, it says, 'by promoting the game as a global sport'. It should change its mission statement."
Engel argues that while expansion might be a noble aim, the reality is that cricket remains embedded in its traditional strongholds. "None of the four countries elevated to Test status since the Second World War represents a gain of territory: Pakistan and Bangladesh were simply new political entities carved out of India; in cricketing terms, the same is true of Zimbabwe which - as Rhodesia - played in South African domestic cricket; and the rise of Sri Lanka was just a matter of degree.
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!"
Engel goes on to bemoan the ICC's decision to grant another six countries one-day status. "This will add another layer of distortion to cricket's poor old statistics. Far more often than not, it will also create yet more bad cricket, leaving less time for the great contests which the public want to watch.
"Two terrible events, the Champions Trophy and the Afro-Asia Cup, have already been justified by the need to raise money for expansion. Millions of pounds later and -aside from the thoroughly dubious case of Kenya - what has emerged?
"The top two of the five teams who qualified for the World Cup via the ICC Trophy are Scotland and Ireland. Well, whoop-de-doo! In cricketing terms, these are not separate countries. It is just a historical quirk that the England cricket team is not called Britain or the British Isles. Every Scotsman and Irishman who gets good at cricket wants to play for England, and always has done. Of course they do."
And he concludes by questioning the strength of the new additions. "The idea that they can provide proper opposition for any genuine Test team is ludicrous. But the World Cup will be substantially ruined to perpetuate this myth.
"If I ever get the chance to report the first China v England Test at Guangzhou, I would be delighted to celebrate with a plateful of sweet-and-sour hat. But it is time to stop wrecking the game we do have in the vain pursuit of the one we don't."
In conjunction with the Teenage Cancer Trust, Matthew Engel is running a fund to improve conditions for adolescent cancer patients in memory of his son who died ten days after the Ashes were won. Further details can be found at the website: www.laurieengelfund.org
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