Birmingham bids to include cricket at 2026 Commonwealth Games
Men's cricket could return to the Commonwealth Games in 2026 if Birmingham wins the bid to be the host city.
While women's cricket will feature in the 2022 Games in Durban, men's cricket has appeared only once. On that occasion, in Malaysia in 1998, the format was 50 overs per side (South Africa defeated Australia in the final). This time it would be played in the T20 format.
Cricket is not currently one of the mandatory events incorporated into the Commonwealth Games but is on the list of optional sports that host cities have the power to add to their staging of the event as they see fit and with the support of the relevant sport's governing body.
While that cannot be guaranteed at this stage, the ICC agreed to the inclusion of women's cricket in 2022 and is already working with the Commonwealth Games Federation on the successful staging of the event. The ICC is understood to be open to dialogue over the 2026 Games.
Neil Snowball, the Warwickshire chief executive, is part of Birmingham's bid team and has confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that cricket would be of interest if they are successful. Snowball was previously head of sports operations at the 2012 Olympics and chief operating officer of Rugby 2015, the organising committee behind the 2015 World Cup.
The plan would be to stage the biggest games at Warwickshire's home ground of Edgbaston, which is only a mile or so from the centre of Birmingham. Other games could be played at Warwickshire's Portland Road ground (three miles from Edgbaston) and, perhaps, in neighbouring counties; Worcestershire's picturesque New Road ground is only 33 miles away.
Birmingham would also require ECB approval. But Andrew Strauss, the director of the England team, suggested the idea had his backing, though he did offer a note of caution. "Yes, I would be very supportive of that," he said. "But it would not just be the ECB involved in such a decision."
That signals a change of heart from the ECB. The Commonwealth Games Federation invited the ICC to participate in the 2018 Games (to be staged in Gold Coast, Australia), but were rebuffed largely on the basis of the reluctance of individual boards - not least the ECB - to compromise their own lucrative schedules.
Sixteen teams entered the 1998 Commonwealth Games, but England did not send a team as the competition clashed with the end of the domestic season. Seven of the then nine Test teams did, however, with Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and New Zealand among them. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, Jamaica, Canada, Malaysia, Kenya and Zimbabwe were the other participants.
The current ECB management are more aware of the need to reengage the sport with a broader audience, however, and keen to spread the appeal of cricket both locally and globally.
The example of Rugby Sevens is intriguing. After featuring in the 1998 Commonwealth Games, the sport eventually progressed until it debuted in the 2016 Olympics. While many obstacles remain before cricket could be realistically considered for the Olympics, the ECB's change of heart would appear to have removed a substantial one and nudged the sport a little further in that direction. Rome had signalled a desire to host cricket at the 2024 Olympics, but has withdrawn from the bidding process.
What stance India will take on the issue remains unclear. Anurag Thakur, the recently jettisoned president of the BCCI, had been seen as an impediment to cricket's reintroduction into the Olympics (it was played in the 1900 Paris Olympics; Great Britain beat France in the only match) but is also a vice-president of the Indian Olympic Association and was recently elected as the Himachal Olympic Association president.
Other cities expected to bid to host the 2026 Commonwealth Games include Liverpool, Edmonton in Canada and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. A decision on whether Liverpool or Birmingham will be put forward as England's candidate will be made later this year. A final decision on the host venue is unlikely to be made before November 2019.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo