Done on the development trail
Cricket has had a long and loyal following, born not only out of the village greens of England or the dusty Indian maidans, but the war-torn wastelands of Afghanistan and a spare scrap of land in Canada. It is increasingly described as a global sport, despite the lack of penetration into the American market, and yet Associate cricket nations - or minnows as they are understandably coined - still struggle to take the next step up and compete with the big boys.
That isn't to say that cricket's administrators are blind to their plight. Far from it. The ICC are lambasted by confused fans and angry journalists - much of it justified, some of it hysterically bombastic - but the ICC's attitude and commitment to developing nations cannot be so furiously challenged. A key figure in ensuring the likes of Kenya, Ireland and Scotland continue to progress is Richard Done, the ICC's High Performance Manager. His job title might sound implausibly vague but his role is altogether more defined.
"Within the development department, there are a number of functions with the Associates and Affiliate world," Done, born in Australia but now based in Dubai, told Cricinfo during the first day of the World Cup Qualifiers in Johannesburg. "I look at the top six sides. If you go forward from here, the top four are going to qualify for the World Cup. The focus is going forward and working with those top six, with emphasis on the top four, to make them as competitive as possible."
Ah. Competitiveness. Bar sporadic success by Kenya, in the 2003 World Cup, and Ireland's enjoyably free-spirited campaign in 2007, Associates have not so much underperformed as been horridly outclassed. Tournaments such as the successful Intercontinental Cup (a four-day competition spread over 12 months) have given these sides vital match practice, and the rivalry is sufficiently intense to generate a watchable contest. Pit some of them against Full Member nations such as Australia, and the outcomes are depressingly predictable.
"Associate versus Associate cricket; Intercontinental Cup and ODIs, which are official ODIs - they are the core of our cricket," Done says. "There's something like 35-40 days of cricket a year as a base. What we need to do then is add on matches against Full Members. Particularly for Ireland and Kenya at the moment who are on the top table because they have to play eight every two years."
The class disparity is a never-ending topic, but the ICC is beginning to lay out a structure - a word Done used consistently - to lay a foundation upon which they can build. Full Member nations (ignoring Zimbabwe just briefly) take administration and coaching almost for granted; the money and commercial interest is there, and with it comes a professional set-up that can lay the base for players to launch their careers. Administration and full-time coaches are two vital and basic aspects of Associate nations which have been horribly lacking, until now. Done has introduced match analysis systems for each country, which are now all used as a matter of course.
"In any country, the cricket on the field is reflected in the administration off the field - the structure, the back-up and so on. So we've been spending a lot of time in the last two years to push the countries and improve the structures and the planning processes. Everything from budget planning to administration, to coaching pathways, to players coming into the system and developing their own plans.
"We have full-time coaches in place there, so we're looking after things on the field. I don't think it's realistic for us to be expected to produce top sides without full-time coaches.
"Ireland are coming along on and off the field. Scotland have had a really strong administration for a long time now. So this was the idea and we then had a follow-up last November in London. The transition for us was to go strongly in to the structure and background and linking the coaching staff with the CEOs to keep them on the same page. Both parties had to know what each one wanted to achieve and how it fitted into an organisation."
|"We're not going to jump from nothing to full professionalisation. People are going to have to make choices. The avenue to go down is with younger players - and, yes, sometimes that'll be for less dollars. And employ them not just for cricketers but training, coaching, school coaching and so on."|
The more Done speaks, the clearer his vision becomes and the more evident it is that cricket - even Associate cricket - is as much a business as a sport. Done may disagree, but his role is effectively as a management consultant, brought in to inject cash and the basics of forming an effective organisation, before setting them free: hopefully with good results. Yet for all the talk of structure and foundation-laying, there is a far greater challenge facing Done. "We're still stuck in that grey area of amateur and professional where players are paid match by match. To make a big difference in the next World Cup, we really have to professionalise them.
"To be a better cricketer, you've got to play high levels of competition. You've got to improve by playing better teams than yourself."
To achieve that, teams cannot rely on players making personal and financial sacrifices. Only three from Scotland have contracts, and even those faced a tough challenge to ditch their long-standing careers and become full-time cricketers.
"We're not going to jump from nothing to full professionalisation. People are going to have to make choices. Ryan Watson [Scotland captain] has chosen to forget his job and become a full-time cricketer. The avenue to go down is with younger players - and, yes, sometimes that'll be for less dollars. And employ them not just for cricketers but training, coaching, school coaching and so on and that's what I've been suggesting to them [the boards] about bridging the gap between amateur and full-time professionals."
If and when that does happen - and the recent success of England's women cricketers shows how well such a scheme could work - the progression suddenly becomes easier. "We want to have, for example, Scotland play two four-day games against New South Wales; a couple of one-dayers, and then maybe an ODI against that country [Australia]. But you can't do that without professionals. Up to 70 days of a cricket a year, not including tour games around it and travelling in between cricket, is a hell of a lot. What do most people get, four weeks' leave? So how do you make 70 days work in a programme [of amateurs]. You're asking a hell of a lot."
A "quicker route to professionalisation" is Done's biggest gripe. Understandably, too. It is a hurdle too steep to leap in one stretch, but there are other aspects of improving Associates which, as he puts it, are controllable.
"With the global cricket academy opening up, that'll open up a lot of doors. Certainly within 2009. I've already started talking to Rod Marsh about the fitness and fielding benchmarking and making sure from a fitness and fielding stance, which are very controllable parts of the game, that we present ourselves in the next World Cup as one of the fittest teams. It's a basic of the game." A basic which has been cruelly exposed in previous World Cups, but one which is being addressed. Scotland and Ireland (who possess several county-contracted players) are the fittest by a distance.
Done, whose predecessor was the late Bob Woolmer, has one major goal during his tenure: to tackle the perennial underachievement of the batting. "That is the one thing we've really got to work hard at. If you're going to the World Cup to play the best, you've got to be able to put some runs on the board. That doesn't mean reaching 300, but we do need 200s and 250s.
"The best analogy is if you watch the 2007 rugby World Cup and look at some of those minnows and they went really well. They gained a lot of credibility, just because of solid and tough performances. Those like the USA who really competed for 60 minutes of the game. The reality is, we don't have the depth of ability of Full Members. But there are basics and controllable basics which we can help with."
Such as the mental side of the game. Before Jeremy Snape, the former England spinner, was appointed as "performance coach" for the IPL side the Rajasthan Royals, he was used by Kenya. With a masters degree in sports psychology, Done is again looking to utilise him for Associate players and coaches.
"I've met him here again and discussed doing the same sort of things and we want to design a programme. It's exciting. There are two aspects. One is making sure the players are building their own belief structures, and the second part is supporting the coaching staff so they can develop too. We need to support the coaches just as much as the players, the way they're thinking and planning and make the team more cohesive. Generate more belief.
"We need to do a good job advising the right countries, and help make them more efficient about what they do. Then if the country has the structure in place, they'll get the right results. Like Scotland and Ireland. They're coming along, but it's not just from the ICC - the country has to be ready to do the job."
And with that, we came full circle. Yes, the ICC are helping, but they can only spare so much money. Their funding has increased exponentially over the last few years but, as Done reiterated, they can only do so much. The rest is down to the individual boards. How they respond over the next two years will decide which teams fall by the wayside, and which might eventually regularly challenge the big guns.
Will Luke is assistant editor of Cricinfo