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Martin Williamson asks whether the ICC's picture of global expansion is as accurate as it seems
January 30, 2007
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.
|The worry in some countries is that rather the game is not being continued by the second and third generations but is only being maintained by a steady flow of new immigrants|
The worry in some countries - and again I come back to Canada - is that rather the game is not being continued by the second and third generations but is only being maintained by a steady flow of new immigrants. Canada's cricket heritage is rich but there is little sign that it has been built on. This is best underlined by the selection of former West Indies international Anderson Cummins. Forty years old and without a major match to his name since 1995-96, he made his debut in Mombasa last week. What message does that send out about the strength in depth of cricket in Canada?
It's not just Canada. Look at the USA, whose 2004 Champions Trophy side was a collection of ageing expats whose performances verged on the disgraceful. And the UAE, which is almost entirely dependant on its ex-pat workforce to keep the game alive.
Cricket's expansion should not be about filling teams with expats and expecting the locals to get excited about it. The only way cricket can gain a foothold in emerging countries is by actually getting the indigenous population to embrace the game, and two excellent examples where this is happening are Nepal and Uganda.
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.
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