May 24, 2009

What have they done to deserve this?

The ICC's decision fast-track the USA into the World Twenty20 Qualifiers is a breach of its avowed principles

In recent years the ICC has established a clearly defined pyramid structure for world cricket, from the ICC Test Championship through to the lower reaches, the Associate and Affiliate game.

The theory that the humblest side could progress through to the ultimate goal of the World Cup was almost borne out by the progress of Afghanistan; a year ago they were languishing in the fifth division of the World Cricket League, but after a string of promotions, last month they came within one game of qualifying for the 2011 World Cup. As it is, they have become a fully fledged ODI country. It's been cricket's Cinderella story.

However, earlier this week, the ICC's development committee brushed aside the whole idea that the structure was a meritocracy and made what appears to be nothing more than a quite brazen commercial decision. The USA, who since their ignominious jolly at the 2004 Champions Trophy have achieved nothing of note, were shamelessly handed a place at the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers later this year, despite not even being in the top 20 Associates.

The Qualifiers should be a showdown between the leading six Associates/Affiliates for a place at the next ICC tournament in the Caribbean in 2010. The inclusion of UAE, ranked seventh, was justifiable, as they host the event. But the USA?

The ICC has denied the decision was based on anything other than cricketing reasons. The logic was that USA were a side down on their luck because their own board had been "dysfunctional" (to use a former ICC chief executive's own words) for four years, and so were in need of a helping hand. And with the main tournament taking place in the West Indies, there was a local reason for them to be included.

By running roughshod over its own structures, the ICC has made clear that profit will always win through. There is no cricketing reason whatsoever for treating the USA as it has

Just over a year ago the USA Cricket Association was in the wilderness, suspended for a second time from the ICC because of their utterly shambolic infighting. They needed external help to revamp their constitution, held acrimonious elections, and when Gladstone Dainty, the president through the troubled times, was incredibly re-elected, behaved in the same dismissive and secretive way as they always had. A shaft of light came with the appointment of Don Lockerbie as the new CEO last month, but much still remains unclear, from the lack of accounts to a much-criticised and dubious selection process.

That the USA is seen by many as the game's great potential goldmine is hardly a secret. But for the shambles within the USA Cricket Association, grounds in Florida, New York and California might well have staged ODIs by now, and for a time Florida was mentioned as a potential venue to host matches in the 2007 World Cup. What's more, Lockerbie is well respected and there is optimism about what he can do to turn things around.

However, by running roughshod over its own structures, the ICC has made clear that profit will always win through. With 10 million first-generation Asian expats in North America and 200,000 of them dollar millionaires, some of the ICC's present and future big guns can see the massive potential of a largely untapped market. There is no cricketing reason whatsoever for treating the USA as the ICC has; but money talks volumes in Dubai - even if tomorrow rather than today.

It also raises a concern that this could be the thin end of the wedge. Despite assurances that this is a one-off, the ICC has also been wooing China, with its 1.3 billion potential consumers, in the last couple of years. Is it too far-fetched to imagine them being given direct entry to a qualifying event in a few years' time? And why not go all the way and allow them straight into the World Cup? Imagine the sponsorship opportunities that would bring.

The other unanswered question is where this idea originated. It was certainly not the brainchild of the Associates, and while presented as the initiative of the ICC's development committee, that might not be as clear-cut as it seems.

The ICC has done a great job at raising the profile of the game outside the top flight, and it has many good people working hard behind the scenes to expand cricket across the world. Sadly, this one decision has undermined much of those efforts and shown that when there is money to be made, the ICC is quite willing to do what it takes to get it.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pferder on May 25, 2009, 21:45 GMT

    I think this is an unusual decision by the ICC. As a keen follower of the World Cricket League tournaments, I would fully understand if Namibia felt badly treated. I travelled to Jersey to see Div 5 last year and the USA were a good side, but clearly didnt deserve promotion, Jersey outplayed them in the semis. That leaves Nambia and 12 other team plus (Jersey and Fiji) with more right to be there than the US. The USA's internal problems should not be passed onto other countries, even if they are a potential "gold mine".

  • Pteris on May 25, 2009, 2:00 GMT

    Providing that no team that had qualified/expected to be part of the qualifying tournament is left out there should be no objection. It should give the top second tier teams more experience. Cricket in the USA is not all ex-pat and not all the ex-pats come from southern Asia. If the ICC is fast-tracking the USA, it should not be restricted to/focused on ex-pat cricket. That is not sustainable. I would like to see Don Lockerbie's vision for cricket USA and whether the ICC proposal is compatible. He is both a believer and a realist.

  • KTiwari on May 24, 2009, 23:48 GMT

    I believe it is right step for future development of the game. Cricket is on the decline in orignal home(England) and new places needs to be encouraged.

  • D.V.C. on May 24, 2009, 21:43 GMT

    I was with the author and then I read The_Wog's comment and changed my mind. The USA were highly ranked and then were thrust down 3 or 4 divisions when the board got into trouble, so as a one off I can accept this. What I'm much more concerned about is Namibia's relegation to a second Intercontinental Cup division with no hope of progression based on 1st Class results! For last year's runners up to have that done to them, when they had finished the World Cup Qualifiers in an Intercontinental Cup qualifying position is retched.

  • mmoosa on May 24, 2009, 20:54 GMT

    The ICC has not done a good job in increasing crickets spread/appeal globally. The biggest nightmare will be another major cricket power collapsing like the Windies have and Pakistan,Zimbabwe,New Zealand and Bangladesh weak/ currently subsiding. To magnify the problem idiotic administrators and critics can only think about the IPL "threat" to traditional cricket instead of harnessing the vibe of the concept and making cricket of all types cool. If it means that cricket will exist more soccer style with franchise clubs or international matches will go the way of the tennis Davis cup then cricket must adapt. Viewership for the IPL in S.A far exceeded the England/Windies test or odi's. The "top-heavy" attitude of focussing cricket at international level at the expense of club/lower levels is dangerous. It would be mad not to consider a potentially lucrative market like the U.S.A with its large Asian population-cricket cannot afford not to.

  • American1 on May 24, 2009, 13:37 GMT

    Ok,I can appreciate Williamson's argument, however failed to apreciate the bigger picture: The USA is a very special case and this is precisely why exceptions to a well established policy can be tweaked. A good polcy is one that permits the decision makers to make tweaks for speical situations and this is exactly what the ICC did.

    Other professional US sport bodies, NBA, MLB etc has recntly been pushing their brands in cricket countries and yes, these brands do threaten cricket's market. The ICC is doing the right thing by taking the fight to these USA sport bodies.

    Now, what wrongs with the ICC considering "money" in their decision to include the USA? Afterall money is what will take the game globally. Every corporation/business decisons are made in the basis of potential profit/money.

    Mr Martinson, you keep talking about "Asian Expat" in the USA. This is untrue. What is true is that there is about 15 million 1st/2nd gen. Americans of Asian/WI bacground in the USA.

  • wanderer1 on May 24, 2009, 10:47 GMT

    It's a case of one rule for the US and another for all the smaller, poorer countries.

    Why mostly western nations, continue to think America is the "Great White Hope" of cricket is beyond me. Is not enough money already generated by the Indians and the potential of other Asian countries, once they get their act together, they too with large populations will be able to carry Cricket financially well into the future? So why pander to the Americans, with their fast declining in worth and respect almighty 'Dollar'? And that's before we get to the disregard they show the sport anyway.

    Forget America it's a has been. Focus instead on Asian countries, and possibly East Asia that's where the medium-long term money lies. That is after all what it's about, money right.

  • The_Wog on May 24, 2009, 10:09 GMT

    Yawn - tennis tournaments have wildcards, almost always given to undeserving locals. So we see a kid ranked #600 get flogged in R1 of the AUS open every year. So the ICC gave a wildcard to the US in 8th place to round out the numbers, after creating a 7th entry for the host - so what?

    #1 will have an easy warm-up against #20-odd US instead of a bye. Forgive me if I don't rank it up there with Bodyline, Hansie Cronje, the Underarm, Monkeygate and 15 degrees as a threat to the integrity of the game. It's even remotely possible that some good could come of it.

  • Clean_hitter on May 24, 2009, 7:53 GMT

    Never mind about just looking at the money, it's about a "QUICK buck" at that, cricket would enjoy a far greater benefit, financially, profile, and just generally more folks playing the game, if cricket (especially T20) was marketed to the country as a whole. But instead the ICC sticks to it's story of how much money it can make out of the the USA's 1st and 2nd gen South Asian population. I remember a few years ago, I posted an article (an interview with Malcom Speed) on an American cricket forum, and asked folks to look at how many times the words "take advantage" appeared, and it came to something like 8 times. How the ICC's target market is willing to be treated like nothing more than an ATM, I'll never know, but the ICC is showing it's true colours, who cares about long term growth and development of the game, when there's money to be made? Whichever associate/affiliate got bumped out to make way, can feel rightly aggrieved.

  • idontknowidontcare on May 24, 2009, 7:01 GMT

    Oh boy, I can hardly wait for the Australia versus USA match. The two captians will go for the toss, and when the commentator asks Ponting, "Are you looking forward to an interesting game, Ricky?", Ponting would say, "Our match with USA is a waste of time." Heh Heh Heh!!!

    Take that, ICC.

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