The Associates in 2009 January 3, 2010

Big brothers' indifference hurts the little guys

Little help from those at the top, even less from sponsors, and the ICC's bizarre decisions have left most of the Associates looking at a bleak 2010

The year was not a particularly good one for Associates, and ended with little reason for them to look ahead with much optimism. For all the promising rhetoric from those running the game, as well as substantial increases in central funding, actions speak louder than words. This year, yet again the best of the rest were left to scramble for the few crumbs that fell from the ICC's top table.

The biggest concern remains the overall reluctance of the bigger countries to take time out of their increasingly busy schedules to play against the Associates. It is widely agreed the best way for the likes of Kenya and Ireland to bridge the chasm between them and the top eight Full Members is to play top-quality cricket. In 2009 only England and Australia played against any of the Associates, and even then it was only once each. Kenya managed 10 matches against Zimbabwe, who are themselves desperate for a better class of opponent. The gulf in ability was brought home when Zimbabwe won the lot.

Perhaps the most depressing revelation came at the year-end when it emerged South Africa demanded almost $100,000 from Kenya to even consider putting out a side against them. That sum would have represented about 15% of Kenya's entire annual income. It served to underline that talk is one thing, actually helping quite another.

The explosion of Twenty20 in the guise of the IPL, Champions League, and no end of major boards looking to milk the cash cow is only likely to make arranging matches even less likely. However, it is Twenty20 that might yet be the best hope for the Associates. The shortening of the game actually reduces the differences in ability and gives smaller countries a chance to bloody a nose or two. Those of us who were fortunate enough to watch Netherlands humble England at Lord's on the damp opening day of the ICC World Twenty20 will not forget the scenes of celebration that went on long into the June night. Perhaps it is in that format that their real future lies.

The World Cup Qualifiers in South Africa in April were the high point of the Associate calendar and they attracted the attention of even the non-cricketing media when Afghanistan secured ODI status and came within a whisker of making it to the 2011 World Cup. It was the conclusion of a remarkable story. They had reached South Africa after a succession of promotions up the ICC's commendable World Cricket League. Twenty years ago the game was unknown in the country but it was taught to refugees in camps in Pakistan, who took it back home with them when the Taliban regime was ousted.

Afghanistan replaced Bermuda, ending the latter's four-year flirtation with ODI status, which started full of promise but rapidly descended into infighting and repeated on-field embarrassment. The worry is whether Afghanistan's progress has already reached its ceiling. The introduction of funding for a niche sport, in a country whose politics brushes shoulders with greed so readily, leaves the ICC in a difficult position. Professionalisation is the board's priority for Associates - a lofty ambition for more established nations, let alone poor Afghanistan. Scotland, too, looked a shadow of the side they should have been, missing out on a World Cup place and only just managing to keep their ODI status.

The first-class Intercontinental Cup rumbled on, an essentially good tournament that seems to have rather lost its way, though the players continue to respect the importance of exposure to four-day cricket. It was bolstered by the inclusion of Zimbabwe, a move to help them prepare for their own return to Test cricket, but that came at a cost. Namibia, runners-up in 2008, were unceremoniously booted out to make way for them, a decision bizarrely based on their one-day form.

If that reflected badly on the ICC, then what followed was even worse. It was decided to add an extra team to the World Twenty20 Qualifiers in early 2010. The obvious candidates were Namibia, the highest-placed finishers in South Africa, but instead the ICC fast-tracked USA, a team in international isolation for several years as a result of their dysfunctional board. The decision reeked of putting commercial ambition ahead of what was right.

The USA Cricket Association's new chief executive, Don Lockerbie, outlined ambitious plans for high-profile international matches in the States, an IPL-style tournament and professionalisation of the game within a few years. It was enough to have the ICC's commercial department licking its lips, but to date, there has been little evidence of progress.

The cricketing colonisation of another vast untapped market, China, remained a goal of administrators. To hear some of them talk, it might have seemed the country was within a few years of becoming a cricketing superpower. The on-field evidence remained uncompelling.

There was the almost customary internal bickering within the Associates. Canada and Netherlands both got through a middle order of chief executives, while the image of Kenya as a haven for corruption resurfaced when its CEO, Tom Tikolo, was forced to quit after he was found to have mislaid funds. Sponsors too tightened their belts. Both Scotland and Canada lost their chief backers; Canada, damagingly, less than a year into a three-year deal after Scotiabank flagged concerns with the value of the contract.

Ireland continued to plough an ambitious furrow under their young and charismatic CEO, Warren Deutrom. Despite losing more players to England, their increased professionalism marks them out as Associate cricket's showcase side. They comfortably won the World Cup Qualifiers in South Africa, and outlined plans to apply for Test status later in the year.

They also came within three runs of dumping their rather sniffy neighbours on their backsides in an ODI in Belfast. Perhaps the risk of humiliation is the real reason the big boys steer clear of the Associates.

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

  • shahid on January 5, 2010, 22:52 GMT

    Whole the international cricket setup sucks. With so few a members with voting rights, ICC always serves the interest of those who have the control. England yesterday, India today and who knows which country dictates it tomorrow. ICC board of directors must have at least 4 representatives with voting powers from associate members. These representives should be revolving and chosen by voting among associates. All full members must play at least 3 ODI pr. year against associates. 50% of income from club T20 Champions trophy should cover these costs. India has no right to organise international evens on its own be it clubs or countries. and earnings from international events must go to ICC.

  • Kalyanaraman on January 4, 2010, 19:15 GMT

    I think it is crazy that associate teams are pushed straight away into the world cup from associate tournaments rather than into normal series first. Qualifiers should be held after each world cup and the top 4 qualifiers from the associate nations can be given ODI status for the next 4 years. Then there should be a rule that all ODI status nations should play series against all other nations before the same teams can clash again. This way the qualified associates would each get atleast 80 games each in 4 years against top teams. Now when the world cup starts, these associate nations will atleast have some experience going in. Not like USA Vs Australia.

  • Tejinder on January 3, 2010, 16:01 GMT

    Whilst it is great to note that ICC is trying to promote the Associates cricket around the globe, the route ICC is taking is a weak one as it lacks exposure of the associates to the real world of the game. What ICC should perhaps consider is to run a parallel series of various events, such as test series, one day and 20-20 for the associates so that they can experience the feel of the game at that level. The ICC Inter-Continental Cup is a good stepping stone for longer format bu is too far wide apart to keep the interest going. The ICC should introduce a two tier test championship involving test playing and top associates sides which will then increase more interest amongst the associates and perhaps prepare the associates sides for the bigger stage. The ICC should stop their narrow minded thinking that no meaningful cricket beyond the full members and wake up to the reality that the game needs a world-wide exposue rather than the current closed circuit handling of the game.

  • Doug on January 3, 2010, 15:55 GMT

    Ireland should be included in the FTP in my opinion, guaranteeing them at least a home ODI (and one away too if possible) against every test team every 6 years. This would be additional to the world cup. Surely there should be an aim to get the top associates playing test cricket in some form within the next 7 or 8 years?

  • Randika on January 3, 2010, 13:21 GMT

    @ashwin1990: How good a team is cannot be pre-determined as many much fancied outfits found out recently against the associate nations. especially in the shorter formats of the game. Thats part of the magic of the game that is cricket. Personally I would love to see more coutries beign involved in trilaterals and quadrilaterals, a feature of the game now sidelined owing to the T20 frenzy. Being from Sri Lanka we thoroughly enjoyed our national teams rapid accent in international cricket compared to countries like India, New Zealand, etc who took decades more than us to settle into the groove. There is absolutely no reason why Ireland, Holland, Scotland or even Afghanistan cannot do the same with adequate opportunities, commitment and funding over time.

  • Alex on January 3, 2010, 12:15 GMT

    Tournaments should be set up with the reward being to play series's versus top teams. This way onform associates will face the better teams and will increase their experience at the top level of the game.

  • Steve on January 3, 2010, 11:26 GMT

    ashwin - your points are slightly mute. 1. Given that this was the first opportunity for a nation to rise from Division 6 to ODI status, then it would naturally be the first time in cricketing history that it has occurred. Remember that the WCL is a new concept, one of the few concepts that the ICC must be commended for with regards to associate/affiliate cricket. 2. As World Cups happen rarely (although now T20 World Cups will increase the frequency), there isn't going to be a high rate of associates knocking full nations out of world cups! Also, the article never said that Afghanistan won't succeed - just that one must hope that they haven't progressed as far as they can already. The full nations are obviously better than the associates, hence why they are so, but without the full nations playing matches against the associates, the associates have so little chance to develop. The lack of organisation and even interest from the ICC in associate/affiliate cricket is saddening.

  • Terry on January 3, 2010, 9:04 GMT

    I agree. Problem lies with the ICC. ICC needs to expand its board to represent all cricket nations with a similar structure to FIFA (Countries on Regional Board, Regional Boards on ICC) instead of 10 full members and 2 or 3 associates. ICC also needs control over organising events including a test championship over 4 years which pressures teams to compete, where all matches are important. I recommend a 4 year test world cup & plate. 1st Year Group Stage (4 groups of 5). 2nd & 3rd Year Super Eights (Top 2 of each group) for Cup and Super Eights (3rd & 4th of each group) for Plate. 4th Year Semis & Final of World Cup and World Plate championships. During those 4 years Affiliates (Yr1 - Regional), Associates (Y2&3 Qualifiers) & unsuccessful teams (Yr4 Playoffs 13-16) compete for 8 qualifying positions for next Test World Cup. And finally, yes I agree, countries do not like risking loosing to Assocs. Zimb were threatened with demotion if they failed to succeed against Assocs in ICup 9/10.

  • Jonathan on January 3, 2010, 8:38 GMT

    It goes to show the level of indifference the associate sides face when writers continue to confuse Dublin and Belfast - Ireland nearly won their ODI at Stormont in Belfast.

  • Pradeep on January 3, 2010, 7:50 GMT

    the last line was in lets not get very serious over shall we..?.. yes..the associates have shown promise but that about it...and what has happened to CHINA..after all they showed a lot of ambition early on...maybe the T20 at the next Asain games will get them interested again.

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