December 29, 2012

Marginalised and messy

Associate nations slid further away from the spotlight this year, and several look unlikely to make their way back

At a time when the international calendar is putting the game's big players and senior countries under increasing strain, with fear of burnout a real concern, it was inevitable that 2012 would be a year where Associate cricket continued to slide into the shadows. The halcyon days when the leading Associates aspired to become full-fledged members of the ICC elite are increasingly a distant memory.

It's not as if most of them have done anything wrong, but the demands of TV, sponsors and money-centric boards has left them scrambling for the scraps. The irony is that the explosion of T20, which presents the major Associates with the best chance of embarrassing the Full Member countries, has also left them more marginalised than at any time in the last decade. As lucrative T20s are added to Full Member tours, the opportunities for Associates to arrange fixtures with the bigger nations diminishes further.

There was no real change in the world order, with Ireland by some way the most professional and ambitious of the teams. Under the leadership of their impressive and forward-looking chief executive Warren Deutrom, they continued to press forward with ambitious plans, including their own domestic first-class tournament. They finished the year at the top of both the Intercontinental Cup and World Cricket League, the premier Associate competitions, and won the World Twenty20 Qualifiers in Dubai, where their only defeat came at the hands of Namibia in their opening match. In the tournament proper they were well beaten by Australia and eliminated by West Indies in frustrating circumstances when rain washed out their winner-takes-all group match.

Afghanistan, the other Associate at the World Twenty20 after finishing runners-up in the qualifiers, were also eliminated at the first hurdle, but they briefly threatened India and went home with more to show for their efforts than either Zimbabwe or Bangladesh. In the Intercontinental Cup they continued to sit on Ireland's tail but their ODI performances were less consistent. They continue to punch above their weight in terms of publicity, to the undisguised frustration of others, with one senior Full Member chief executive snidely referring to them as "Pakistan B".

Scotland and Netherlands both had enough success to keep them interested but fell short where it mattered. Neither qualified for the World Twenty20, their one tilt at the big time, although Netherlands only fell one match short. In a wretched summer Scotland had another disappointment when their highest-profile home game - against England - was washed out. They managed only one win out of 12 in the Clydesdale Bank Pro40 but Netherlands proved their worth with three wins in their first four outings and finished a creditable mid-table in their group.

Elsewhere Canada's off-field promotion improved but their results did not and they ended 2012 at the bottom of both Associate tournaments, the gulf between them and the leading countries even wider than it had been a year earlier. They finished third in their group in the World Twenty20 Qualifiers but were well beaten in the matches that mattered.

As lucrative T20s are added to Full Member tours, the opportunities for Associates to arrange fixtures with the bigger nations diminish further

Namibia, despite a small player pool, again impressed in the qualifiers, topping their group with seven wins in seven, only to be beaten by Ireland in the semi-final. They fared less well aside from that and face a frustrating 2013 as they are already out of contention in the World Cricket League and very much off the pace in the Intercontinental Cup.

One country going in the wrong direction is Kenya. A senior international administrator privately admitted that they had squandered a decade of substantial investment and had nothing to show for it. On the field their performances continued to be lamentable - and this despite the board continuing to retain a fully paid squad - and old and depressingly self-defeating off-field squabbles again surfaced. The election of Jackie Janmohammed, one of the faces of the old Kenyan Cricket Association, gave every indication that no lessons had been learned. She has a year to turn things round and the odds seem stacked against her.

Kenya will face a tough qualifying competition in 2014 for the following year's World Cup, and unless results improve dramatically they face losing substantial ICC funding. That would mean much of the internal structure falling apart.

The other country in a mess is the USA, but that is almost entirely down to poor governance and endless bickering. The announcement of a professional T20 competition starting in 2013 briefly ruffled feathers, especially in England, during whose season it would take place, but it soon became clear that the USA Cricket Association, which stands to benefit financially from the venture, was too intent on infighting and disqualifying most of its own stakeholders from participating in highly criticised internal elections to be able to push the concept. By the end of the year the USACA was not only an international laughing stock, largely thanks to the actions of its own executive secretary, but were turning off investors in droves.

For quite some time the ICC, with justification, seemed to see the USA as the market worth cracking. But the USACA managed to kill that vision and now the ICC pushes China as the land of opportunity. But despite a stream of upbeat stories, that remains a distant dream, with small pockets of success.

The sad reality is that Associate cricket is more marginalised than at any time in the last decade, and that is despite the sterling efforts of the ICC, both financially and logistically. The international calendar and the self-interest and greed of most Full Member boards leaves the Associates fighting over crumbs at the top table. If anyone can break down the barriers, it is Ireland, but if they don't, the future is even grimmer than it is now.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on December 30, 2012, 22:15 GMT

    @SirViv1973 - Yes, there are a number of stumbling blocks to the Olympic dream for cricket's associates, most notably the BCCI. However, I would make one point to illustrate just how much things can change. That is, by the time any Olympic re-entry comes around, it is possible team GB may not even be relevant in its current form. Without wanting to go into the politics of it, Scotland is holding a referendum on independence in 2014. The Saltires could therefore yet stand alone, as a direct beneficiary of re-entry. So, I believe it is unwise to presume too much based on the current situation. Even the potential co-inciding of the the Games with the English season is dependant on where the games are staged. As for the release of players, the Olympics (which I don't watch but many, many do) has such clout that I can't see this being a major problem, especially on a 4-year cycle. I think cricket missed a trick by allowing London '12 to come and go without it, while archery used Lords.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2012, 20:13 GMT

    Was a sad sad day when we were told that Peru would not be getting a chance to improve on their second place in the South American Division III Champioships last year in COsta RIca as the ICC had decided to cancel future promotion promising tournaments as they were too costly. Costly my derriere...... As ever in this desperate capitalist environment we live in the big boys want to keep it all for themselves and forge the rest. You can see this in every avenue of life.

  • reazul on December 30, 2012, 16:53 GMT


    Why not ask Ireland to play 4 day first class matches against Ziim/Bang or their A teams home & away (with or without your hired aussie/Saffa/Kiwi imports - just think about it, a team demanding for test status riding on the coattails of hired players - something never happened before in cricket history) and judge the results - I am sure you will come back to the real world.

  • Dean on December 29, 2012, 23:50 GMT

    @Ygkd, although I like the idea of T20 being an Olympic sport its not feasible. If a sport is to be included in the Olympics it should have all the best players & teams available to compete. It would be virtually impossible to have a team GB compete. The Olympics usually take place in Aug which would rule out all of Eng's centrally contracted players as they would be involved in a home test series at that time of year. Its also doubtful that the counties would be prepared to release players either. Whoever are touring Eng at the time would also be ruled out. I also couldn't see the BCCI going for it, plus with so much cricket being played its doubtful that too many other boards would be willing to let their top players go. The World T20 also generates a lot of money for the ICC so they are not just going to wave goodbye to that & allow a replacement competition to be run by the IOC.So sadly I think its a non starter.

  • Jonathan on December 29, 2012, 20:18 GMT

    Zimbabwe and Bangladesh need to lose their Test status. They've had their crack at the top, tried, and failed. Let them drop back to Associate level.

    Now it's Ireland's turn to be allowed a chance at a step up. Let's give them a match against England either as a warm-up or as an afterthought to the main series of a summer. A one-off match or even a 2-match series between Ireland and England as a warm-up to a 5-match Ashes series - or a 4-match series against the likes of South Africa or India - would be a great idea. It would get more crowds in than an early-season series against, say, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh ever would: not least because England would be playing against an opposition that actually wanted to be there.

    And then, teams visiting England can play a match against Ireland on the way in or the way out, just like visiting teams visiting India used to play a match in Sri Lanka (or teams visiting SA would play a match in Zimbabwe).

  • PAUL on December 29, 2012, 19:43 GMT

    @Christopher Talbot

    "I think that Afghanistan should be allowed to 'warm up' teams going to play the likes of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh could gain some benefit being a 'warm up' as they have really gain ground on the big guns."

    That's a great Idea IMO and could be expanded for others too. Rather than supplying a domestic team who no doubt play too many matches anyway. Gets the tourists a look at the home conditions and the associate sides some one day and FC experience. If you apply for an ICC position you have my vote!

  • Mark on December 29, 2012, 16:33 GMT

    I think the ICC and the people running the game in the USA missed a trick when they didn't promote the game as aggressively enough in the USA over the last 40 years as they should. With excellent cricket playing weather throughout the United States in the their summer and excellent infrastructure and sports facilities that the Americans have even better than in Australia and millions of immigrants from cricket playing nations who have become Americans you would think that Cricket would have taken off like nowhere else in the States. Yet that fact cricket is going nowhere in United States is I think one of the great missed opportunities of cricket. I think game of cricket is poorer for it that the people in charge of Cricket over there never sorted their mess out. As a result cricket in the States remains the property of enthusiasts who have a hit on weekends at their parks. Its a shame because I think normal Americans would love to get behind their team if USA had better governance.

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2012, 15:29 GMT

    Stirling effort to leave Ireland stranded between the Full Members and the Associates? I think it's a pathetic effort quite frankly - the Irish have been every bit as dominant at this level as Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka did before them, yet seem unlikely to ever receive Full Member status.

    With a gutless non-approach by the ICC, neither offering a path for promotion or offering the olive branch of Full Member ODI/T20 status, the Irish could very well fall apart within the next 18 months. More worrisome, the likes of Stirling, Rankin and Dockrell will just bail and become part of the England lineup. Disgraceful indeed.

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2012, 13:21 GMT

    Love seeing the smaller countries having pops at the big boys. I reckon England should play Ireland, Netherlands and Scotland during the summer after the Ashes series in 20/20 or a series of ODI. This series could also include the Aussies as they are over here with both England and Australia travelling to the other 3 and playing in their backyard.

    I think that Afghanistan should be allowed to 'warm up' teams going to play the likes of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh could gain some benefit being a 'warm up' as they have really gain ground on the big guns.

    I also think the Olympics are a no go because it has already been rule of 2016 in Rio. 2020 OG are in Madrid, Toyko or Istanbul so it would be 2024 at the earliest.

  • Shoaib on December 29, 2012, 12:52 GMT

    In order for the future of Cricket to be bright and healthy, it has to spread to more nations especially the top associate nations where Cricket is played all the time in fact, countries like Canada, Ireland, Scotland etc already have clubs and Cricket is part of school sporting programs. Even a country like USA though Cricket is not popular by any means over there still generate the second biggest revenues in Cricket after India, even China are interested in Cricket now and starting to set up cricketing programs. When Netherlands beat Bangladesh earlier this year in the T20 match, many Dutch locals came out in support and happy that their team one so of course there is interest in Cricket because its an enjoyable game which unfortunately didn't get the same recognition as countries like India, West Indies and New Zealand who were new full member nations in 1926. Cricket may make a lot of revenue from the leading 8-10 full member nations in the short term but long term it looks bleak.