In the second edition of his new column Tim Brooks looks at universal T20I status, the rise of Pavel Florin and Cricket 2.0 – Tim Wigmore & Freddie Wilde’s new book
Over 75% of men’s T20Is in 2019 have featured Associates. The ICC’s decision to enfranchise all members has meant all teams at all levels can play the shortest format with the same status. And guess what, the world hasn’t ended! The sport hasn’t imploded in on itself! Our sport has long had a strange, nervous, fretting obsession with status. What if the standard isn’t high? What if it undermines the top teams? Well, it hasn’t. Of course it hasn’t. The idea that Malta playing a T20I would somehow frighten off broadcasters from showing India matches was always a nonsense.
What it has done has given credibility, visibility and marketability to the lower reaches of the game. It is uplifting to see fixtures like Jersey v Qatar given prominence on websites. And it is great to see the match statistics and player performances recorded. You cannot underestimate how galvanising it is for a small cricket community to see their fixtures covered on mainstream websites. Teams and individuals who for so long have been virtually invisible now have a public face. Such a profound difference from such a small change. It has allowed emerging countries gain a foothold in the sport, feel part of something bigger. The onus is on them to turn thus recognition into profile, participation and sponsorship. I and others campaigned long and hard on status. This is a step forward just as the removal of first class status was a step back.
There was talk this week about the possibility of Zimbabwe being demoted to Associate. Despite it not coming to pass, this would have set an important precedent, especially if for not meeting development or performance criteria rather than maladministration. Put candidly, cricket will never be a balanced, fair sport until transparent criteria are applied and all teams assessed against them. If teams like Afghanistan and Ireland can be elevated to Full members then teams should be able to be demoted too.
Otherwise it is just a pampered, consequence free ticket for life. In practice of course the ICC have been chipping away at historic privileges, reducing funding, requiring pre qualification for global tournaments etc. But a precedent here would show the world that the shortcomings in cricket governance and structure identified by Woolf had been heeded.
And lastly this week I want to talk about YouTube sensation Pavel Florin, the passionate Romanian cricketer with the unorthodox bowling style who rose to fame over the summer. He found himself a guest on Test Match Special and was feted on social media. And all that is lovely and I’m delighted for him and his club. But. And you must have sensed there was a ‘but’ coming. It illustrates an issue that has long been a frustration to me, that you appear to need a quirk or something humorous to get widespread coverage of cricket away from its historic heartlands. In this case it provided a useful platform for the profile of Romanian cricket but it needed an ‘eccentric’ character to spark interest. It fits into the ‘how funny people play cricket in (.. insert name of a country)’ school of cricket journalism. All editors will tell you that every article needs a hook, something to engage the reader and capture the imagination. But surely there is sufficient innate interest in the development of cricket in the world. It is all one huge hook! Would a reader really look at a development story about, say Iceland, and demand to know what the angle is? I don’t think so, it is just inherently fascinating. Or maybe it is just me. I guess I did write 90,000 words on cricket in continental Europe, one of the frontiers of the global game. So I’m delighted for Pavel but I hope others in the world with less youtubeable (is that a word?) bowling styles aren’t ignored.
A few years ago I wrote a chapter on cricket in Nepal in the excellent ‘Second XI: cricket in its outposts.’ One if its authors, Tim Wigmore, a very intelligent and thought provoking cricket writer has a new book out on the T20 format. I’m certainly getting a copy, as knowing Tim it will be packed with insights and interesting angles on the themes of our sport.