‘We are different from each other’.

This quote from Babar Azam, responding to claims to be the next Virat Kohli, is the most recent in a long line of comparisons between players with reporters consistently trying to say that one player is emulating another. But the idea of two individuals being different from each other can be taken into a wider context when looking at what is known as ‘Associate cricket’.

The term ‘Associate cricket’ refers to cricket played between nations who have not yet qualified to be Full Members of the ICC. Unfortunately over the years the phrase ‘Associate cricket’ has become synonymous with the weaker cricketing powers playing a sub-par standard of cricket and are token entries into cricket’s major sporting events. As we have seen at World Cups, countries including Ireland, Afghanistan and the Netherlands have all provided fantastic entertainment and proved to be teams that can’t be written off.

So, should ‘Associate cricket’ be removed from the ICC’s dictionary, instead viewing all teams as equals? The answer appears to be a clear yes.

The use of a separate term to describe ‘Associate nations’ creates a certain image surrounding these teams in the minds of fans all over the world. The lazy blanket term being used to describe these nations erodes nations’ identity, creating a viewpoint that these nations are not so different from each other. National sport and pride should be forever intertwined, but for a team to become supported by its people it must be seen as a team that stands by itself and not one that is stuck behind barriers imposed by governing bodies. Enabling the removal of the term ‘Associate’ would allow developing cricketing nations to not have their possibilities limited due to red-tape, but instead embracing the true possibilities of international sport and competition.

Kenya, Associate at World Cup 1999
Kenya flew the non-Full Member flag in 1999 (ICC Media Zone)

Just as the modern cricket fan understands that not every player has the same technique, it should be understood that not every international team should be viewed with the same competitive expectations. Whilst understanding that countries like Mali or Malta are at the infancy of their journey into the world of cricket, it should be respected that they are international teams who compete to the best of their ability. Why should one game of international cricket be viewed as less important when factors including national pride and ranking points are at stake? As we would not expect all players to copy a certain technique, there is the requirement to create a paradigm shift regarding the way in which international cricket is viewed. ‘Associate’ cricket matters and is a complex world that in many ways presents the future of the game of cricket. Instead of looking down on ‘Associate’ nations due to the connotations created, new nations should be welcomed into the world of cricket with open arms and celebrated for participating.

Similar to the argument regarding the erosion of the term ‘student-athlete’ in the United States as it applies meaningless pressure onto these athletes, each cricket nation should be viewed as being different from each other. International cricket no matter what level should be respected and the teams should be viewed as individuals on a level playing field instead of being collectively placed into a category. Instead, whilst understanding that the developing nations may not be ready to compete with the more established teams there could be a tiered system placed within cricket and all teams being referred to as international nations in their own right.

UAE youngster Jonathan Figy is one player with the potential to shift power in the game of cricket. (ICC Media Zone)

Away from the field of cricket, the way in which there is an ‘Us vs Them’ dichotomy used by the ICC creates a separation in the global game. This point of view cemented in place by the games largest institution will dominate the way in which these nations are referred to in everyday conversation. Fans of the game, who are potentially less open to Associate nation cricket, will continue to look down upon these nations until there is a clear change to create one unified international game. Psychological studies have provided evidence that people show preference to the category which they relate to the most even if the categories are relatively meaningless. Fans of Full Member nations will automatically show a preference towards Full Member cricket without any consideration for the Associate nations. Whilst the term is still in use, the development of the game will continue to stagnate and prevent the globalisation of cricket due to the negative psychology surrounding developing nations. This is despite ICC is creating an illusion of the globalisation of the game.   

The existence of Full Member nations and Associate nations appears to legitimize historically previously relevant institutions which are now preventing the development of the game. Instead of moving past the commonwealth, cricket is still dominated by the Commonwealth countries. In order to effectively grow the game and remove preconceptions that the game is for the gentry or elite the game needs to break past previously historically relevant institutions, moving towards a game that is accessible and available to all nations and for all people. 

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