While the opportunity to play in World Cups and present a case for Full Member elevation are guiding objectives for Associates, for lower ranked teams who are in an earlier stage of development it can be difficult to define what success looks like.
Yesterday I presented my analysis on building effective pathways in the Associate world Today I will endeavour to define what success actually looks like for emerging cricketing nations of all shapes and sizes; the second in a series of articles intended to shine a light on issues behind the on field performance of Associates.
While many point to Afghanistan and Nepal’s progression through the World Cricket League to higher status and profile, for many teams success may have been to consolidate their place in a division or even to break into a global structure at all. Put another way it would be unrealistic for a team like Austria to plan to be a full member in 5 years, however much you’d admire their ambition.
So success needs to be broken down into specific phases and actions. The first phase for many is survival and building sustainable foundations. This means attracting and sustaining a player base big enough to maintain the structures of a cricket community, such as leagues and facilities. Financial stability can be an elusive dream for many too. For these teams qualification for World Cups is a dream but the reality is that keeping it all going is success.
For the next tier of teams, those with established and relatively stable cricket communities, success is broadening the appeal of the game, and growing participation figures into the bargain, and taking slow but steady steps to enter the sporting consciousness of their country. For instance getting recognition from government, some coverage in local media, cricket offered in schools. It is also about ensuring club structures help identify and develop talent that can then form nucleus of competitive national teams. At this stage global ranking isn’t the primary driver. Success on the field will flow from the other criteria. Having international fixtures, and winning a few if you can, can energise the cricket community and help build profile and recognition. But it shouldn’t be the only focus because that mentality can lead to funding being focused on giving 11 players a global tour at the expense of investments in domestic structures that can lay foundation for future growth.
I should say at this point that teams don’t have an entirely free reign to set their own success criteria. There is more flexibility now than there was but ICC funding is still linked to KPIs, and funding is inextricably linked to survival (though teams don’t need to and shouldn’t rely just on ICC funding).
It isn’t sufficient to just send your talented cricketers on a tour every now and again. The impetus and support has to flow all the way through the development structures and every aspect of the community.
The next tier of teams can be categorised as those who just missed out on inclusion in the new WC qualification structures. Take Sweden for example. They are a competitive team regionally but haven’t quite progressed to global structures and therefore don’t have regular fixtures and the impetus this gives to development programmes. For them the onus is on scheduling T20Is and strong sub regional structures. For Sweden this would be Nordic leagues and close collaboration with neighbours to share best practice, boost participation and profile. At this stage investment is crucial. Improved facilities and greater time together as a national squad can make the difference in qualifying for global structures at the next opportunity.
For the teams in the Challenge Leagues (broadly speaking teams in old WCL divisions 3-5) the obvious success criteria is promotion and securing ODI status. But equally if not more important is using the profile and prestige of regular, List A internationals to energise and build the domestic cricket culture. It isn’t sufficient to just send your talented cricketers on a tour every now and again. The impetus and support has to flow all the way through the development structures and every aspect of the community.
And that takes us to the ODI Associates, which is where defining success is perhaps most interesting. Take The Netherlands for example. They are in an ODI League with full members and in this sense are top of the associate tree. They will have targets to claim a good number of full member scalps and qualify for a ten team World Cup. But with the termination of the Intercontinental Cup (as we know it) it is difficult to see how they can make a case to be a test nation. In Ireland’s long and ultimately successful bid for full member status they applied pressure on the ICC to have clear, unambiguous criteria for full members so they could strive to meet them. The politics of world cricket meant this clarity wasn’t forthcoming. But that is a different article altogether. Success would be meeting those criteria and becoming a full member. But that isn’t itself the end goal, Zimbabwe is a full member but you wouldn’t say they are example all Associates should strive for.
So what us success beyond full member status and World Cup qualification? This is where it gets very interesting. One is making cricket a commercialised sport and a viable career path. A handful of Scottish players are contracted professionals. But can the Euro T20 and other initiatives make it a viable career path for more? Only, you suspect, if there is a professional league. And that requires a sustainable financial model and that in turn requires significant interest in paying to watch cricket. Although Ireland have the professionalised Interpro structure it would be hard to argue that it was a successful tournament with high public recognition. It may yet of course and let’s hope it does. But the point is that it is difficult when cricket hasn’t cut through into the sporting mainstream. And that is the challenge and the ultimate success criteria.
Inclusion in the Olympics would be a huge help, as would more inclusive global tournaments. But cricket needs to sell itself and make a claim for at least some of those across the world infatuated with football. Flexible, fast and exciting formats like T20 and others need marketing, celebrity endorsement, media coverage. Nepal is perhaps the closest Associate to cracking this and their future is very exciting as a result. Other Associates have the players but perhaps not the groundswell of interest. Some have the facilities but interest in the game confined to particular communities.
Success is multi-dimensional and is different for teams at different stages of their cricketing journey. But what is clear is that success on the field and the often hidden, unheralded success off the field are linked and should not be seen in isolation. One has to feed the other to create a self perpetuating and sustainable cycle of growth.
Tim Brooks is Associate correspondent for Wisden and Head of Cricket at QTV Sports. Focusing on global development of cricket and tweets as Cricket Atlas. He has also published a book on European cricket.