2023 was a ground-breaking year for Associate cricket.
The sport finally broke free of the COVID-19 slump and put the worst of the pandemic affected years behind itself. Crowd restrictions and protocols were dropped with postponed fixtures played and spectators making a boisterous return to the stadiums. More importantly, there were numerous highly consequential news stories impacting the Associate cricket world in a positive way.
With an eye towards 2024 and excitement building for the inclusive 20-team T20 World Cup (set to feature nine Associate nations), Emerging Cricket counts down the biggest news stories from 2023.
1. Cricket makes a return to Olympics
Undoubtedly, the most momentous story of the year. Cricket had to overcome multiple hurdles to get here, including initial opposition from influential Full Member boards like the BCCI and a cautious International Olympic Committee (IOC) trying to cut down on athlete numbers.
But in a meeting in October, the committee finally voted to officially rubber stamp cricket’s inclusion in the LA2028 Olympics, sending Associate cricket fans whooping in delight. It marks the long-awaited return of the sport to the Olympics stage since its debut in 1900, when a mere two nations took part. An ICC press release touted the opportunity for cricket to engage new audiences amongst the estimated three billion Olympics viewers across TV and digital platforms and further boost the sport’s reach across the world.
It is highly unlikely that any of the Associate nations will get to participate in the Olympics. Initial reports suggest that the event will be capped at six teams for men and women. Nevertheless, it will still unlock numerous benefits for Associates including government funding, increased legitimacy and superior access to facilities. In fact, in that regard, the positive news has already started rolling in with both Germany and Nigeria recently confirming their board’s inclusions as members into their respective national sports Olympics’ committees.
Make no mistake, Olympics inclusion presents a massively consequential boost for the sport’s global growth ambitions. Hopefully the ICC and the Associates can capitalise!
2. Dutch courage at the ODI World Cup
2023 was arguably Netherlands’ most successful cricketing year in its 150 years plus history. Firstly, they crashed the exclusive and elitist ten team ODI World Cup party by achieving qualification against all odds; courtesy of two special all-round performances by Logan van Beek and Bas de Leede against West Indies and Scotland respectively.
Secondly, they exceeded expectations at the World Cup itself by notching up “upset” wins against eventual semi-finalists South Africa and dark horses Bangladesh. These wins got them valuable press attention and headlines back home in the major Dutch newspapers, where cricket barely rates a mention usually.
As the sole Associate representative at the tournament, the Dutch were competitive and held their own against teams with vastly superior financial resources and player pools. Despite a last placed finish on the table, they can certainly hold their heads up high. Additionally, World Cup participation has had positive flow on financial effects for KNCB. The increased ICC grants and performance bonuses are forecasted to eliminate previous budget deficits and bring in a surplus of around €400k.
Despite all this, Dutch cricket faces an uncertain future. ICC’s retrograde decision to scrap the ODI Super League means that they will no longer have access to regular playing opportunities with Full Members and have to be content with dropping down to League 2 instead. A place at the 2024 T20 World Cup will provide some consolation and the Dutch can look towards picking up some additional scalps there.
3. Uganda’s fairy-tale T20 World Cup qualification and Nepal’s remarkable year
Uganda captured global cricketing attention in November by qualifying for the 2024 T20 World Cup, their first ever senior ICC event. In an African qualifier where Namibia and Zimbabwe were overwhelming favourites, Uganda first broke Zimbabwean hearts by executing a sublime run chase. Then, they held their nerve in subsequent clashes against Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda to finish second on the table and seal qualification to the expanded 20 team event.
It was a historic and emotional achievement for the Cricket Cranes after many years of heartbreaking near misses. And it was a proper team effort with impressive performances from a wide cast of heroes such as Dinesh Nakrani, Riazat Ali Shah, Simon Ssesazi, Ronak Patel and Alpesh Ramjani.
Speaking to NTV Uganda, captain Brian Masaba hailed the victory. “It is massive for Ugandan cricket. It opens a lot of doors for us, we have shown the world we can play. And hopefully, we get more support from the government.”
Special mention goes to Nepal who also booked their T20 World Cup spot with an emphatic eight-wicket victory over UAE in front of a delirious sold-out crowd at Mulpani. The victory means that Nepal will appear in the flagship T20 event after an absence of 10 years. It was a continuation of a remarkable year for the Nepalese, who also kept their ODI status after winning 11 out of their last 12 games in the Cricket World Cup League 2. Furthermore, they got to compete against the big boy Full Members in the Asia Cup after gaining a spot through winning the ACC Men’s Premier Cup.
4. MLC and ILT20 host their inaugural tournaments
Two brand new franchise T20 leagues, Major League Cricket (MLC) and International League T20 (ILT20), got underway during 2023. The cashed up leagues which boast a multitude of IPL owners and other wealthy investors in their ranks, are not the first T20 franchise leagues to be hosted by Associate nations. However, both seem poised to be a long term addition to the annual cricket calendar after achieving varying degrees of success in the first season.
An ESPNCricinfo review of MLC notes that the event surpassed organiser expectations, routinely being played in front of sold-out venues in North Carolina and Texas. Overall, it saw more than 70,000 fans attend generating $2.8 million in ticket sales revenue. When one considers the multiple prior failed bids to get cricket going in the USA, this is a significant accomplishment.
Elsewhere in the UAE, the ILT20 was largely played in front of empty stands with the exception of the playoffs and the final. Nevertheless, it’s debut delivered more positives than negatives; especially for local UAE based cricketers and other overseas Associate players who got the opportunity to showcase their skills in front of a global TV audience.
UAE’s Muhammad Waseem and Namibia’s David Wiese were the standout Associate performers with their batting and bowling displays. Waseem racked up 367 runs at an average of 33.36 and a strike rate of 138.49, while the 6’5” Namibian picked up 18 wickets at 14.77.
Disappointingly, a couple of franchises treated the mandatory selection of two UAE cricketers as a mere formality with the selected players batting in the lower order and getting little or no bowling opportunities. Also, some talented overseas Associates such as Bas de Leede, Mark Watt, Ali Khan and Ruben Trumpelmann received limited playtime. Hopefully this changes going forward.
On the positive side, ILT20 recently became the first Associate-run franchise league to get ‘official’ List-A status. Which means that from 2024 onwards, all player performances will officially count towards their T20 statistics.
5. Mongolia make their international T20I debut
Of the three central and east Asian nations to receive ICC associate status in the last two years (Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan), Mongolia were the first to make their official T20I debut. This came courtesy of their participation in the Asian Games cricket tournament, held earlier this year in Hangzhou, China.
The Mongolians had a tough time, suffering heavy defeats against Nepal and Maldives. Due to the nature of the tournament format, their involvement was also brief consisting of a paltry two games. Nevertheless, it was an incredible milestone for Mongolian cricket and is a testament to the efforts and hard work put in by Battluga Gombo.
In an interview with Emerging Cricket in 2021, the former judoka described seeing cricket being played in Melbourne’s parks and beaches, during his stay in Australia in the mid to late 2000’s. Gombo was intrigued; he spent hours researching this unique game online and fell in love with its sporting ethos of discipline and teamwork. He returned to Mongolia with a clear goal; to introduce and grow cricket in a country with an inhospitable climate and virtually no history of the sport.
The Mongolian cricket story is an inspirational one. Hopefully, the game can keep growing and developing in one of its remotest outposts!
6. ODI Status for Canada and the return of GT20
Canada regained their ODI status after nine long years in the wilderness. It was sweet redemption for the North Americans after missing out on the aforementioned status in the prior cycle in 2019 on a minuscule net run rate margin.
Speaking to Emerging Cricket, Cricket Canada President Rashpal Bajwa described it as a “game-changing moment”. It allows the national team to participate in high quality international matches in the Cricket World Cup League 2 system. ODI status also comes attached with a welcome financial bonus of $1 million dollars; money which the board can use to broaden their player pool and introduce central contracts.
Another positive development was the return of the Global T20 competition after a gap of four years. With six franchise teams participating and each required to include six Canadians in the squad, it was a valuable chance for domestic cricketers to rub shoulders with several renowned Full Member players as well as cricketers from other Associate nations.
Rounding out the trifecta of good news, is Canada’s qualification for its first ever T20 World Cup. The team accomplished this by finishing top of the ladder in the Americas qualifier. This time, net run rate was on their side; a superior NRR of 3.98 ensured that Canada clinched the spot over Bermuda despite both teams finishing on nine points. The 2011 ODI World Cup was Canada’s last ever appearance at a major ICC event.
7. Rwanda and Indonesia’s exploits at the U19 Women’s World Cup
The maiden 2023 Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup witnessed three genuine upsets courtesy of Rwanda and Indonesia. Making their first ever appearances at an ICC event, both nations displayed plenty of talent and heart.
The East Africans in particular were an absolute revelation, reaching the Super 12 stage after defeating Zimbabwe. Then in the Super 12s, they added another Full Member scalp to their tally, knocking over West Indies in a massive boilover. And that wasn’t all. The Rwandans also gave the Kiwis a mighty scare and were competitive against Pakistan. It showcased the incredible cricketing growth and development happening in the “Land of a Thousand Hills”.
The Ishimwes were the breakout stars; Gisele topped the run scoring charts whilst her Henriette and Zurufat picked up a combined tally of 11 wickets. Leg-spinner Sylvia Usabyimana also bowled really well, picking up 7 wickets at 11.42.
Meanwhile, Indonesia largely struggled, suffering comprehensive losses against New Zealand, West Indies and Ireland. However, a tense win against Zimbabwe in the fourth-placed play-off match ensured they left the tournament with their heads held high. Balinese all-rounder Wesika Ratna Dewi had a superb tournament, finishing up as the team’s highest run scorer and wicket taker.
Rwanda and Indonesia’s exploits show how women’s cricket can be effectively utilised to grow the game in countries where the men’s equivalent teams are not that successful. To that effect, the 16 team women’s U19 World Cup is a great initiative by the ICC. One hopes that the senior women’s events are also expanded in the near future.
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