Cricket returns to the Commonwealth Games at the 2022 edition in Birmingham. When teams take to the field at the imposing Edgbaston ground, the sport will end a 24-year hiatus from the multi-sport games.
Cricket has only appeared at the games once previously, a men’s tournament at the 1998 games in Kuala Lumpur. 16 teams participated in that tournament, where South Africa took gold, Australia silver, and New Zealand bronze. England did not participate, whilst other teams sent weakened squads. There was some Associate representation too: Scotland, Canada, Northern Ireland and hosts Malaysia all participated. Bangladesh also played as an associate, one year prior to gaining Full-Membership.
When cricket returns to the multi-sport games in 2022, it will return as an 8-team women’s tournament. This might appear to be a restrictive move, but dig deeper and there may be more opportunities for Associates than meets the eye.
The ICC and the Commonwealth Games share their roots in the British Empire, so it’s no surprise therefore that many of the top cricket nations are also members of the Commonwealth of Nations. It’s all but a certainty that the 2022 games will involve England, Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Whilst no qualifying criteria have been published yet, these five leading nations are all Commonwealth members.
Who gets the other three is less clear. The sixth team on the ICC rankings are West Indies, a conglomerate of individual member states. Whilst these individual states are mostly Commonwealth members, they compete as separate entities at the games. These individual teams may not be strong enough to qualify alone.
Likewise, Ireland’s cricket team represents both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Whilst Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and represented at the Commonwealth Games, the Republic of Ireland is not a member of the Commonwealth. A Northern Ireland team will be weaker than an All-Ireland team.
Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh would appear likely candidates to fill the final three spaces. All are ICC full-members and part of the Commonwealth. However, should these places be decided by a qualifying tournament, nothing is guaranteed.
Should such a qualifying tournament take place, it would be fair to expect Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to compete. Joining them could be Caribbean nations, Northern Ireland and some ICC Associates such as Scotland and Papua New Guinea.
For Associate nations, this is as good an opportunity as any to qualify for a major tournament. Overall, opportunities for Associate nations at ICC events are decreasing. The absence or weakening of opponents makes the Commonwealth Games a realistic goal. Equal, maybe, with the T20 World Cup, even if it contains fewer teams.
This is most true for Scotland and Papua New Guinea. Both have come close to the T20 World Cup in the past. Both have missed out by only a position or two in their last two attempts. With emerging stars such as Kathryn and Sarah Bryce for Scotland, and Brenda Tau and Sibona Jimmy for PNG, both teams are a threat to higher ranked opposition. Much hinges on the qualification criteria, but if offered the chance, either could break into the final eight.
Going further, success for cricket at the Commonwealth Games might lead to expansion in the future, including more teams or a possible men’s event. It would also add to the Olympic debate, increasing the pressure to include cricket in the multi-sport games.
Birmingham 2022 is an opportunity for Associates and for cricket.
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