There was a time when cricket was a game only Commonwealth nations derived pleasure from. Those days are long gone. Scour through its recent history, and you’ll find pages dedicated to the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan. It doesn’t stop there. Scotland, The Netherlands, Hong Kong and the United States were among the ten nations who contested the ICC World Twenty20 2012 qualifiers, for two spots in the tournament proper in Sri Lanka. They were among 81 countries, in different leagues the world over, to make the attempt to make it to this event.
Cricket is now a global sport, followed by millions. Purists may not agree, but the advent of Twenty20 cricket has much to do with that. It’s telling that the recently concluded ICC European Division Two Championships, part of the qualification pathway for ICC World Twenty20 2014, which has already begun, were held in Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. There, 42 matches were played between 12 countries, with participants including the likes of Portugal, Israel and Finland.
Tariq Ali Awan, a Spanish batsman, provided the highlight of the tournament. He scored two centuries – an unbeaten 150 against Estonia, and a 148 against Portugal – on the same day (September 4), smashing an incredible 34 sixes in the process. The best all-round performance came from Cyprus’s Muhammad Mohsin, who scored 305 at 76.25, and was also the leading wicket-taker, with 14 wickets at 11.43. Interestingly, neither of their teams qualified for Division One. Isle of Man was the winner, with Sweden joining it in being promoted.
These numbers indicate many impressive performances from various teams and players, implying a tough competition. Tariq Ali said as much: “We have very good teams in Division two cricket. We (Spain) were hoping to the win the league. Isle of Man is a good team too. It’s a tough division, although Spain was the hot favourite to win it, both on paper, on the field.”
Spain has hopes of qualifying for the ICC World Twenty20 in the not-too-distant future: “Of course, we’re looking to do that at some stage,” said Ali. “We are working very hard with Bobby Denning, our coach from England, and George Wambeek, our manager. All the guys are looking to do it, in maybe a few years. We have some T20 tournaments coming up, and we’re looking to prepare ourselves and improve.”
These are markets brimming with untapped cricket potential, begging for an opportunity. The ICC, with its Twenty20 qualifiers, has a system in place wherein all its members get that chance, supported by a grass-roots development programme aimed at getting more indigeneous players in countries as far afield as Russia, who recently became the 106th Member of the ICC, and Rwanda. For ICC World Twenty20 2014, the main global qualifying event is scheduled for October 2013, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Leading up to this main qualifier, there will be 11 lead-up qualification tournaments across five regions – Europe, Africa, Americas, Asia and East Asia-Pacific. For the global qualifying event, the top ten teams from these regional competitions will compete with the six associate and affiliate nations who automatically qualify through their ODI status. With the World Twenty 20 2014 being a 16-team event, as the ICC announced in April, the top six sides from the global qualifying event will go through to the tournament proper, where they’ll compete with the ICC’s full members, providing more opportunity than ever before for the game’s emerging teams to compete on the biggest stage. Some of these divisions have already concluded. The European Division three took place in June, with Estonia making its way to Division two. Isle of Man and Sweden, the winners of Division two, will now compete in Division one. Africa’s Division three concluded in April. Zambia and Seychelles qualified for Division two, which will begin on September 30 in South Africa.
It’s a system designed to ensure the best teams compete with each other, making for high quality, top-level cricket. At the same time, it allows lesser teams to improve, playing against those of a higher stature.
The likes of Ireland and Afghanistan, products of this system, have taken giant steps towards regular international cricket. The ICC World Twenty20 in 2014 is set for increased Associate and Affiliate participation – a sure sign of the game embracing a wider pool.
Cricket has been globalised, and many will be dreaming of the chance to emulate Afghanistan and Ireland’s experience of playing in this event.