Scotland can look back on the last three weeks with a huge amount of pride in the performance of our national cricket side. Although cruelly robbed of a place at next year’s World Cup by a combination of a freak thunderstorm and a couple of terrible umpiring decisions, we have a team that has shown it can compete with and beat any established cricketing nation.
Superbly led by Kyle Coetzer, with eye-catching performances by a number of players, they showed clearly we can produce home-grown players capable of taking on the world’s best, a great testament to Grant Bradburn and all the other coaches who have helped these players on their pathway to date.
The events surrounding our unfortunate exclusion, along with other deserving teams such as Zimbabwe and either Ireland or Afghanistan, from next year’s tournament in England has reopened the debate about the shrinking cricket World Cup, especially at a time when other major world sports such as rugby and football are expanding their own showpiece events.
The issue is simple; it is development and global growth of the game against the commercial realties of maximising television and advertising income. This dilemma came to the fore at successive ICC annual conferences where, led by the big three of England, Australia and India, the rest of the cricketing world was persuaded to accept a smaller World Cup, firstly by the promise of significant additional direct investment to them (funding which never materialised), and then by the promise of a 16-team T20 World Cup which the ICC perceive as the appropriate vehicle to promote non-Test playing nations.
Global events are how the ICC generates income to return to its members and the commercial success of these events cannot be questioned. A ten-team World Cup with England, Australia and especially India having nine guaranteed games will generate the largest TV and advertising revenues. Ever since Ireland and Bangladesh upset the natural cricketing hierarchy at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies the thought of India having limited games at a World Cup could not be countenanced. Although undoubtedly a commercially sound rationale it directly negates the concept that the world’s second largest sport is actually growing.
Small wins have been achieved with an expanded World Cricket League and Intercontinental Cup schedule, a new 13-team ODI league and the richly-deserved elevation of Afghanistan and Ireland to full member status. It was interesting, however, that the additional funding given to support the two new full members was taken from the pot supposedly ring-fenced for the developing countries. You are obviously welcome into the club as long as you don’t take a share of the revenue.
It is clear that the ICC’s expansion model for the game is through T20 and not ODI cricket. In 2011 Scotland put forward a compelling case for T20 cricket to be included in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. This was rejected, primarily by the “Big Three” on the principle there was too much cricket on at the time and definitely too much T20 cricket. Interestingly, along with new T20 franchise leagues around the world, the ICC’s position now is that the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics are firmly on their agenda, with a hope that potentially it could be included in Birmingham in 2022 and the Olympics in 2028. IOC recognition will allegedly give credibility to our “global game” and its development, scant comfort for the leading players from many countries that these opportunities will pass by.
One reason often cited for not expanding the World Cup is the number of one-sided games and its potential unattractiveness for spectators and television audiences alike. I noted with interest that not eight hours after Scotland’s defeat by the West Indies, England’s Test team was humiliated by New Zealand to the tune of 58 all out! These things happen in cricket all the time, the key difference being that by the time England next play at home these recent losses will be long forgotten as they have no major consequences for the overall sport, far removed from the realities affecting the Associate countries, such as Scotland.
The ICC is the majority funder for all Associates and most Full Members and only a couple could survive without it. Players, coaches, development staff and administrators whose livelihoods and contracts are dependent upon ICC funding live nervously at every event to retain or secure funding. From personal experience I remember with trepidation a match in 2009 against the UAE when Scotland’s ODI status for four years was secured in a one-off game, a match-winning century by Gavin Hamilton securing the short-term futures of his team-mates and Cricket Scotland staff. It is never easy to bite the hand that feeds you, but collectively the world game needs to look objectively at its long term aspirations and not just dollar signs.
This recent qualification event has produced many memorable games that would have showcased the game to the world, but it was also noticeable for its poor press coverage, inaccurate ICC communications, a lack of knowledgeable television commentators and, most importantly from a cricketing perspective, no allocation of reserve days and the decision review system. No doubt financial and television issues will be cited for these anomalies, but for such vital games these should be prerequisites. Paul Wilson’s two umpiring errors may well negatively affect his ranking as an up-and-coming official, but these pale into insignificance against the ramifications for the game’s finances and cricketing opportunities in Scotland.
Scotland has an exciting team built on the experienced nucleus of Kyle Coetzer, Calum MacLeod, Safyaan Sharif and Richie Berrington as well as emerging young players such as Brad Wheal, Michael Jones and the Sole brothers, Tom and Chris. This team needs games, more experience and new goals to achieve, not least to keep them motivated and sustained as professional sportsmen. Let’s hope these players are afforded different routes to show and develop their skills, as we are on the cusp of having a truly competitive squad capable of advancing on the world stage.
Short-termism and cutthroat events make for excitement, tension and high-pressure games but not for long-term development. If one good thing could come of this event and Scotland’s agonising close shave with success, it is that the debate about the long-term growth of this global game is readdressed. The ICC and its Board have certainly moved on from 2012 and the big three have softened their position, but action needs to be taken now to ensure the game has more globally competitive teams at its showcase event.
l Roddy Smith was chief executive of Cricket Scotland from 2004 to 2014.