The BCCI had recently announced the upcoming Fixtures for India and, like most of the Indian fans, even I huffed and thought to myself oh no, not Sri Lanka & West Indies again. The reason for my gasp was not out of disrespect to both the teams, but I was trying to look at the bigger picture.
Of the 10 TEST playing nations,
- India does not play Pakistan in a bilateral series due to political circumstances.
- India play Bangladesh & Zimbabwe sparsely, predominantly in limited overs
- Tour Australia & NZ & England only during their Summer & usually in the cycle of 4 years
- This always leaves either SL, WI or SA
Hence, India always falls back to play Sri Lanka and WI or play limited overs meaningless tournaments. Well, at some point, for us fans, it leads to boredom and disinterest, not in the game as such, but, the monotony of playing only limited set of oppositions.
ICC is trying its best to globalize the sport by encouraging T20 format to reach out to nations. The Associate program has come a long way in leaps and bounds. The Teams like Afghanistan & Ireland are on the cusp of breaking into the Elite league. ICC meanwhile had a proposal for Two Tier TESTs, some Boards had their reservations so the plan had to be shelved.
ICC cannot promote the associate nations into the TEST Arena just for the sake of it, as, there already exists a huge gulf in standards and competition between the TOP teams and the Lower ranked Teams. And with the elevation of the associates, there are high chances increasingly more one sided affairs which will eventually disinterest the fans and TEST cricket losing its credibility.
So what must the ICC do to solve this conundrum?
Most of the cricketing boards have a select pool of 30-40 players, who are given central contracts and mostly, these contracted players are picked to represent their national team in the 3 formats. And then, among this pool, there are the usual suspects (around 15) who play in the main team and the remaining players play in the ‘A’ tours or wait for their opportunities by trying to excel in the domestic circuit. Often there is a challenge for the ‘A’ players to perform instantly as there is a huge gulf in standard of competition between International and Domestic.
Countries like India, Australia and England have humongous pool of players and there is always a hue and cry about some players neglected or not getting enough opportunities etc.. South Africa, with their quota system, always have the risk of losing their talent abroad. West Indies, unfortunately, their strongest team plays only when they play T20 cricket. We already are witnessing Sri Lankan worries of finding replacements for their former greats, quickly. Pakistan’s lack of home matches.
You must be wondering where am I going with?Well, if ICC can club both the above problems into one bracket, it will be beneficial for the sport.
Let me explain, In the Spanish Football leagues, the B teams consisting of youngsters get opportunities to play physical, competitive games against more experienced players in front of larger crowds, like, the second teams in Barcelona and Madrid play in front of 40,000-45,000 people in Barcelona, Madrid.
Until and unless the players play under pressure in front of huge crowds they would not experience the real deal and the gulf between the domestic circuit and the International level will continue to remain. Why do you think IPL has helped elevate the standards of Indian domestic players?
If only ICC can club the ‘A’ teams into a pool along with the Associate Teams, get them play regular tournaments and tours – ODI’s, T20’s and more importantly, even 4 day games to prepare for the TEST grind. These tournaments also must sometimes comprise the likes Bangladesh and Zimbabwe Main Teams (when they are not on International calendar), who often crave for more opportunities and game time.
ICC must pump in some money and get some kind of broadcasting rights and generate interest among the sporting lovers. Also, these tournaments need to be held regularly and alsoin the home of the associate countries’ which would in turn attract local crowd and generate more interest in the game for the lesser prominent countries. These matches would most definitely be closely fought and this would be a Win – Win – Win for the ‘A’ team players, the Associate Nations and to some extent the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, as, all of them would be better prepared, when playing in the highest levels and closer to their respective goals.