Globalization of cricket is a noble idea. Imagine if cricket could just get half as much popularity as baseball enjoys in the USA, millions of hardcore fans instead of ceasing the dawdling cricinfo servers, could actually be able to watch a game or two for a change in place of third run Seinfeld. Well-merited idea as it sounds, there is hardly any reason to voice against. What more, there is already a plan in place and not surprisingly it hails from ICC, the ruling body of world cricket. From a first glance at the ICC plan, those days of global cricket does not seem too far off after all.
"ICC was planning to offer full membership to six more countries before the 2007 World Cup" reads a web article published from wisden-cricinfo. Andrew Poolman, the illustrious sportswriter from Namibia must have been a happy man at the real prospect of his country being able to finally play in the elite group they have long been dreaming about. That seemed such a pleasant wake up call, and rightfully so, one can only hope for in a lifetime. Or is it just too good to be true?
Interestingly, the focus of the news was neither the ICC nor its proposed plan but Saurav Ganguly, who was reportedly responding in a hurry to the plan by suggesting the ICC to devise a two-tier system to "preserve the sanctity of Test cricket" saying "If the standard of the game has to be preserved, it would be better to have a two-tier system."
It is not too intricate to comprehend the continuing targeting of Bangladesh from some well-known corners, mostly because of its low market potential in cricket and its performance at the highest level. No matter how much and how fast Bangladesh makes progress, they will drag on the ruckus. When someone points to the twenty six years New Zealand took to register its first ever Test win, they are quick to refer to the number of Tests played in those years, conveniently condoning the fact that the New Zealanders went through at least two generations of players to build and boost a solid cricketing culture within that period.
Bangladesh, having hardly completed four years in the elite group, has already shown to catch up the tide to make tremendous improvements in both foresight and hindsight despite having one of the weakest economies in the world. With newly built stadiums, grounds, practice facilities, root level tournaments, divisional and club level competitions, high profile professional coaches, support staffs and executives, Bangladesh keeps on making unprecedented progress that readily validates its ambition, ability and potential even in the face of harshest criticisms. "I have seen cricket everywhere, in the streets. Everybody is playing" commented Ehsan Mani just months ago, who had only last year, prior to becoming the ICC president, criticized the decision to award Bangladesh the Test status "prematurley".
When ICC's spokeswoman Inersha Patience says "We see a system of handicapping not unlike the way the best horses carry additional weights for certain races. The idea is to level the playing field so we can achieve an even contest" it becomes clear that the ruling body is ready to go all the way to deny the ever presence of any weaker nations in the history of Test cricket and that the ultimate goal is to ensure nothing but "even contest" in its name.
In a Supersports article, Neil Manthorp professed "No more meandering, dawdling contests that lack meaning and 'bite'". Brian Lara, the current number one batsman in the world might be happy to explain what it really meant to play Bangladesh at the conclusion of the St. Lucia test; and for the bite alone, Mr. Manthorp or anyone for that matter, needs not go further than Inzamamul Huq to learn how the tiger's bite actually feels.
So, when people aren't timid to express their discontent at Bangladesh and even vented at preserving the "sanctity of Test cricket", why does the ICC jump to proclaim the inclusion of not one, but six more countries before the 2007 world cup? One can always question the sanity behind the plan. And it is mounted when Ganguly, apparently concerned about preserving the standard of Test cricket, steers for a two-tier system instead of negating the ploy in the first place.
The Aussies aren't far shying away from the issue either. In fact, they are a step ahead. In the Times Online, Shane Warne wrote on May 26, "I agree with Ricky Ponting's suggestion of a two-tier system with may be a Super Six or Super Seven in the top division of Test cricket."
Does anyone denounce that adding six more nations to the elite family would menace the Test standard? No one does, not even Steve Waugh who endorses the n-tier system to be used in the ODI matches first.
Surprisingly, the ICC did not waste any time in responding aptly to Ganguly's suggestion. Speaking of ICC's response time, the whole nation of Sri Lanka and many cricketers and fans from around the world, have been appealing the ICC for months now to clarify, if it is the arm or the ball, whose speed forms the basis of the bowler's acceptable degree of tolerance. ICC has yet to find an opening in its appointment book to make that call, yet it has no trouble finding one for the Indian skipper which raises the question of nuance and rationale once again.
Time and again, while they all talk about the well beings and expansion of cricket, they are blatantly equivocal to isolate and redeem the Test cricket from the new comers and make it a 'private only' affair of a handful of nations.
While all this happening in open, the ICC has been quietly setting its own course enroute to the n-tier system. ICC's general manager, Dave Richardson was presiding over a "debate for Test cricket to remain the exclusive preserve of the eight top nations in the world". It is not too difficult to interpret these developments as being just the tip of the iceberg.
With all those extraordinary positive commitments from ICC to become one of the elite, while Kenya faces enduring hardship to make good even the simplest task of naming one exec after so many months, plan to further add six more nations to the club points only to an n-tier system thanks to corporate lust. And when ICC president Mr. Ehsan Mani says "A decision on having a two-tier Test format can be taken by June next year" the hide and seek become readily obvious. It is a disgrace for him to instigate the worst possible restrictions and yet to impart "We are trying to find out a better way of running cricket competitions in the world".
Will it be too wrong if one claims the ICC to already have the blueprint and a go for such system while using Ganguly, Ponting, Warne et al, just to play by the script in a mean marketing strategy?
"I have seen cricket everywhere" - Mani
For the sake of argument, let us assume that the proposed n-tier system goes into effect tomorrow and two years later Zimbabwe, or Bangladesh for that matter, either being the champion of the second tier or by wining some qualifiers, re-enters the top. How the elitists would guarantee that the competitive standard would be any better or "the sanctity of Test cricket" will have been preserved? Additionally, having played all the time against seemingly lower performing teams at the lower tier, there is genuine possibility of performance to actually tumble for those nations. What relegation system would the elitists then take refuge to? Who would even guarantee that the current top nations would continue to maintain their forms year in and year out? Can ICC just run away from these questions?
Relegating a Test nation to a second division is nothing short of stripping its Test status of. Even renaming that division to another "Test" doesn't do any good either since the top Test nations are not there, not mentioning the statistical nightmares it might cause. Without a doubt this is sure to have tremendous repercussions to the entire development of that unfortunate nation whoever that might be, more so to the point of irreversible damage in case of economically challenged nation like Bangladesh, even if the ICC promises to empty its full pocket for it. Any step from the ICC that effectively recede the development of cricket even for a single nation, whether Test playing or non-Test playing, is anything but better way of running cricket let alone the globalization or expansion. Every full member nation of the ICC must have equal rights to play the same brand of Test cricket and the ICC must ensure that at all times.
One needs not be a rocket scientist to percieve a new 'subtest' system consisting of three or four days, instead of five, among the top associate nations to be a cogent way to expand and promote the sports of cricket and even to create a safe oneway avenue towards achieving the Test status all while minimizing future disappointments. What better way is there to improve the cricketing culture, for those who have it already, than to keep playing at the highest level?
Miss Patience's remark "Zimbabwe may have opened the door to the true globalization of the game - this whole crisis could be a blessing in disguise and a silver lining to a very dark cloud" raises serious questions in the way ICC handles the Zimbabwe issue and with what intent and interest. ICC's ploy to take unfair advantage of the situation and to pass on the punishment to other nations for Zimbabwe's own perilous problems is nothing short of outright crime.
Just less then six months ago, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed admitted, "It was not a mistake to grant them (Bangladesh) test status... Perhaps in the early stages we should have helped them". Why then the ICC continues to invest money and effort for a system that would clearly make that grant a huge mistake? Even without a nose, the stench of an evil conspiracy against the so called Test minnows is so palpable here.
Adding few more nations to the Test family is nothing but a sordid prelude to forge a way to demote certain Test nations from the top.
"It will take superhuman powers of persuasion to get Bangladesh and Zimbabwe to buy into the concept" continues the Neil Manthorp's article. You bet, it will. With one hundred and thirty million fans in a testing mood, the ICC should take a lucid note of rebellion from Bangladesh alone. These citizens are hardy of staging cricketing riots if nothing else only to send that message to the ICC. Test cricket might be all about money and marketing for the elitists, but it is, as it was in the purist good old days, a matter of pride if anything for Bangladesh and she is not ready yet, if ever, to give up that pride so easily.
- Supercricket: ICC to expand to 20 Test nations
- Supercricket: Zimbabwe to play Australia in Pro20 Challenge
- Cricinfo: Ganguly suggests two-tier system for Tests
- Cricinfo: Three-tier system for Test cricket?
- Cricinfo: Time to separate champs from the chumps
- Cricinfo: Waugh: one-day series should have been cancelled
- Cricinfo: Mani throws his weight behind Bangladesh
- Times Online: Hussain's feats start great England debate By Shane Warne
- ESPNStar: Give the idea some thought
- BBC: Tigers 'should have had help'
- Dr. Zunaid Kazi
- Dr. Mahmudul Huq Khan