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Commonwealth Games Qualifier: 3 Takeaways
Jay runs through the biggest stories from the Commonwealth Games Qualifier
India’s men got whitewashed 3-0 in South Africa. In usual circumstances, I would have tuned in, but I had no desire to this time as it clashed with the Commonwealth Games Qualifier being held in Malaysia.
Five teams and only one spot available at Birmingham 2022: It was high-stakes cricket, especially considering that the sport will be returning to the Commonwealth Games for the first time in 24 years. Furthermore, there has never been more momentum to include the sport in the Olympics for the first time since the 1900 games.
Once you get addicted to high-stakes qualification tournaments involving associate nations, it’s hard to go back to traditional bilateral cricket.
Here are three of the biggest talking points from the Qualifier.
Lack of media coverage and tournament organization
The uncertainty around the Qualifier and the half-hearted promotion leading up to it makes you question how serious the ICC is about cricket at multi-sport events. This tournament should have been used to whet the appetite for Birmingham 2022. Instead, the dates of the tournament and participating teams were announced only two and a half weeks before it was due to take place.
Unsurprisingly, there was very little media coverage surrounding the CWG Qualifier. While some publications need to take more responsibility for promoting a more global and inclusive sport, others simply did not have the time to curate a content strategy around the tournament or dedicate a good chunk of their content calendar to it.
To make matters worse, the qualifier wasn’t broadcast to viewers in India and other sub-continent nations. How can you get the masses excited about associate cricket and women’s cricket if you make it near impossible for them to watch live games?
To their credit, the Malaysian Cricket Association (MCA) did well to put together the tournament on short notice. The pitches were some of the best I’ve seen in a women’s competition involving associate teams. They allowed batters to express themselves but also had just enough for the spinners and even some bounce and grass covering towards the tail end of the Qualifier.
The MCA’s social media channels were more active during the tournament than any other team’s accounts and the live stream was largely uninterrupted.
However, the commentary was poor. The commentators did not provide any context to the action and they kept referring to teams as the “Sri Lanka women’s team” or the “Kenya women’s team.” It was painfully clear that the people calling the games were neither interested in women’s cricket nor did they bother doing any research.
At the very least, there should have been a budget for one professional commentator, committed to doing their research and telling stories that inform and entertain viewers.
The fault lies not with the individual commentators. They were asked to perform a job they weren’t qualified for. Given the disparity in grants and funds between associate nations and full members, the fault does not lie with the MCA either.
But somebody has dropped the ball here.
We talk a lot about administrative apathy on All Over Cricket. Sadly, the lead up to the tournament and aspects of the broadcast were reminders that the powers that be will gladly use associate teams as promotional tools but will rarely use PR tools to promote a more global sport.
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Sri Lanka and Chamari? Brilliant. Sri Lanka Cricket administrators? Not quite
Between the end of the 2020 T20 World Cup and the start of the World Cup Qualifier in 2021, Sri Lanka went 630 days without any international cricket.
They then missed out on the chance to make it to the World Cup when, controversially, qualification was determined according to ICC ODI team rankings in light of the Omicron-led cancellation of the 2021 Qualifier.
Heading to Malaysia, Sri Lanka was expected to face stiff competition from Scotland and Bangladesh with many predicting that a Chamari Athapaththu-led outfit starved of international game time would miss out on the 2022 Games.
That, however, is not how things played out. Sri Lanka backed up a comfortable 109-run victory over Scotland in their first game with a 22-run victory over Bangladesh in their final fixture.
Athapaththu led from the front with four wickets and 221 runs in the tournament. Her batting strike rate of 185.71 was comfortably the best for anyone with over 20 runs in the tournament. Nilakshi de Silva was a distant second, striking at 138.88. The two of them and Harshita Madavi occupied three of the top four spots on the tournament run charts.
While Bangladesh’s bowlers occupied the top spots on the wicket-taking charts, Sri Lanka’s spinners bowled as a unit to turn the tables on Bangladesh. Chasing 137 for victory in the de facto final, Bangladesh stormed out of the blocks, scoring 46/1 in the Powerplay. They required a mere 91 runs in 84 balls with 9 wickets left.
However, Sri Lanka’s spin quartet of Athapaththu, Inoka Ranaweera, Sachini Nisansala, and Kavisha Dilhari put the squeeze on Bangladesh, who could not score a single boundary in the next six overs. What should have been a Bangladesh win turned into a comfortable victory for Sri Lanka.
In spite of a board that does not do nearly enough to grow the women’s game, Sri Lanka’s dominance in Malaysia is a testament to the raw talent in the island nation.
However, the development of promising youngsters like vice-captain Madavi, left-arm spinner Sachini Nisansala (playing her first international tournament) and Kavisha Dilhari will be compromised if Sri Lanka Cricket does not organize more international fixtures for them. Sadly, there is every chance that Sri Lanka will play little to no international cricket in the lead up to Birmingham 2022. As long as the women’s game is governed by an apathetic board, Sri Lanka will struggle to replicate the highs of their famous 2013 world cup campaign.
Malaysia and Kenya’s contrasting fortunes
You’d think they’d won the World Cup! With flags draped over their shoulders, Malaysia’s dugout stormed onto the field after they hit the winning runs in a chase of 89 against Kenya. They won by five wickets and with ten balls to spare in what was arguably the game of the tournament. Prior to the tournament, Kenya were ranked 22nd in the T20I team rankings, whereas Malaysia was ranked 33rd — the lowest of all five participants at the Qualifier.
The hosts may have limped to 49/9 in their 20 overs against Bangladesh in the tournament curtain raiser, but they improved with each successive outing. In their second game, they conceded a mere two wides against Scotland, restricting them to 148 and replying with 117/8 in the chase. Against Sri Lanka, they batted out their quota of 20 overs, scoring 82 runs. And finally, against Kenya, they stormed out of the blocks, restricting the East Africans to 18/1 at the end of a boundary-less Powerplay.
Throughout the tournament, their dugout cheered every run their batters scored, which only added to Malaysia’s allure as the darlings of the Qualifier.
For Kenya, however, it was a different story. They hadn’t played any international cricket since winning the Kwibuka T20 Tournament in July 2021 and they were the only participating team not to play a warm-up fixture ahead of the CWG Qualifier.
And it showed.
In their first game against Bangladesh, seamer Lavendah Idambo beat the bat of Bangladesh’s Shamima Sultana once and found her inside edge twice. But she also leaked 16 runs and conceded three wides in the same over. Idambo can get the ball to move both ways and is clearly talented. But Kenya was more starved of game time than any other team at the tournament.
Malaysia, in contrast, competed with the likes of Nepal, Hong Kong and the UAE at the T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier in November 2021. And in their matches against each of those three teams — the three pre-tournament favourites — they found themselves in winning positions only to lose by relatively narrow margins.
Furthermore, on April 2021, 15 Malaysian female cricketers were awarded professional contracts for a period of 12 months. Regular international fixtures, the ability to train more often as well as a preparatory tour to Sri Lanka ahead of the Asia Qualifier are the ingredients that went into their historic victory over Kenya.
Malaysia’s win is a reminder of how professionalization combined with a regular fixture list can dramatically improve a team’s fortunes.
This is not rocket science.
If the MCA continues to invest in the women’s game, there is every chance that Malaysia will be pushing the highest-ranked associates or perhaps even Full Members in the next decade.
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