The Commonwealth Games could be so much more
Jay, although excited for Cricket’s return to the Commonwealth Games, bemoans the absence of associate nations
I’m not going to lie. I am experiencing mixed emotions in the lead up to cricket’s return to the Commonwealth Games.
For a change, let’s start with the positives. Let’s start with why I can’t wait for the first ball to be bowled on Friday.
Indeed, this is the highest profile multi-sport event that cricket has been a part of since the 1900 Olympics, where cricket was played between England and France.
It is also the first time that cricket will feature in the games since 1998 and the first time that women’s cricket will be part of the games. Unlike 1998 when games did not carry official ODI status, all matches in Birmingham will count as T20Is.
There are so many interesting narratives and subplots that promise to make this the biggest cricketing event of the year after the Women’s ODI World Cup and the Men’s T20 World Cup.
In Group A, favourites Australia will be looking to add yet another trophy to their cabinet and further establish themselves as one of the most prolific teams in sporting history. It’s hard to find many flaws with the Meg Lanning-led unit other than the fact that they conceded 77 runs in extras, including 56 runs in wides and no balls in 68 overs during the tri-series in Ireland.
If only for the sake of change you’d like to see a team other than Australia lift the trophy, the good news for you is the T20 format is more unpredictable than ODI cricket. All teams in the tournament have at least one if not more batters who can single-handedly win you a game.
Australia’s first match will be against India, who were the only team to beat them at the 2020 T20 World Cup. In Shafali Verma and Smriti Mandhana, India has one of the best opening partnerships in the world. Moreover, skipper Harmanpreet Kaur is enjoying a golden run of form. Yet, to balance all of that out, their selections continue to lack basic transparency and arguably any real logic or fairness.
India and Australia are grouped with an ever-improving Pakistan unit and Barbados, who in spite of being underdogs, are blessed with certified match-winners in Deandra Dottin and Hayley Matthews.
Group B favourites England should advance to the knockout stages. That they will be playing in front of a home crowd a year after the average match attendance at The Hundred Women’s Competition was 9536 makes this all the more special. There are now 51 professionally contracted women in the ECB’s regional structures along with 16 nationally contracted players. The revolution is set to continue apace as a young and exciting squad will look to make a mark on an international stage, and attract even more girls across England to the sport.
New Zealand have also flown a young squad to Birmingham. Their contingent, controversially, does not include the likes of Amy Satterthwaite, Frankie Mackay, and Leigh Kasperek. However, with a Sri Lankan batting line-up that is still too reliant on Chamari Athapaththu and a South African unit beleaguered by injury and the retirement of Lizelle Lee, New Zealand may yet sneak through to the semi-finals.
8 teams? You’re kidding, right?
Neither Bangladesh nor any associate nations will be participating in the tournament. Here are some of the many notable absentees.
Scotland is the leading associate nation from Europe, having beaten Ireland in a dramatic encounter at the T20 World Cup Europe Qualifier last year to advance to the Global Qualifier. Kathryn Bryce and Sarah Bryce hold ECB regional contracts, while leg-spinner Abtaha Maqsood appears regularly for the Sunrisers on the regional circuit along with turning out for Birmingham Phoenix in The Hundred’s inaugural season.
Tanzania have won 22 out of their 25 T20Is since official T20I status was awarded to all ICC member boards. Uganda and Namibia are two more African teams whose talent pool is dominated by homegrown players.
As per the latest Malaysian Cricket Association (MCA) census accessed by All Over Cricket, 99 schools had a girl’s team in a soft ball and/or hard ball league sanctioned by the MCA. That translates to more than 1000 girls in the age group pathway.
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The Commonwealth Games could have been a perfect shop window to promote the game in non-traditional markets that have already shown an appetite for the sport even in the backdrop of administrative negligence.
Instead, out of the 72 nations participating in the Commonwealth Games, only 8 will feature in the cricket competition. Yes, cricket is back in the biggest multi-sport event after the Olympics, but this is a reduction from the 16 teams we saw in the 1998 Men’s Competition.
This disparity in the size of men’s events and women’s global events is nothing new. But, why does it exist?
One of the theories from the men who run the women’s game is that nobody will watch women’s teams from associate countries competing against each other.
This logic is flawed.
Personally, I find real fans of the women’s game more open to an inclusive global game than certain groups of toxic men’s cricket fans that are part of the reason why I’ve shifted more of my focus to women’s cricket. I prefer to discuss the sport with these groups of people that tend to be more knowledgeable and dedicated fans with a greater capacity for empathy.
Clearly, I’m starting to digress!
Yet, you have to question whether the men who run women’s cricket are aware of what this fan base wants. If they are aware, do they even care?
At a time when the future of international cricket is uncertain, at a time when boards struggle to turn a profit outside of global events, it seems as if the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics could be the lifeline that international cricket needs to shed its over-reliance on Indian, Australian, and English markets.
I will, of course, concede that the Commonwealth Games is a great opportunity to cross-sell cricket to sports fans from the countries participating in the games. In some of these countries, the cricket competition will be shown on free-to-air television, where it can reach a sizable audience. This is especially crucial in conservative nations, where there is an urgent need to normalize female participation in sport.
Yet, as someone who has spent the last three years travelling around Asia and Southeast Asia to tell stories about cricket in this region — sometimes at my own expense, and once spending 21 consecutive days in quarantine in a 160-square-foot hotel room — I occasionally ask myself, ‘What’s the point?’
As a professional, I know it’s important to avoid taking sides. Yet, as a human being, I feel betrayed by the custodians of the sport. Sometimes, in the brief moments between tapping away on my keyboard, I can’t help but wonder:
‘When will cricket start caring about us?’
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