Some of the teams and players have shown that they belong there.
Bial Ahsan Dar
The T20World Cup 2022 witnessed a sensational takeoff. Associate nation Namibia pulled off a comprehensive victory over Asia Cup 22 winners Sri Lanka. It didn’t stop there. The very next day, another associate member nation Scotland thrashed two-time T20 world cup champions, West Indies, by 42 runs. Four days later Ireland – still a rookie among Test playing nations – celebrated one of their most crucial victories in T20 cricket, storming into the Super-12 round and dumping West Indies out of the world cup.
Even in the games that the associate sides like Scotland, Netherlands, UAE and Namibia have lost to the top cricket playing nations, they generally exhibited good sills. These have been good fighting games and brilliant individual performances showcasing the skills that the players of the associate teams possess. Something that wasn’t witnessed in the previous world cups when the associate nations were most of the times decimated.
In one of the clashes Netherlands came close with 146/9 in 20 overs in response to Sri Lanka’s 162/6 which highlighted an impressive innings by Max O’Dowd who made a strokeful 71 not out. Karthick Meiyappan of The UAE took the first hat-trick of the tournament against Sri Lanka and joined the elite club of Brett Lee and Kagiso Rabada.
It looked like the qualifying round was tougher than expected for the Test playing nations, like Sri Lanka and West Indies, who, a few years ago, would overwhelm the associate nations hardly facing a fight. The label ‘minnows’ used for these lesser known teams seems to be a misnomer now.
These early upsets suggest we could be in for some more surprises of this sort and it is a great news for the game of cricket as it shows cricket is successfully spreading to other nations as well.
Voices advocating bigger-field world cups have started to surface in the media with people suggesting to the ICC that these teams be given more games against top sides as the number of teams in the ICC events could be enhanced. The players also look more confident than ever and capable enough to repeat these performances on a consistent basis and therefore deservingly demanding more exposure against top sides.
After the upset against Sri Lanka, Namibian coach Gerhard Erasmus said: “There was more hype and childish belief last year. This year was more of knowing we can relate to that level mentally, physically and skillfully. We’ve seen it, we’ve tasted it and we’ve sort of closed that gap by coming one step closer to them. They gave us the belief this time around.”
Scotland have long competed with bigger nations in 50-over cricket, but their T20 games have been limited. Of the 16 teams in the world cup, Scotland has played the least number of T20Is, only two, since the last edition of the tournament. They famously knocked off England in 2018 after smashing 371 before holding on for a nail-biting six-run win.
“They have only played two T20s since last year’s world cup, but they turned up at Hobart full of confidence after seeing Namibia’s huge win,” tweeted a Scottish fan.
After starting their campaign in style, captain Richard Berrington said: “It’s a special win for us. A lot of hard work has gone into getting us to this point in the last 12 months. I’m extremely proud of the boys for going out there tonight and showing off our skills.”
Scottish batter Callum MacLeod added: “There wasn’t a huge amount of surprise that Namibia won yesterday and we won today – that is where we’re at with our cricket. We’ve all been crying out for more opportunities and it would be great to see where some of the associate nations could get to if we were invited into the game sometimes. Wins in global events are significant, they have more on them. The win over Bangladesh last year was a special moment but today was probably a better win – we probably played better cricket from start to finish and deserved to win.”
Some individual performances are giving a great account of these players who appear to be good enough for this level which should help them to make it to any of the legion of cash-rich T20 leagues around the world. In fact, many of these players participate in the global T20 leagues and that exposure is showing through in this world cup.
George Munsey of Scotland has been among the most consistent batters in T20Is among associate nations and has been impressive in the ongoing tournament as well. He won the player of the match award after his 66-run knock helped Scotland to register a win against the West Indies.
Players like George Dockrell and Curtis Campher from Ireland also gave consistent and outstanding performances. In one of the matches against Scotland, the duo came together to forge a 119-run partnership in just 9.3 overs for a joint world record 5th wicket stand in the men’s T20Is, also held by Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik.
This marked improvement in the performances of the associate sides is a good sign for the game. At a time when the ICC and other relevant associates of the game want cricket to be a global sport like football and make it to the Olympics, these improved signs are encouraging. The sport has already been on the rise worldwide ever since the introduction of the T20 format in 2003.
In April 2018, the International Cricket Council (ICC) granted T20I status to all of its 105 members. To further allow these nations to showcase their talent, the 50-over world cup is set to be expanded to 14 teams from 2027 edition. Likewise, the T20 WC will include 20 teams from 2024.
However, there have been complaints of funding issues from some of the associate nations and players which need to be addressed. Also, these teams must play more games against top quality sides to gain more experience. We have the examples of Afghanistan and Bangladesh whose steep rise was a result of such exposure. A special reservation of the associate nation players in the T20 leagues around the world can also help. Moreover, holding multiple team tournaments in these lesser known cricket nations can do a good marketing of the game and eventually help it to expand more globally and keep growing and evolving.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and cricket buff.