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Levelling the field: The need for integrating associates in mainstream cricket

Levelling the field The need for integrating associates in mainstream cricket

Levelling the field The need for integrating associates in mainstream cricket

USA vs Pakistan. (Source – Getty Images)

It’s likely you may have overlooked the deeply ingrained biases conspicuously embedded in the title—’associates’ and ‘such teams’. Even if noticed, were you attentive to the nature of such brazen tags? It is understandable if not. It is a fundamental aspect of human nature: categorising people or groups based on surface perceptions, without scouring into the intricacies beneath the peripheral facade.

Before delving into the crux of the matter, it would be criminal to not acknowledge the recent upsets caused by Canada against Ireland and the USA against Pakistan at the T20 World Cup 2024. For a team that played its first T20I in the same year as Ireland (2008) and has yet participated in a significantly fewer number of matches, it was not surprising that the consensus was that Canada would fall short against the Irish. However, Saad Bin Zafar and co. were eager to defy public expectations. This fervor was evident both on and off the field, with the Canadians celebrating every dot ball and wicket with palpable enthusiasm. Ultimately, this intensity propelled them to a memorable 12-run victory.

Speaking about the match which preceded the Canada-Ireland game, even the most upbeat wouldn’t have anticipated the co-hosts to pose a threat to Pakistan, let alone prevailing ultimately. Despite the profound disparity in experience between the two teams, USA managed to push the game to a Super Over before securing a victory for the ages, defying expectations and thwarting odds.

Also Read: USA beating Pakistan is massive for cricket – the World Cup has really started now: Chris Gayle

For the unversed, this wasn’t the first instance of a supposedly “weaker” team coming up trumps over a statistically stronger opponent. There have been several occasions in the past, including the same tournament, where associate nations have caused such “upsets”. Examples include Namibia overpowering Sri Lanka in 2022 and the Netherlands sailing over England in 2009. There have been other upsets involving non-associate nations, where underdogs have outperformed stronger teams. For instance, Ireland and Afghanistan defeated eventual title-holders, England and the West Indies, in the 2022 and 2016 editions of the marquee event, respectively.

The potential causes behind such outcomes occuring so rarely prompts some contemplation. One inclined to attribute these occurrences to chance or luck would call for a dire need for optimism into their defeatist mindset. However, they would be correct to question why these upsets do not occur more frequently. That is exactly where the issue lies.

In the realm of international cricket, spectators constitute the heart of the game, without whom its essence would be stripped bare. Similarly, many cricketer-turned-commentators, who inundate the media with relentless opinions and analyses, frequently adopt a dismissive attitude towards associate nations. Instead of recognising the efforts of the associate nations, they often focus on criticising the favoured teams for underperforming whenever unexpected outcomes arise. This pervasive viewpoint frequently renders these teams as entities of negligible significance, effectively belittling them instead of applauding.

From an academic context, such propensity towards generalisation persists in other spheres too. For instance, labelling students from government-run institutions as inferior to their counterparts in privatised ones. Factors such as perceived rawness are often emphasised, leading to the overarching dismissal of the entire group, without due consideration for the untapped potential that may reside within certain individuals and may materialise if provided with appropriate resources.

The foremost step would be to dispel such preconceptions and recognise these nations as valuable contributors. Despite lacking a track record adorned with radiating metrics, it is imperative to regard them in a more favourable light given the presence of potential.

Consider, for instance, the strategic move by the USA cricket team to deploy Nitish Kumar and Harmeet Singh over the seasoned Corey Anderson during the run-chase and the Super Over against Pakistan despite Kumar and Singh possessing only a fraction of Anderson’s experience. If the USA could take such a calculated punt by withholding a player of Anderson’s caliber back in the shed, the ICC could similarly opt to prioritise the Nitishs and Harmeets of the game over the Andersons without hesitation.

There exists a compelling rationale behind associate nations harbouring heightened self-belief in their aptitude to cause upsets in tournaments like the 20-over World Cup. The pivotal nature of short bursts of play renders the balance of power susceptible to swift shifts in their favour. In longer formats, consistent performance over sustained durations poses a greater challenge. Given the limited exposure and quality of oppositions encountered in infrequent bilateral series and qualification matches for global tournaments, the realisation of this objective proves elusive in the present.

Nonetheless, it warrants serious consideration. In the proximate future, involving teams such as the USA in frequent 20-over tours to cricketing powerhouses like India, Australia, and England, presents a promising initiative across various fronts for associate nations. Beyond the outcome of these series, such engagements hold multifaceted benefits, including the identification of emerging talents, providing them access to state-of-the-art equipment and technology, and fostering skill development. Moreover, these tours afford both host nations and associate sides invaluable game time, particularly during off-seasons or preceding major ICC events.

Also Read: Associate Nations honoured as ICC Development Awards 2023 Regional Winners announced

From a business perspective, such endeavours hold immense likelihood of alluring increased brand endorsements, sponsors, and revenue streams from ticket sales and digital broadcasting platforms. This, in turn, would contribute to the consolidation of cricket among other prestigious global sporting events such as the Olympics.

Furthermore, the continuity of such tours would help sustaining the fervour of cricketing enthusiasts in cricket-crazy nations like India, while encouraging more youngsters to take up the sport in countries such as the USA where other sports like basketball and baseball are more prominent. Through sustained efforts, who knows, fixtures like the Uganda-Namibia encounter could garner significance akin to esteemed rivalries such as the India-Pakistan or Australia-England, not only within the nations, but also among cricketing buffs globally.

While this process may be gradual, the improvement in cricketing prowess would justify the patience required. Ultimately, this endeavour would reduce the existing disparity in resource allocation with respect to boards of associate nations and cricketing proficiency amid squad members, potentially minimising the overuse of terms like “upsets” in future deliberations.

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