The whole cricketing world is going gaga over the heroics achieved by Ireland in the ongoing 2011 Cricket World Cup despite being just an associate nation. And why not? The men in light green have rubbished off the title of ‘minnows’ associated with them by their infamous world record victory against England and by showing fight and determination against other teams as well.
But Ireland’s success story reminds us of the heroic feat achieved by Kenya in the 2003 World Cup where they shocked everyone and managed to reach the semi-finals. (Even their victory against the West Indies in the 1996 World Cup is still fresh in cricket lovers’ minds). This was considered as the rise of the Kenyan cricket by many and a possible chance of gaining a status of a test-playing nation. Sadly, that was not to be. Kenya never really managed anything after their World Cup fairytale.
The obvious reason for this appears Kenya’s poor performance. But I strongly feel that the International Cricket Council (ICC) is mostly responsible for this. For a well performing associate team, it is necessary that they continuously get international exposure and that too against strong opponents. Right after the 2003 WC, Kenya played just a four nation series in Sharjah and that too because the Indian team wasn’t available. But after that series, Kenya played just two one-day internationals in the next three years (Wikipedia)!
By ignoring such a well performing associate team, one is forced to question whether the ICC wants the game to spread in more and more countries. On and off, these associate teams do play against other associate teams but if they really need to grow as a full-fledged cricket team, they need to play regularly against stronger test-playing nations.
In the summer of 1998, there was a triangular series in India featuring India, Kenya and Bangladesh. Such series are the need of the hour for associate teams. Surely, it shouldn’t be difficult for the ICC to hold such tournaments regularly. Audience attendance won’t be a problem as one can see large number of supporters of Ireland, Netherlands, Canada, etc thronging the stadiums during their matches. So, revenue won’t be a problem for the ICC, if that is what is bothering them.
And all that talk of scrapping the associate teams from playing in World Cups is annoying! Only those who are against the growth of the game can think this way. Agreed, the matches can be boring when a strong team thrashes an associate one. But then, you have every option of not watching such matches; no one is forcing you.
One just hopes Ireland doesn’t follow Kenya’s fate because of ICC’s cold-shouldering. After all, organizing exciting and interesting cricket matches is not just all. Spreading this great game far and wide is equally important.