Back in 2003, eyebrows were raised when a brand new Twenty20 cricket format was introduced into the county game in England and Wales.
Fast forward 15 years and it doesn’t need me to tell you what has happened since to that version of the sport. Change is often unwelcome and feared but is also necessary, at times, and can be a catalyst for growth as we have seen.
As such, could 1o-over cricket, showcased for the first time in the world last December as the inaugural T10 League was completed without blemish in the UAE, experience anywhere near that kind of rapid ascent?
It is a distinct possibility.
The England and Wales Cricket Board is reportedly now considering introducing 10-over-a-side matches to the English domestic calendar.
Back in February, Sport360 confirmed T10 Chairman and founder Shaji Ul-Mulk would meet with ECB hierarchy to moot the idea of expanding and growing the format to new shores. Indeed, that meeting did actually take place as promised in Dubai, and from the outside looking in, talks were seemingly positive.
It is certainly a good sign for a burgeoning franchise-based competition, which was endorsed by the likes of Eoin Morgan, the current England limited-overs captain, Three Lions batsman Alex Hales and global names such as Shahid Afridi, Safraz Ahmed, Virender Sehwag (the only Indian player to feature) and Darren Sammy among others.
Played over four days with a round-robin format, six teams battled it out to reach the final at a largely packed-out Sharjah Cricket Stadium, with Kerala Kings eventually triumphing.
With contests taking roughly 90 minutes to complete, it was yet more proof bitesize cricket deserves its place on the menu as the idea was lapped up. Plans are now afoot to expand for the 2018 edition on UAE soil, which will see eight franchises and the tournament running for up up to 10 days.
Just where T10 competition fits into an already jam-packed English domestic calendar is up for debate. Four-day first-class cricket, the 50-over competition and successful Vitality T20 Blast make-up the summer months currently, and it appears as though there would be little room for any more inductees.
And that is not taking into the ECB’s new 100-ball format, widely recognised as ‘The Hundred’, which will be trialled in September.
A fifth format of the game in England domestic competition does seem difficult to comprehend while ESPNCricinfo does not claim that bringing in the new T10 option would be at the expense of the controversial 100-ball offering. At the end of the day, something will have to give.
Still, it is intriguing the newly-launched format is on their agenda moving format and forms part of the ECB’s new 2020 footprint.
“If UAE can qualify for the World Cup then there’s no reason why USA shouldn’t. So that’s going to be a focus for us in the next few years.” – Dave Richardson, International Cricket Council CEO.
The golden goose that is America is never far from the thoughts of the world’s cricket administrators. The only remaining economic and political super-power having an interest in the sport would be massive for the game. And there are cricket fans in America, 10-20 million of them according to some estimates. Cricket websites around the world get a massive proportion of their traffic from the USA. Despite all of this cricket in the USA is years away from getting close to a World Cup, in fact it is probably more a case of decades.
Speaking in 2014 the then Chief Executive of the USA Cricket Association (USACA), Darren Beazley, summed it up as follows; “The ICC will tell you there are 10million cricket fans within the US. I don’t know how many of those 10 million are US cricket fans. I think what you have is immigrants that come from Pakistan, and when they are asked “do you love cricket” they say yes. Then you say would you buy a US team jersey or a Pakistan team jersey they will go for Pakistan.”
This is the issue that cricket faces in America. If the sport is to grow beyond the niche following it has amongst immigrant communities it needs to develop an American identity, and despite being in existence since 1965 USACA has singularly failed to do that. Instead cricket remains “an underground sport”, a term that was used to describe the sport by a senior USACA official in 2009. The reasons for cricket’s stagnation is as much to do with USACA as anything else. They have been suspended from the ICC twice in the last decade and they are on the brink of being booted out again.
Cricket in America has been badly managed and poorly treated and in a letter dated 28th January 2015 the ICC Chairman, N. Srinivasan, outlined those concerns in excruciating detail. He told the President of USACA, Gladstone Dainty, that there were concerns that his organisation fails to comply with the ICC constitution, has failed in its financial and membership obligations and is potentially bringing the game into disrepute.
Srinivasan goes on to say; “As you are aware, the [ICC] have had concerns over the organisation and development of cricket in the USA for a number years, and the role USACA has played in the apparent lack of progress of the game in the USA. Despite attempts made by the ICC and certain of its Members to assist USACA in addressing these concerns, it appears that no real progress has been made.”
The issues that face the sport in the America are manifold, but the real problem is the fragmented nature of the domestic structure that USACA have done nothing to resolve. The organisation is made up in a number of leagues that play under their own rules with their own players. There is a history of political struggles to get players from one league into the national side, often meaning that the best players are left on the sidelines.
All of this has led to the USA team languishing in World Cricket League 4, in essence the fifth division in world cricket. In the most recent tournament that they played they finished below Uganda, Malaysia, Nepal and Singapore, losing to all of them in the progress. To suggest that they are even capable of getting close to World Cup qualification is laughable.
Over the last few years there has been a challenge to USACA’s stranglehold on the administration of the game. The American Cricket Federation was born out of the frustration of those that felt USACA were failing in their fiduciary duties. Its current CEO, Jamie Harrison, feels that any talk of international success is very unlikely. “Fifty years of abject neglect has left the United States with little chance of reaching lofty heights anytime soon” Harrison said. “The USA has plenty of promising players who learned the game in the country of their birth, but then came here to find no national team program, no professional coaching, and no facilities of any real value.”
ACF is pleased to announce that the US Internal Revenue Service has granted it 501(c)(3) charitable status, retroactive to October 9, 2012.
— USA Cricket (@AmerCricketFed) March 31, 2015
He feels that USACA continuously playing politics with player’s careers and the running of the sport has only exacerbating this situation meaning that there is little hope of developing a structure that is capable of sustaining any sort of professionalism any time soon. The players are all amateurs who hold down full time jobs, train themselves, coach themselves and come together rarely for ICC events that they are ill prepared to compete in.
There are not even turf pitches for the players to use to compete against each other, with the vast majority of leagues being played on artificial surfaces. While Beazley was in post he secured an understanding with the city of Indianapolis to put on events on grass wickets, once he resigned out of frustration at the internal workings of USACA that relationship collapsed very quickly.
The game growing in America would be fantastic, but it is so far from a reality that the Richardson’s comments about World Cup qualification are ridiculous. The idea that the USA are more of a priority that the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan who have overcome massive hurdles to put together competitive teams shows the priorities of those that run cricket. The USA is seen as a money maker, even though the reality is very different.
There are people that follow the game in America, there are none that follow the national team. That kind of support takes a generation to take hold. The sport has already wasted a whole generation thanks to the appalling mismanagement of USACA, hopefully it won’t be another 50 years of failure before the hard yards to grow the game are put in at grassroots level.
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