The Associates – A Big Picture

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 15: United Arab Emirates team prior to the Desert T20 Challenge match between United Arab Emirates and Namibia at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium on January 15, 2017 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

The Associates – A Big Picture

Cricket is not always being played out loud, like in the Big Bash or not even being danced around, like in the Caribbean Premier League. There’s no hostility or sledging, like in the Ashes. It doesn’t even have the glamour or big bucks involved, like in the IPL. It doesn’t always have a packed house, like in the World Cup games.

Sometimes the sun watches them play with true spirit and little music in the crowd. With every match holding some significance, they play for their career and not money. They cannot even afford the luxury to mourn losses.

It’s a do-or-die situation every match.

These are the Associates or as people like to call them: the minnows – men who don’t hog the limelight.

To a lot of people, these games may be just some Sunday afternoon game with sponsored jerseys but it still rides high on emotions. Just ask Cecil Pervez, the Canadian medium pacer, who was down on his haunches when he conceded eight runs off the last two balls of the game versus Nepal after four consecutive dot balls. It cost Canada a spot in the World Cup Qualifiers.

Ask Karan KC of Nepal what it feels to be given a hero’s welcome back home after he hit that six to see Nepal through to the Qualifiers.

Full of potential but with less funding and lesser games, the future of Associates seems to be in jeopardy.

With all attention towards Afghanistan and Ireland, the Associates are left wondering: When’s our turn? Surely there’s going to be more Test playing nations but how soon? Three years? Five years? Fifteen years? Its an exasperating farrago of all sorts of proportions.

With two new test entrants given more share of the money, the funding to the Associates has lessened. A lot of factors come into play as far as the development of cricket is concerned and in the end, it all comes down to money and games. Money allows the grassroots to enhance their skills & develop and games enable them to compete against teams around the world & build on their learnings.

So here’s a look at a few things that can help the next crop of Test playing nations :
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1. Support from the full members

MS Dhoni batted for the Associates at the 2015 World Cup after their win against the UAE, saying that it is important to spread cricket in more countries and look beyond the commercial interests. He also talked about how the Associates deserve to be given more support in terms of facilities and chances.

When asked if these sides should get more game time against full members such as India, he seemed pejorative : “ Not against India. I don’t see even a few days off to play anymore cricket than what we play. We cant, unless we play two games in a day.”

So here’s a suggestion: cut down two weeks of IPL and send a young squad to play a tri-series involving a few Associates. It’s a two-way street as it will benefit both the parties to gain some significance experience and game time.

Pakistan and Zimbabwe, in the last few years have practically done something instead of giving verbal support. They either played A cricket or toured for short T20I or ODI series.

2. More participation in T20 leagues

Very few existing tournaments like the CPL and Hong Kong T20 Blitz have a window for an Associate player in a team. The CPL player draft is designed in such a way that every team selects one player from the ICC Americas region. Even in the HKT20 Blitz, teams had to pick at least one overseas player from the Associate circle.
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Cricket West Indies went one step ahead and included USA cricket squad to take part in the domestic ODI tournament. Hopefully the recently launched Global T20 Canadian league offers chances to players not only from the top Associate members but also from division two.

Leagues like the IPL, Big Bash or the Pakistan Super League can take a leaf out of the aforementioned tournaments and welcome more participation from Associates.

3. World Cup tournament structure

A ten-team world cup sounds like a ridiculous plan given that there are over 100 nations that play cricket.

The way the tournament is structured, it seems as if it ensures that teams like India have at least nine games against the top teams. It basically secures TV money and boosts the television rating points for the broadcasters.

Its also the mindset of the people and to an extent the media, that strong nations win only because Associates are not up to the standard and when the Associates win, the “strong” teams aren’t in-form.

Why cant it be that the Associates have the potential to outplay the full members and ability to stage a fight?

The World Cup Qualifiers underway in Zimbabwe show yet another flaw in planning. Only two teams out of ten get to play the showpiece event in England next year. Rashid Khan- number one T20I and ODI bowler in ICC rankings- may not be a part of the World Cup next year.

Instead of curtailing the number of teams, ICC should promote the game hard and spread it as much as they can.

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