With great power comes great responsibility.
As clichéd and overused as this phrase is, it rings true in case of BCCI in the cricketing world. BCCI is easily the most powerful cricketing board and stands above all its peers. This is in no small part due to India being the largest cricketing fan base.
However, cricket is not a popular game most countries around the world. In fact, there are only ten full members in ICC out of the total 105 countries registered. Out of these 10 teams, four of them are from the Indian subcontinent. There are two representatives each from Oceania and Africa, a solitary team each from North America and Europe and none from South America.
The rest of the teams are either Associates or Affiliate members. To qualify as an Associate or an Affiliate team, there exist certain conditions on the organizational structure and the level of cricket infrastructure. In order to qualify as a full member, the team performance must also be good over and above the organizational and infrastructural requirements. It is not easy for the associate teams to break this glass ceiling and make the jump to the full member status. The last time this happened was 17 years ago when Bangladesh were awarded the test status in 2000.
They were woefully underprepared when they were given the opportunity as they did not have any structured multi-day competition in 1999, one year before their test debut. They may have been derided for their lack of results in the test scene, but their recent victory against England needs to be seen from the viewpoint of an underdog getting a spectacular result against a team which had a 200 year head start over them in cricket.
If the sport needs to grow beyond the confines of the existing hegemony, there needs to be significant strengthening of the so called “Tier-B” teams. The BCCI, being a very powerful organization should consider it their responsibility to not only help popularize the sport in newer countries, but also help the countries who want to make the step up. To this end, it would be a positive move to consider the addition of teams from Afghanistan and Nepal into the Ranji trophy.
Both Nepal and Afghanistan are Associate members at ICC. Afghanistan also holds the temporary ODI and T20I status granted by ICC. Nepal held the T20I status temporarily before losing it in 2015. This goes to show that they are among the top Associate teams, and with some help can tremendously improve their chances of playing test cricket.
The BCCI has previously come to the aid of the Afghanistan and Nepali cricket in different ways. At the end of last year, the BCCI signed an MoU which would allow Afghanistan to play its home matches against other associate teams and full member A teams at the Shahid Vijay Singh Pathik Sports Complex in Noida. BCCI had also opened the doors to its training facility and technical expertise to Nepali cricketers after a major earthquake devastated Nepal in 2015.
But neither of these countries have been invited to join the domestic competitions in India.
This would not be the first instance of a country allowing teams from other countries to participate in its domestic competition. The practice is prevalent across multiple sports and the teams from the “smaller” countries have reaped the benefits of playing in a better competition.
An example from the footballing world which would spring to mind immediately would be the Welsh clubs like Swansea City and Cardiff City playing in the English football league system. Swansea in particular have been extremely successful, currently plying their trade in the top tier of English football, the English Premier League and also having qualified for a European competition in 2013 after winning the English League Cup.
In Rugby, Argentinian team Pampas XV participated in the South African second domestic competition for 4 years. This team consisted entirely of members who were a part of the High Performance Plan of the Argentinian Rugby Union. This team served as the backup to the Argentinian national rugby team.
USA and Canada have a very fruitful relationship in this regard where the Canadian teams from multiple sports like Basketball, Baseball, Ice Hockey etc. take part in the US domestic competitions.
In cricket, the blurring of lines between the teams of different countries for a domestic tournament have been far fewer. The Indian domestic tournaments have tried and abandoned a few such attempts. For a few years in the 2000s, the Duleep trophy in India which is traditionally held between the five zones from India included a foreign guest team to compete as the sixth team. The sixth team usually was a second tier team from a strong country or a first tier team from a low ranking full member.
Another such example would be the M J Gopalan trophy. This was an annual first class competition played between Ceylon Cricket Association (Sri Lanka) and Madras primarily between 1952 and 1982, easing Sri Lanka’s journey from an associate member to a full member with test status.
With ICC recently announcing changes to the Test and ODI calendars, the “associate” teams have a chance to play against the big boys—probably taking the place of warm up games for tests against other opponents in the same region. Taking a lesson from Bangladesh’s journey, the bigger countries should go one step ahead and nurture a first class structure to ease the associates’ journey.
Maybe the time has come to break the norm, and try a policy of inclusion for the teams from the associate countries to compete at the first class level with the teams of the full members. Both Ireland and Scotland have mentioned that they would welcome the chance to join the English county championship. The ECB is still considering whether to expand their 18 team competition to a 21 team competition with three divisions of seven. Afghanistan and Nepal would probably accept such an invitation from BCCI with open arms.
Of course, these procedures will involve reshaping the existing tournaments a little to fit in additional teams. And there will also be the question of at what level these teams need to be included (. But these are details which can be ironed out easily the Ranji trophy has 3 groups of varying difficulty) keeping the bigger picture in mind. The eventual aim of this exercise would be to empower the teams from these countries and establish a good first class structure in their home country.
The progress of these teams in the first class competitions would also help the ICC in making decisions about providing full membership to these countries instead of relying upon their performances in tournaments which happen once in four years.
For many years now, cricket has been a stronghold of a handful of countries with the others just looking in. For the betterment of the game this needs to change, and it would bode well if the first step towards this was taken by the BCCI.
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