Most of the world smirks when Americans refer to the NBA winner as the ‘world champion’. The basketball league, after all, is only a collection of 30 teams — 29 from the United States and one from Canada. The argument goes that the fanfare is restricted to just North America, and there is nothing global about it.
There is some merit to this argument, but staunch NBA fans are quick to point out that the league comprises players from all corners of the planet. The numbers support this — there were 120 international players from 40 countries and six continents on opening-night rosters for the 2022-23 NBA season. On the court, there is truly an international feel.
Compare this to the ongoing ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup. The competition is restricted to 10 nations — an event that reeks of exclusion. A World Cup, in any sport, should feel like a grand party with an open invitation. The cricket equivalent is a tight group of friends raising a toast behind closed doors.
And it is not that talent is confined only to traditional powerhouses. The recent victories registered by Afghanistan and Netherlands — over fancied England and South Africa, respectively, among a host of others — is proof that rough diamonds are in plain view.
As if to reinforce the strict entry criteria, this World Cup does not even accommodate all the Test playing full-member nations. There are only 12 full-member nations, which ideally should guarantee spots for all in this mega event. But instead, West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe exited the scene after a gruelling qualification tournament.
The case of two-time World Cup champion West Indies is particularly upsetting to its many fans who yearn for a bit of Calypso flair. For West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe, where interest in cricket is on the wane, to be shut out of the World Cup will only take the sport completely out of public consciousness.
For a young person in these countries with a bat and ball in hand, what motivation remains to stick to the sport? There are no rewards in sight, so it would be better to move to greener sporting fields.
The exploits of Afghanistan and Netherlands have come as a boon to those with a penchant for telling good stories. There can be no better script than that of the underdog rising to the top. Three years ago, Dutch fast bowler Paul van Meekeren worked as a food delivery agent for Uber Eats. After the England triumph, van Meekeren is on top of the world, having picked up two crucial wickets in his side’s famous win. This could be his springboard to gaining contracts in private leagues and finally earning his just due.
For van Meekeren and his teammates, every win is a big step taken towards promoting the game back home. The cricket community in Netherlands is small yet passionate, and performances like this on the big stage brings great publicity. Incidentally, this is Netherlands’ second win over South Africa in recent times, having posted a similar upset in a T20 World Cup fixture at Adelaide last year.
In an interaction with Sportstar before the World Cup commenced, Netherlands all-rounder Bas de Leede spoke about the challenges of being a professional cricketer back home.
“I think it (cricket) has got a chance to catch on. Hopefully, with our performances in the past year and a half, we can get some more attention. It’s still a very small sport. There’s no highlights and there’s no live games on television. We have to try and keep performing and hopefully get more and more attention. Some people will say let’s get the rights to broadcast these Dutch games. But at the moment, it’s not happening. It’s not growing at the moment, but I think there’s a real possibility for it to grow,” de Leede said.
Can there be a better example of tiding over the odds than the Afghanistan unit? Years of war and unrest have not dampened its spirit, as seen in its 69-run win over defending champion England a few days ago. The crowd at Delhi got behind Afghanistan, as was the case in Dharamshala when Netherlands may have felt it was playing a game at Rotterdam.
The victory came in the wake of a deadly earthquake in Western Afghanistan which left hundreds dead. Former England batter Jonathan Trott, now the Afghanistan coach, stated that his boys are playing with a higher purpose.
“It’s not just cricket that the guys are playing for. The guys are very knowledgeable of the things and the hardship that some people are going through because of the natural disaster and for various other reasons. If this can give a smile to people’s faces anywhere in the world, and also encourage boys and girls to pick up a cricket bat or a cricket ball wherever they are in Afghanistan, then our goal has been achieved,” Trott said.
These are just a couple of inspiring tales from the “minnow” nations, and more can be expected as the tournament progresses. For the International Cricket Council (ICC), it should serve as a reminder that cricket belongs to all, not just the preferred few.
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