Target Africa

ICC'S CEO MALCOLM Speed (left) and President Ehsan Mani need to think about a new model of growth in Africa.-ICC'S CEO MALCOLM Speed (left) and President Ehsan Mani need to think about a new model of growth in Africa.

The ICC have a charter to develop cricket throughout the world. Development in Africa will provide a special challenge to the governing body.

The two traditional cricketing nations have little to be proud of in matters of promoting cricket on a worldwide basis. For long, international cricket was virtually a private game featuring just England and Australia.

While some nations including South Africa, New Zealand, the West Indies and India were allowed into the `private club' in the first three decades of the 20th century, they didn't get the opportunity to play much Test cricket and certainly not against the two traditional Test-playing countries. For instance, I did not play a Test match against New Zealand even though I played 10 years of Test cricket in the 1950s and 1960s. Though Australia played one Test against New Zealand in 1946, in Wellington, which ended disastrously for the home side who were caught on a sticky wicket and thrashed by an innings.

Such was the disdain shown by the Australian Cricket Board that it took over 25 years before Australia reluctantly agreed to play another Test against the Kiwis. This was a disgraceful attitude and while in my time I made three trips to New Zealand with Australian teams we were not given the Baggy Greens and played with caps bearing the initials ABC (The Australian Board of Control) or, as we disgustingly nicknamed the caps, the "Australian Bottle Company."

Very little Test cricket was played by the `minor' countries and Ron Roberts, an English journalist, organised private tours to these nations with outstanding success. Huge crowds attended these matches in these countries, which were starved of international cricket. Ron Roberts' teams comprised players from many countries and were known as the International Cavaliers. Recently retired or veteran Test players and promising youngsters were selected for the Cavaliers. I qualified as a youngster for my first Ron Roberts trip and Denis Compton, Godfrey Evans, Frank Tyson, Freddie Trueman and Bert Sutcliffe, perhaps New Zealand's greatest batsman, were a few of my teammates.

The first words of Denis Compton, my captain on that trip, to me were, "Remember, young man, your job on this trip is to score runs. My responsibility is to teach you to enjoy touring." In the next few years I had other Cavalier trips and enjoyed the company of Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Richie Benaud, Ken Barrington, South Africans Neil Adcock and Roy McLean and, of course, the great Everton Weekes.

Life-long friendships were developed on those tours and none closer than with McLean and Weekes. They were inseparable until we arrived in Bombay and the local immigration officials in the city refused to allow McLean and Neil Adcock entry into India because they were South Africans. Everton Weekes was very disappointed and stayed with McLean and Adcock for 12 hours until they boarded a flight to South Africa.

The Cavaliers served international cricket with distinction and toured India, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, Rhodesia, and many other smaller cricketing nations. What is not commonly known, or what is forgotten rather, was that the Cavaliers introduced limited-over cricket to the world. The Rothman Cavaliers, as they were known, played Sunday matches around England in the late 1950s and early 1960s and their members were picked by the same principles of selection used for squads that toured other countries. They attracted huge crowds wherever they played in England.

Profits from the Cavaliers' matches were either distributed to a local charity or the beneficiary of the local county where they were playing. The Sunday games were probably the most popular cricket matches in England at the time. They were so popular, in fact, that BBC Two, which had just started at the time, approached the Cavaliers to see if they could do something to fill a two-hour gap in their Sunday afternoon programme.

In those days, we could bowl 20 overs an hour. We came up with a format; the team batting first would not have its innings broadcast on television but the 40 overs of the team batting second would be telecast on BBC Two. The experiment was an instant hit and limited-over cricket was born.

While the English and Australian boards paid lip-service to the tours by the Cavaliers, both Boards did very little to support or encourage tours to the lesser countries. Australia hosted India for the first time in 1946-47 but did not officially tour India and Pakistan until returning from England via India in 1956. Tours to South Africa and the West Indies were once in 10 years while those to India and Pakistan were very much on an ad-hoc basis.

England, or rather the MCC, could rightly say they were visiting overseas and hosting return trips in the 1930s. I am disappointed, however, that not a great deal has been done for Holland. Cricket has been played on a very well organised basis for well over 100 years there. The clubs are well organised and support is very good at a local level. The administration of the Netherlands Cricket Association, the controlling body, is excellent and more and more clubs are installing turf wickets.

The future is quite bright in Holland but they still need help.

I was very disappointed to see Holland dropped from one of England's one-day competitions, even though Scotland and Ireland were retained. This was a bitter blow for the Netherlands. The decision seemed very selfish, to me, particularly because English county teams are continuously monitoring young developing Dutch cricketers in the hope they will be good enough to play for their counties. European cricketers are considered local under European Cricket Council laws.

Now that the ICC, who have plenty of money, are in charge of world cricket and have a charter to develop cricket throughout the world I hope they treat their responsibility seriously and do much more than what has been done in the past.

Africa will provide a special but encouraging challenge. Cricket is developing in that part of the world though the political situation in Zimbabwe, both in the Government and the cricket board, is disappointing.

I would like to see the ICC take a good hard look at the historical development of cricket in the West Indies to prepare a model of cricket development in Africa. It is extraordinary that so many countries have been blended together to form one team that represents all the Caribbean nations. In every other sport they play, they turn up as individual nations. If this model has worked in the West Indies, it might have a chance in Africa.

As it stands, no African country, other than South Africa, can be competitive on its own. Zimbabwe and Kenya are playing one-day internationals, a status that they are finding difficult to maintain. I would like to see a combined African team, excluding South Africa, competing in some form of first-class cricket.

The obvious starting point is some form of a Sheffield Shield style competition, which can be played between the up and coming cricketing countries in Africa. From this competition, a combined African team could be chosen to play against, say, the `A' teams from the Test playing nations. From what I have seen of Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Namibia, the best in cricket among the African Nations at this stage, a very competitive team could be chosen.

Such a team would improve dramatically and ensure that players return to their own countries as much better players with the ability to pass on their experience and expertise to their own people.

A combined African XI would also give players something more tangible to play for and I believe it would raise the profile and quality of all African teams.