T-20 helping spread of cricket as qualifiers show
The ICC T20 World cup got underway after 5 years. It seems a long while back though but yet not that far. Largely because the ICC has planned a world cup each year. Be it a Men's, Women's or U19's, 50 over or T20, the mega event is held each year.
I had travelled to Muscat as a tourist in 2016. I got introduced to the Khimji family there and they invited me to be a part of the ceremony at this beautiful cricket ground at Al Amerat. They were inaugurating the floodlights that they had installed.
The years flew past and I was back at picturesque ground commenting during the men's world cup. Oman, the host nation, has made rapid strides and was back competing with the top teams to qualify for the main draw. Unlike Oman who have played the world cup qualifiers in 2016 too, Papua New Guinea were the first timers. With a very consistent performance right through the qualification matches, PNG had their moment of being on the big stage. The outing was not great for them but the sheer experience and exposure to the bigger teams will help in their further development.
An often mentioned quote - Anything can happen in the shortest format. It should be believed if one goes by the team rankings. But if you play good and consistent cricket like Scotland team did, then their consistency needs to be recognised. They won 3 out of 3 which included a win over Bangladesh and became the top team to qualify from the group. Namibia gave a jolt to Ireland's hopes of qualifying when they became the second team after Sri Lanka to qualify for Super 12.
The T20 format is relied on to spread cricket to all parts of the world. It's the short format and also requires less playing and viewing time. If cricket gets an entry to the Olympics, T20 format is likely to be preferred.
With newer teams getting competitive, it seems a the right strategy that is bearing fruits. It can be argued that presently these teams comprise of more expats and less of those who have their origin in the country; but that does not take away anything from the nation's efforts.
Cricket requires infrastructure and time. The players are not professionals and have to balance their jobs with training. Travelling and competing through different qualifier groups gets a team to the big stage. And it's a long-drawn process.
Cricket needs to be backed by passionate people and groups on a continuous basis. BCCI did not become the cricket board that it is overnight. It was through consistent backing of ardent cricket followers and entrepreneurs that allowed the game to run and flow with ease in the early years.
The T20 stage is set and the tournament has begun. I was asked to give my predictions prior to the start of the tournament. It has to be a guess only cause when you look at the teams and draws; its difficult to predict the final 4 leave aside the winner.
Scotland and Namibia are off the starting blocks. The top teams are already on the highway. But there is still a lot of distance yet to be covered in the UAE.