A Manifesto for World Cricket
Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f
Part 1g. Regional Rivalries
International cricket teams have odd relationships with their neighbours. Cricket's most celebrated rivalry, the Ashes, is not regional at all, yet it is played more regularly than any other contest for a simple reason: Australia and England have always been able to schedule tours in their off-season, and their opponents summer. By contrast, the contest between Australia and South Africa, while every bit as keen, and usually of the highest quality, is limited to three tests a piece, with the South African leg shuttled into March, and the South African administrators having to forgo their now traditional December/January test program.
While scheduling isn't always a problem - India and Pakistan have tended to fluctuate from playing almost monthly, to not at all, depending on the political climate - cricket's best potential rivalries are often stunted affairs. New Zealand have always been far more likely to play Pakistan or Sri Lanka than their tri-nations rivals they really want to contest against; the Asian cup was last seen bereft of Indian involvement; and despite being surrounded by high profile associates, England play just two ODI games a year against their near neighbours.
Other sports have much better regional rivalries. Football has as its main structure world cup qualifiers and regional championships; likewise, rugby is centred around the tri-nations and six nations tournaments. And for obvious reasons: travel is cheaper and less burdensome on players, allowing more games to be played; regional rivalries build on the natural tendency of people to aspire first and foremost to beat those most like themselves; and the absence of regular games against more exotic locales brings greater interest to those games when they occur.
While world championships have often been cited as a way of introducing greater meaning into test cricket, regional championships are rarely considered. Yet, for many teams, being regional champion (or finalist) is a far more realistic goal than world champion. Regional championships too, serve a useful purpose in providing a structure to introduce smaller nations into the fray against major teams without them needing to travel across the world, nor, more importantly, requiring more than one of the game's heavy-weights to play the minnows in any qualification sequence.
There is a question over what constitutes a "region". Depth is important. With so few top class teams, it makes little sense for a championship to follow the ICC development regions, where only the Asian region has a real contest for the local champion. Here, I favour regions sorted by scheduling arrangements, split between those teams playing in the Northern Hemisphere's summer (England, West Indies), those playing in the Southern Hemisphere (South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe) and those playing in the Asian semi-tropical zone (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh).
This arrangement has the advantage of being relatively even. While the Northern hemisphere is weakest in its test sides, it has the best associates (Canada, USA, Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Bermuda, Denmark, Italy). By contrast, the Asian zone has strong test sides, but weak associates (UAE, Nepal, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Oman) and the Southern hemisphere lies in the middle (Kenya, Namibia, Uganda, PNG).
Scheduling a regional championship is more problematic, requiring a whole summer of densely scheduled games to contest even the most basic of championships. Yet that density may be a blessing for players, instead of ad hoc scheduling where blocks of games are preceded and followed by a few weeks rest, a more organised schedule and extensive breaks would allow better recovery times from injury. Unfortunately that is not the only scheduling issue that needs resolving.
30th December, 2009 20:51:24