So, Zimbabwe finally won a tournament of note, when it thrashed South Africa by 9 wickets (with 2.5 overs to spare) in a T20 final. Man of the match Brendan Taylor and Man of the series Hamilton Masakadza were there till the very end and both scored half centuries as the target of 147 was chased with ease.
The interesting part of the series was that after each of the three teams played their four matches, all of them were tied on points with Bangladesh being eliminated from the final on the basis of an inferior net run rate.
Masakadza scored 247 runs in the tournament and was miles ahead of the rest. From other teams, only Richard Levi of South Africa came close with 131 runs. Zimbabwean Chris Mpofu was the pick of the bowlers with 7 wickets.
It’s safe to say it was Zimbabwe all the way!
ODIs and Tests have failed the global test
This is in sharp contrast to all those failed ODI triangulars, which probably have been the saddest type of competitions in the history of the game. Most of them feature two strong teams and a third weak team to fill in the numbers.
The weak team invariably fails to make it to the final and if it does manage an upset, then it gets soundly thrashed in the final.
Despite being around for around four decades, ODIs have failed to go truly global. In fact, even teams like West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are totally uncompetitive. The World Cup has been won by only five countries and outsiders can only dream of an upset, never really hoping to go all the way.
Test cricket is even less competitive and at any point in time there are only 5-6 teams which are in form. While football’s FIFA rankings go all the way to 206, the ICC would struggle to even create its 11th Test team.
T20s are the future
This is why T20s are the future and they are the only format in which dozens of teams can hope to be competitive in the years to come. Apart from the Test playing nations, there are 36 Associate Members (where cricket is “firmly established and organized”) and 59 Affiliate Members (where “cricket is played according to the Laws of Cricket”).
It is safe to say that it is next to impossible to make these 95 countries Test playing nations. It will also be extremely difficult to make all of them strong ODI playing nations. With T20s however, the story is totally different.
It is much easier for newcomers to pick up skills in the T20 format as the IPL has shown. It is much easier for this format to be popularized outside the Test playing nations as a match can get over in 3-4 hours and spectator/TV viewer interest can be generated.
There are some things which the ICC will have to do if it wants to popularize cricket globally…
Cut down on ODIs: While no one denies that the World Cup is cricket’s biggest prize, the same cannot be said of the other ODI matches. Triangulars have been the biggest flop and many bilateral series also are too long and uncompetitive. They should be done away with. For example when the West Indies toured India last year, we thrashed them 4-1. A T20 triangular between India, West Indies and Bangladesh would have been much more competitive.
Start holding T20 tournaments: Yes, we have the T20 World Cup, but can you think of any other international tournaments? Why don’t we have a T20 Asia Cup? Having T20 tournaments with 4-5 international teams will also make sense and can be organized in the same time that it takes to host an ODI triangular.
Play T20 series with Associate/Affiliate Nations: You can’t imagine India playing a Test match with Ireland and even a regular 5-match ODI series wouldn’t be competitive enough. T20 matches would be a different ball game altogether.
Right now ICC has announced the Top 6 Associate/Affiliate nations to be: Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands and Scotland. There’s no point in just making this announcement and leaving them high and dry. These nations should play regular T20 series with the Test nations in order to bring them up to speed.
Organize domestic T20 leagues in Associate/Affiliate Nations: A domestic T20 league has sprung up in every Test playing nation with IPL leading the pack by miles. The ICC should actively seek sponsors and promote T20 leagues in Associate/Affiliate Nations too.
Make no mistake about it. If there’s one cricket format that can go global, then the key lies with T20s.
It’s high time the ICC started moving towards that end.
The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/