A glimpse within the ICC cocoon

Hong Kong's Twenty20 victory over Bangladesh brought fleeting fame, but it could have had more lasting benefits if not for official myopia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 9:29pm

It has been 10 days since Hong Kong charmed the world of cricket by claiming the big scalp of test-playing nation Bangladesh at the ongoing ICC World Twenty20 in Chittagong. The glow still lingers.

For 24 hours, we grabbed headlines all over the world in cricket-playing countries. The players were chased by the BBC (Hindi service), and Indian and Bangladeshi newspapers wanting to know how a bunch of nobodies had been able to turn the tables on fancied opponents. China's CCTV included the fairy-tale result in their news bulletin. Social media was buzzing. Former Australian captain Steve Waugh sent a message of congratulations to Hong Kong head coach Charlie Burke.

It was wonderful. The players were walking on air. Munir Dar, 40, proudly showed his smartphone app, which revealed his name had appeared in 732 stories in newspapers, web publications and other media around the world after his gutsy innings lifted the team to victory.

Banned from bowling by the International Cricket Council for chucking, Munir was picked simply as a batsman and he came good at the very end, leading Hong Kong home to a remarkable two-wicket victory over Bangladesh, the first time Hong Kong had beaten an ICC full member at a world tournament.

It was a historic moment, made even more poignant by the fact that despite the upset, we were headed home. Yes, for 10 days, I too had been part of the squad, made welcome by Burke and his team. And I was sorry to be leaving on such a high, no thanks to the short-sighted view of the world governing body, which has made the game a closed shop.

It was a huge victory, not only for Hong Kong, but for the world of associate cricket

Unlike the other two great team sports the British Empire spread in the days when it ruled, cricket has never been given a decent chance to spread its roots. While the world governing bodies of soccer and rugby union have been more progressive, the ICC has been content to live in a cocoon, insulated in their make-believe world behaving as if everything is hunky-dory.

While the soccer World Cup in Brazil this summer will boast 32 teams, and last year's Sevens Rugby World Cup had 24 teams (the 15s World Cup next year has 20), cricket's World Twenty20 is limited to just 10. For all its public declarations that six associate teams had taken part in the "first" part of the tournament, it was very much window-dressing, for the tournament "proper" had no intention of including the associates.

If not for Zimbabwe failing to win their first-leg group (the Netherlands did), this World Twenty20 would have been played among the 10 full members. The ICC would have patted itself on the back for giving the lesser nations their moments in the sun before going back to the gin and tonics.

A shame it has such a blinkered view on development. This shortest format is the ideal vehicle to drive the game globally. If the ICC had the vision and guts to push for Olympic status - former IOC president Jacques Rogge was keen to get cricket into the Olympics - we could see the sport really take off. Imagine China and the United States really pushing the game.

But the biggest issue is money. The ICC is worried that if T20 gets into the Olympics, it won't get any of the broadcasting revenues - it is widely predicted the new set of ICC rights, for the next eight years, will be sold for around US$2.5 billion - which will belong to the IOC. It also does not want another major event overshadowing its own World Cups, even if it is only once every four years. And then how to find room in a packed schedule, especially with the annual T20 competitions each of the main countries have, like the Indian Premier League and Australia's Big Bash.

All these fears help prevent it becoming a true world sport.

So once every few years - in future the World Twenty20 will be played every four years and not two - the ICC trots out an event, makes a mockery of allowing associate countries to join the top table, and then carries on regardless.

But Hong Kong made history. It would have been pure magic if they had knocked out the hosts Bangladesh and qualified for the tournament "proper". That would have caused some consternation among those in the ICC.

It was a huge victory, not only for us, but for the world of associate cricket. Soon it will be a distant memory and we will have to wait patiently until we are given another morsel from the top table. Unless the ICC gets its head out of the sand.