The global leadership of the cricket faces a challenge in handling Afghanistan, where women’s cricket has not progressed the way it was hoped when the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB) was granted the full membership of the ICC in 2017. Things went pear-shaped in August when the Taliban government took charge.
The ICC recently formed a Working Group to review the status of the ACB in light of the recent changes but is the ICC leadership bold enough to make the tough calls on the situation of the war-hit country?
Starkly enough, one gets a perspective by observing the position taken by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) towards China over the disappearance of a woman player, Peng Shuai, who had made an allegation against a powerful Chinese Government official. The WTA even threatened to take away all the events from the country, even if it meant losses in millions of dollars, if the player’s safety is not independently verified.
The ICC has conceded that there are challenges but also hoped that there would be perceptible changes soon. “There are cultural and religious reasons,” ICC chairman Greg Barclay said on Monday (November 22), when it unveiled its global growth strategy which places women’s cricket ‘firmly at the heart of its long-term ambitions.’
“It is a challenging situation. It was before August as well. All we can do is to continue monitoring the situation. Hopefully things will settle down, we’ll be able to see women’s cricket continue to grow. We accept it’s coming off a very low base, there’re cultural and religious reasons for that. There was slow but perceptible progress being made prior to August. We’d like to see that continue. We’re getting some messages that will be the case, that a commitment will be made to the women’s game. So let’s just wait and see.
“Afghanistan is a member of the ICC. Our position was that we continue to help with the cricket programmes in the country, both men’s and women’s. We will continue to do that. Having said that, there are certain criteria any country needs to comply with to remain a member of the ICC. At present we haven’t seen any transgression, so we will continue to support them as a member and encourage them to continue to take an inclusive approach to cricket,” the ICC chairman said.
Barclay also reflected upon the slow progress of women’s cricket in the world as compared to men’s in these times of global pandemic. “I think it is really important that we ensure that women’s events have equal standing as men’s. We are desperate to ensure that,” Barclay said while Geoff Allardice, the CEO, hoped the next 12 months will be exciting for the women’s game.
“Last 12 months have been uneven on how much the national women’s teams have been playing. We just started in Zimbabwe with qualifiers for the World Cup. It is really an important tournament as to which teams qualify and who plays in the next edition of the ICC women’s championship. We are looking forward to the next 12 months – we’ve got the cricket World Cup in New Zealand and we’ve got Commonwealth Games in July-August in Birmingham and in early 2023, Women’s T20 World Cup in South Africa. As things stand they look more positive in terms of delivering global events. It is a big 12 months ahead which we are looking forward to,” the ICC official explained.
Win the toss and win the match?
The ICC brass was asked about the toss deciding the result of the match in the just-concluded Twenty20 World Cup in UAE and they hoped things will be different in Australia which will host the next edition of the tournament in 11 months’ time. In the recently-concluded event, team batting second won maximum games, including the final.
“One of the things about cricket is [that] a trend establishes itself in the game. If there is a perception that winning the toss and winning the game exists in this tournament, I am sure when the teams gather in Australia in 12 months’ time, the dynamics will be different. Talking to various people it did not seem why that was the case. Coaches, analysts and players will look at the way to counter them,” Allardice said.
IPL vis-a-vis World Cup
The scheduling of the recent Twenty20 World Cup came up for scrutiny, particularly the scheduling of the India games. The Virat Kohli side played two formidable teams – Pakistan and New Zealand – and back to back and defeats in those matches virtually ruled them out of semifinal reckoning. India played three more games later – against Afghanistan, Scotland and Namibia – but there was not much of viewership interest after an all-time high viewership for the first game against arch-rivals Pakistan.
“I don’t know how to put this kindly, but there was a real air of arrogance around the scheduling and that is what the broadcasters wanted with involvement from the ICC as they wanted India’s fixtures around the holidays around Diwali and all that so they wanted those games at peak times,” former New Zealand bowler Simon Doull had told Cricbuzz. “Pakistan should have been the first game, but the game against New Zealand should have been the final contest. It should have been India against New Zealand for a place in the semi-final at the end.”
Another analysis showed that viewership of the India-New Zealand game also dipped after Virat Kohli & Co. were put into bat and it was based on the World Cup trend that side batting first mostly lost the matches. The scheduling issue also came in the backdrop of ICC’s plans to go to the market to sell the media rights of the next cycle, something the BCCI is also doing with its IPL property. “I agree,” said Allardice. “The numbers were very strong initially. Teams make their own fortune in the way they play. One of the things we can’t control is how the teams perform. We put on the best event we can.”
Media rights tenure – will it be reduced?
The ICC officials were non-committal over the duration of the media rights package for the 2024-31 cycle. There’s been talks that the board may opt for a four-year cycle instead of the usual eight years but ICC has said it is still weighing the options.
“We have been in discussions with the broadcasters. At this stage it looks like we are going to make it in the New Year. We are weighing the length of the cycle from potential broadcast partners. We are still a few months away. We are still in discussion with various participants in the market. We know that the rights are strongly in demand,” Allardice. Barclay added, “It is an exciting opportunity for us to look at what the market looks like and the feedback we get will determine the length of the cycle – four or eight year.”