The ongoing Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia has once again reignited the debate about the expansion of the premier tournament to more nations. For years, the International Cricket Council has adopted a regressive approach of limiting the number of teams that can play in the World Cups, ostensibly to protect the scheduling and revenue interests of cricket’s “Big Three” countries. This approach, despite its merits, is looking anachronistic with every passing year.
If cricket wants to grow into a global sport, it needs more and more nations to join its elite fold, and the T20 World Cup can prove to be a fertile ground for minnows to challenge the giants and nurture their talents. In this article, we take a look at why cricket desperately needs an expanded T20 World Cup, and the challenges associated with it:
THE CURRENT MODEL IS OUTDATED
For most of its history, cricket confined itself to the island of Great Britain and its former colonies. South Asia and the Caribbean have taken a particular fondness for the game, with the former accounting for most of cricket’s present viewership and revenues. However, things are changing rapidly. A steady increase in South Asian diaspora across the world has expanded the game’s horizons, lending a hand to ingrown talent to put together teams that compete at the elite levels.
Despite this growth, Test cricket remains confined to only twelve nations. Hosting and playing Tests requires significant amounts of money, and money is scarce to come by for the smaller teams. Since attaining Test status in 2019, Afghanistan have played just six Tests. In contrast, T20 Cricket brings the nation’s board much-needed revenues, and its players the chance to grab lucrative contracts in domestic T20 leagues. As a result, the T20 format has now become the norm across the world for countries looking to join the game.
There is now a clear and established trend of dwindling interest in bilaterals and international tournaments among the fans. Domestic leagues like the Indian T20 League and the Big Bash League have erased boundaries between nationalities, with players now being admired across the world. Apart from the Ashes and the India-Pakistan rivalry, there are hardly any other bilateral tournaments that captivate the audience with either tradition or high stakes.
INTERNATIONAL CRICKET IS SATURATING
International tournaments themselves have expanded, with ICC now scheduling a global event almost every year. Just five months after the current T20 World Cup concludes, India will host the ODI World Cup in March. The quantity of tournaments, especially the decision to host a T20 World Cup every two years, has reduced the aura of being a world champion.
International tournaments now need the X-factor to captivate interest among younger generations, and the best X-factor in any tournament is an upset victory. However, the chances of an upset victory are low if smaller teams who have the capacity to create those upsets are not allowed to play in the first place. For example, Zimbabwe’s surprise victory over Pakistan has all but eliminated one of the finest teams in T20 Cricket from the tournament. But Zimbabwe had to earn a spot in the World Cup through the group stages despite being a Test nation.
The International Cricket Council seems to have taken note of these concerns, expanding the ODI World Cup to 14 nations and T20 World Cup to 20 nations for future editions. But the structure of the tournaments still favours the large nations – increasing the round-robin stages instead of eliminators. If India or Australia fail to win a game against a nation like Scotland, for example, the ICC wants to make sure that they can claw their way back into the tournament.
AN EXPANSION WOULD BENEFIT CRICKET IN GENERAL
One has to view the jubilant celebrations in the Zimbabwean camp after their victory over Pakistan to see what a great deal it is for the Davids of cricket to defeat the Goliaths. An international tournament, unlike a bilateral series, increases the chances of upset wins – wins that create memories and provide a morale boost to the teams.
Even if they don’t manage to win any games, the experience of competing with the likes of England or Australia will help improve the quality of cricket among these nations. For example, Afghanistan’s rise in stature in recent years is partly thanks to the numerous opportunities provided to them by both India and Pakistan. The current model of warm-up games among the bigger teams themselves also does a disservice to the smaller teams, who would benefit from more time on the field.
Further, hosting the tournaments has so far rotated between cricket’s stronger nations. Expanding the tournament can bring in new hosts, increasing audience interest towards the game. Namibia and Zimbabwe can host a T20 World Cup together, for example. It is clear that the ICC wants to make cricket a global sport, with plans to include it in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Expanding cricket and its infrastructure to more nations, especially in Africa and Europe, is an essential step in the process.
CHALLENGES LIE AHEAD
The major reason why ICC prefers a smaller tournament is purely monetary – India’s early exit from the 2007 World Cup has cost the tournament millions in revenue. Since then, the ICC has shown increasing deference to the interests of the “Big Three”, going so far as to introduce a scheduled break to accommodate the Indian T20 League. But this deference to the wishes of well-established teams costs the game in the long run.
The ICC would do well to look at FIFA’s plans for expanding the game – the 2026 edition of the FIFA World Cup will feature a whopping 48 teams. Football does this while maintaining interest in the game, and there is no reason why cricket can’t do the same. All it requires is strategic thinking from the administrators, and a bit of effort to get the “Big Three” into line. The ICC needs to take concerns of saturation in cricket seriously – bigger teams play too many games while smaller teams play too less. Maybe it is time for bilaterals to give way to more regional tournaments like the Afro-Asia Cup. Before that, however, cricket needs an expanded T20 World Cup to become a truly global sport.
The ICC needs to take concerns of saturation in cricket seriously – bigger teams play too many games while smaller teams play too less. Maybe it is time for bilaterals to give way to more regional tournaments like the Afro-Asia Cup. Before that, however, cricket needs an expanded T20 World Cup to become a truly global sport.
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