Since June, there has been a very well-publicised crackdown on bowlers with suspect bowling actions, most of them "mystery" off-spinners seeking to bowl a doosra, or just to give it a bigger rip.
The situation has got out of hand with the increase in Twenty20 cricket being played around the globe. With only 24 balls to out-think a batsman, spin bowlers felt that they would be better to have as many variations at their fingertips as possible. The success of leg-spinners in the format has borne this theory out; a quick look at the likes of Rahul Sharma, Karn Sharma, Pravin Tambe and Amit Mishra's IPL careers shows clearly that it benefits a spinner to be able to spin it both ways with little change in their bowling action.
It's only natural that off-spinners would want to be able to do the same. Their version of the googly, the doosra, was invented and perfected by Saqlain Mushtaq, and has gradually spread around the cricketing world. I personally have never seen a bowler bowl a doosra (which is essentially an off-break action with the back of the hand facing the batsman) without bending the elbow. It simply isn't possible to flex the wrist in that position without flexing the elbow as well.
Even Saqlain, who was never formally accused of throwing, and Murali, who was accused repeatedly and cleared, both had to bend their elbows to make the delivery work. The difference for them was that they were able to keep their elbow from straightening more than fifteen degrees during delivery. Most bowlers, Ajmal included, seem not to be able to do so, but have been able to keep plying their trade with impunity for the last few years, thanks to the beauty of long sleeves.
Thankfully, that is changing now. Many pundits and spectators are suggesting that by essentially outlawing "mystery" bowlers, the ICC will be tilting the game still further in favour of the batsmen and making it less interesting for neutral spectators. Personally, I think that this is sheer folly, propagated by the total mis-use of the "mystery spinner" tag. For instance, when Shikhar Dhawan came on to bowl for India this summer, the Sky commentators remarked that he "looked to have a little bit of mystery about him." What this really meant was that his elbow appeared to be straightening in delivery. "Mystery spinner" has become a euphemism for "chucker" in many circles.
A real mystery spinner does not have to throw the ball at all. For most leg-spinners, googlies and top-spinners are not very difficult skills to learn, and they have the added bonus of being relatively difficult to pick - especially when they're bowled by good leggies.
Similarly, even if he is not allowed to bowl the doosra, an off-spinner could do worse than to turn his attention to learning how to bowl a carrom ball. It is easier to pick than the doosra, but many exponents have used it effectively, including Ravi Ashwin (who publicly admitted to experimenting with long sleeves and an elbow kink because he felt that he was at a disadvantage), Ajantha Mendis, and, until recent months, Sunil Narine. Even I have learned how to bowl it, and used it in games from time to time.
It is important, though, that cricket does not turn its back on bowlers who are found to throw the ball. Just because you used to throw for a living doesn't mean that you can't turn your hand to bowling a cricket ball conventionally. For proof, you need look no further than Park Taekwan, the South Korean, who went from baseball pitching prospect to Asian Games opening bowler in twelve months. In the game against Sri Lanka, he bowled an excellent and incisive spell, taking the wickets of Shehan Jayasuriya, Dilhara Lokuhettige, Ramith Rambukwella and Kosala Kulasekara in a superb four-over spell in which he conceded only sixteen runs.
While this wasn't enough to win the game for the Koreans, it was certainly enough to show that the door should not be closed on bowlers who are proved to throw the ball.
It's typical, really, that the emergence of so many talented players from outside the elite club of Test-playing nations co-incides with the cricketing establishment being so keen to keep them out. Worldwide, a the emphasis has shifted from Test cricket and national pride to franchise cricket and the bottom line. If Associate cricketers couldn't break into the former (unless the promises of the ICC Test Challenge come to something) then it is imperative that they aren't also frozen out of the latter.
Currently, almost every major country has its own Twenty20 competition: the Big Bash, T20 Blast, IPL, HRV Cup and Caribbean Premier League have all established themselves as good places for overseas players to have a hit; the Bangladesh Premier League and Sri Lankan Premier League less so, if they even continue to be played. As these competitions continue to grow, it is essential that they do not overlook talent from Aberdeen in favour of lesser players from Adelaide.
Currently, only a few Associate players have really made their names known in the flashy world of snazzy clothes and loud music. Ryan ten Doeschate, hardly an Associate player these days, but still claimed by most Dutch fans, is the only one to really make a mark in the IPL, and this season he only managed 52 runs and one wicket from ten games - hardly compelling stats. Tom Cooper regularly hits runs in his local Big Bash, while the O'Brien brothers have also kept themselves busy in Bangladesh (both) and the Caribbean (Kevin). Otherwise, there were a couple of Associate players in the inaugural BPL, but on the whole they've been rather quiet.
The one place that doesn't necessarily apply, though, is in county cricket. In fact, it has become something resembling a finishing school for promising European players. This season, for instance, has seen Ed Joyce and Calum MacLeod making huge and dominant contributions for Sussex and Durham respectively. Also at Durham, Gavin Main showed some serious promise and pace on his Championship debut, while Stuart Poynter is being groomed as a successor to ex-England gloveman Phil Mustard. In their favour is the fact that, thanks to EU law, they are not considered overseas players - the same laws that have given Shane Warne and Michael Klinger the options of playing as local players on German and Hungarian players respectively.
If counties are on the lookout for more highly able and available players, it wouldn't hurt them to look at the North Sea Pro Series and Interpros. The players I am particularly thinking of are Michael Leask and Stephan Myburgh. Myburgh showed his destructive abilities at the World Twenty20, while Leask has barely stopped launching spinners out of the park since his break-out innings against the Dutch in the UAE. And when I say out of the park, I am describing the sort of hit that should probably be worth a twelve.
His most recent twenty-over innings came for the Highlanders against the Reivers, whose bowling attack included Iain Wardlaw, Safyaan Sharif, Majid Haq, Con de Lange, and Moneeb Iqbal - far from shabby. Leask, however, thumped a mind-bending 132 from 57 deliveries, including no less than eleven sixes. In his wake, he left some terrifying bowling figures: Sharif, 4-0-68-0; de Lange 4-0-61-2 and Sabri, 1-0-22-0 stick out in particular. With that kind of hitting power, especially against spin, I'd expect BPL (should it go ahead), CPL and IPL vultures to be circling. County sides would also be advised to seek his signature for the rest of the T20 Blast.
As the T20 system continues to grow and competitions begin to clash, coaches and scouts from franchises could do a lot worse than to look for players from off the beaten track. Afghan players such as Samiullah Shenwari and Hamid Hassan are beginning to make a mark in Bangladeshi domestic cricket, while a lot of Associate players had the opportunity to show their class in the World Twenty20 as far as the format allowed. There's no lack of quality players, and that's something that hasn't always been the case in Associate cricket. Even some of the less-exposed countries like Canada, Kenya, Namibia and the United States have cricketers who wouldn't disgrace themselves.
Theoretically, this talent could gain exposure via some sort of European Premier League. This is not a new idea - the North Sea Pro Series boards have broached the subject with Cricket Ireland to no avail - but the teams that might play such a tournament already exist. In practice, a huge amount of funding and a more liberal attitude from the ICC in awarding Twenty20 status would be essential before it could be considered a real possibility. Should it happen, though, in two years or ten, then Associate players from outside Europe might also find another place to play.
Until that time, though, Associate players will have to find themselves slots in Full Member competitions. While this has always been an up-hill task, it could become something approaching commonplace with the players available. Scottish stroke-makers Leask and MacLeod have shown that they could certainly command a county place in the shortest format, while Gavin Main's yorker to dismiss Stuart Broad hinted at potential as a death-bowler. Additionally, if you can't find a Dutchman of county standard after their World Twenty20 campaign, then you really aren't looking. And as for the Irish - I've written enough about their players, and most of them already do play for county sides.
This article has been written during the course of Kent's game against Hampshire, and despite virtuoso brilliance from Robert Key, it is painfully clear that they lack a good batsman. Would Michael Leask, Stephan Myburgh or Andrew Poynter really look out of place in that side? Seeing as only one overseas player was playing, you could make a case for chasing the signatures of any one of Mohammad Nabi, Irfan Ahmed, Rakep Patel or Steven Taylor of the United States.
My point, long and rambling as it may be, is that the approaching age of Twenty20 freelancing could be a boon for Associate players, so long as the appropriate talent scouts are looking for talent in the right places.
Much as I’m sure everyone hates to admit it, Allan Stanford might well have been onto something. I’m not on about the whole billion-dollar fraud and landing his chopper on the Nursery Ground, I’m on about the West Indian nations fielding national teams.
It seems to be an odd quirk in cricket that the West Indies are united under a single banner for international cricket, similar in fact to east-European sports teams continuing to operate under a Yugoslavian banner. And however rich the cricketing tradition attached to the West Indies team, Coming to America puts it best when Prince Akeem says that “it is also tradition that times must and always do change.” It’s time that the West Indies changed.
Despite their good recent performances in the World Twenty20, the West Indies are far from a cricketing force these days. They regularly crumble against world-class opposition, and until Darren Sammy got everyone pulling in a similar direction, they went through a stage of struggling horribly for leadership, too. Despite this, there are still loud and respected voices calling for Sammy’s head with alarming regularity.
The West Indies Cricket Board comprises of six associations, representing Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Leeward Islands and the Windward Islands. The Windwars include Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines; The Leewards include Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Montserrat, Nevis, St Kitts, St Maarten, and the Virgin Islands (both British and American). To co-ordinate these many organisations is a persistent logistical and political nightmare for all concerned.
Allan Stanford claimed that a Twenty20 knockout could reinvigorate cricket in the West Indies. In reality, he was just adding window-dressing to a competition that was at best illicitly-funded, and at worst a money-laundering scheme. Not that anyone was to know that, although perhaps the hosting of every game at the Stanford Cricket Ground indicated that altruism was far from his top priority.
All the same, Stanford got things done, by fair means or foul. His first tournament included nineteen teams, and the second made room for two more, although Cuba never made it onto the field. The format of pitting nation against nation was widely acclaimed as a fantastic initiative, but when Stanford went down in flames, the format burned with him.
West Indian cricket has always been dominated by the Big Four nations: Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and T&T. A look at their player pools reveals precisely why.
Barbados, for instance, have a bowling battery that includes Tino Best, Carlos Brathwaite, Miguel Cummings, Fidel Edwards, Jason Holder, Kevin McClean, Raymon Reifer, Kemar Roach and Javon Searles bowling seam, while Sulieman Benn, Ryan Hinds and Ashley Nurse spin the ball. When you add the batting ability of Kraigg Brathwaite, Jonathan Carter, Kyle Corbin, Kirk Edwards, Omar Phillips and Kevin Stoute, then you get a good, if bowling-heavy, international team.
Guyana, too, showed against Ireland that they could mix it as an international team. Picking eleven out of Trevon Griffith, Shiv Chanderpaul, Assad Fudadin, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Narsingh Deonarine, Leon Johnson, Christopher Barnwell, Derwin Christian, Veerasammy Permaul, Devandra Bishoo, Paul Wintz and Ronsford Beaton gives you a well-balanced and powerful team. Of course, there is more talent also waiting in the wings. For decades, the Berbice-Demerara fixture used to hold first-class status.
Jamaica, meanwhile, have the drawcards. Chris Gayle, Marlon Samuels, Andre Russell – these are the players who fill stadiums. It pays, though, not to forget the likes of Nkrumah Bonner, Chadwick Walton, Carlton Baugh, Tamar Lambert, David Bernard, Jerome Taylor, Sheldon Cottrell, Nikita Miller and Krishmar Santokie. It’s no fluke that even when their big names are away playing Twenty20 cricket, Jamaica usually busy themselves with slugging it out against Barbados’s bowlers for the Headley-Weekes Trophy. Nor that Jamaica has won it six times out of the last eight.
Trinidad and Tobago, though, are the ones that everyone talks about, the ones who grab all the headlines, the ones who play Twenty20 best. Of course, when your player pool includes Adrian Barath, both Bravos, Lendl Simmons, Jason Mohammed, Dinesh Ramdin, Nicolas Pooran, Kieran Pollard, Shannon Gabriel and Rayad Emrit, perhaps this isn’t such a surprise. However, the real strength is in the spin department. As well as T20 trump cards Sunil Narine and Samuel Badree, T&T is also home to Ryan Austin, Yannick Cariah, Sherwin Ganga, Amit Jaggernauth, Kavesh Kantasingh, Imran Khan, Dave Mohammed and Yannick Ottley. On low, turning home surfaces, this is not a friendly proposition.
To focus entirely on those four nations, though, is to put down the strength of the other nations in the region. Historically the best of the rest is Antigua and Barbuda. Best known for beaches, this beautiful nation also boasts world-class cricket facilities and a history of producing all-time legends. Today, they may not boast Viv Richards, Andy Roberts or Richie Richardson, but they would still cut an impressive figure. Austin Richards, Sylvester Joseph, Devon Thomas, Rahkeem Cornwall, Anthony Martin and Gavin Tonge are the half-dozen brightest talents that I've noticed, and would be plenty good enough to build a side around.
The same can be said of the other smaller nations, too. St Vincent would be represented by a deceptively strong team that would contain Sunil Ambris, Miles Bascombe, Romel Currency, Orlanzo Jackson, Delorn Johnson and Keon Peters, to name a few. Similarly, St Lucia could call on the likes of Johnson Charles, Craig Emmanuel, Keddy Lesporis, Darren Sammy and Garey Mathurin. Both of those sides compare favourably with some of the sides who impressed observers in the opening round of the World Twenty20.
So that they don't feel left out, I'll give Anguilla (Omari Banks, Chesney Hughes, Yannick Leonard), Dominica (Liam Sebastien, Shane Shillingford, Mervin Matthew), Grenada (Andre Fletcher, Devon Smith, Nelon Pascal), and St Kitts & Nevis (Kieran Powell, Shane Jeffers, Nelson Bolan) honourable mentions, too. That's eleven competitive nations. Add Bermuda, Canada and America to the mix, and any two other qualifiers into the mix (which could include Montserrat or St Maarten, also blanketed by the West Indies) and you have a spectacularly vibrant sixteen-team regional tournament.
A sixteen-team continental tournament. That brings it into line with the other major team sport, football   .
Of course, if cricket is to be a global game, it cannot only look at the Americas. Europe is also an area where improvements can be made. The most glaring one in my view is Wales, currently so insignificant that it doesn’t even warrant a “W” in the ECB acronym. A huge number of parallels can be drawn between New Zealand and Wales (both rugby countries, both overshadowed by larger neighbours, both having unfortunate sheep-related stereotypes), but the financial structure of world cricket continues to leave Wales in a situation where the best financial option is to remain as a county, represented by Glamorgan. To follow the Scottish lead would be more difficult for Wales, owing to the Glamorgan-related funding that they receive.
Currently ongoing is the Asian Premier League, involving three ODI nations (Afghanistan, Hong Kong and the UAE) and three others (Malaysia, Nepal, Oman). If the first three rounds of this competition have shown us anything, it is that there is a huge amount of cricketing talent in Asia that would thrive if given the chance to. At the time of writing, the three ODI nations currently sit third, fifth and sixth in the table. Oman, the only Affiliate in the group, are currently also the only team with a 100% record. Hong Kong, who only weeks ago managed to overturn Bangladesh, currently prop up the table without a win to their name.
Aside from these quirks, it strikes me as absurd that most of the matches in this tournament are not even granted List-A status, while games between Afghanistan, Hong Kong and the UAE are granted full ODI status. So far in the tournament, Nepal have beaten the UAE, Oman have beaten Hong Kong, and Malaysia defeated Afghanistan. Are these teams really less prestigious than the Southern Rocks or Kalabagan Cricket Academy?
To try to keep this article from wheezing into old age, I’ll draw it to a close. Cricket must make changes to its structure. As many nations must be embraced and encouraged as possible, not the eight that Ian Chappell calls for. Cricket currently has a fourteen-team World Cup, and looks set to move to only ten. The World Twenty20 apparently included sixteen, although the number who played in the tournament proper was ten once more. The ICC has 107 members, but only ten “Full” Members.
Football, however, has a 32-team World Cup and treats all members equally in its constitution, be they Brazil or Montserrat. Cricket, does have enough playing nations to fill a 32-team World Cup, and to maintain a decent standard, if only they could start treating nations as nations, rather than as second-class “Associates”, third-class “Affiliates”, domestic teams, or sub-levels within domestic teams.
Yes, this article is long, fanciful and unrealistic, but a man can dream, can’t he?
The World T20 isn't over, but the Associates are finished now.
After a couple of weeks of Twenty20 cricket, the party is over at last for the Associates. They have been involved in shocks and upsets, and just generally good games of cricket, too. Their opportunities were limited by a format that excluded as many of them as possible from the main draw, but the Netherlands emerged from their recent struggles to be the Cinderella story of this tournament.
My tournament XI:
This tournament was not designed for Associates, but it has ended up being a very good advert for them. I'm not advocating the unfairly weighted format, but the quality of the cricket produced by cricket's more downtrodden nations has shown that the Associate-Full Member gap is reducing all the time. We have seen not one but three different Full Members defeated by three different Associates. Peter Borren's men are the heroes of the tournament, and 39-all-out aside, they have produced better cricket than England, Australia, Bangladesh or Zimbabwe have managed. They have mixed it with South Africa and New Zealand, too. Not bad at all for a team that was adjudged to be the ninth-best Associate as recently as January.
It's sad that we have to admit that cricket may never be a global game.
A lot has been written about the ICC re-vamp, and the general consensus is thus: firstly, a game run by three nations will never be properly global; secondly, nobody understands how the ICC algorithm works apart from the BCCI (possibly). In all honesty, that's what the re-vamp is all about: money. The bottom line is king, or at least the lining of deep Indian (and English, and Australian) pockets. If smaller nations have to beg for donations on Twitter so that they can travel to Spain to defend their title, then that's just the price that has to be paid, right?
Wrong. It is short-sighted and foolish for these three nations to think that such a restricted global game could ever be a good thing. As a cricket fan, would you ever want to see ten back-to-back Ashes Tests again? What about twenty, or thirty? A vibrant and varied international cricket scene would be beneficial for everyone: fans, players and, most importantly it seems, accountants and administrators.
A huge chunk of cash goes to India, of course, owing to their "higher contribution costs". The line we are sold is that this reflects their importance in the cricketing system, and will help to make cricket as a whole stronger. On the other hand, though, it means that more and more money stays in India, while a great deal less finds its way elsewhere.
In the short term, this means that Indian cricket can give itself a nice financial buffer, pretty much making itself invulnerable, even if every single other cricketing nation goes bankrupt. Their worst case scenario is that they end up following the American model, creating an enormous and glitzy IPL, the winners of which are crowned Champions of the Universe, win little figurines of Sachin Tendulkar, and whose players command huge salaries after being boot-camped into shape from an excessively young age by over-zealous parents trying to live their dreams through their offspring. Individual players become transient, homogeneous and dispensable as part of a well-oiled machine. Cricket still exists, but its character is lost.
Indian cricket absolutely can survive without the ICC, but the question is whether or not the ICC can survive without India. The events of the last couple of months would indicate not. A deal was brokered to keep India on-side, and changes were made from top to toe in the financial structure of the ICC. The idea, I suppose, was to secure the future of our game, but I think that a bit more benevolence would have been helpful, if fanciful.
Beyond the Test world, though, it pays to be one of the top six nations, however arbitrarily they are decided. If you're not in that semi-elite group, then you're gone. Cast adrift. There will likely be no more Afghanistans and no more Nepals. The Netherlands, Canada and Kenya will be fighting desperately to stop the game from collapsing completely under the joint burdens of lack of funding and lack of interest. From being one of the top three Associates just a few months ago, the KNCB is now fighting a desperate battle to bag T20 International status on the back of their World T20 performance and get some sort of cash coming in.
In the lower divisions, their squads will have to get past the self-defeating ICC Development Criteria. I tried to read them, but they were long, complex and confusing. The gist, though, seemed to be that unless something changes, the likes of the Coopers, van der Gugten, Swart, Rippon and van Beek might be looking at the end of their international careers, for the forseeable future at least. A lot of people whine about ex-pat cricketers in Associate sides, and I used to be one of them, but the more research I do the less I really mind. Of course, if the KNCB was just buying in any decent seamer with a Dutch granny then it wouldn't be the best development strategy, but as long as there are young Dutch cricketers around too then these players can share their experience and have more than just an on-field role. Keep this in mind for later.
If taken at face value, the pathway to Test status is a good thing for Associates everywhere, but in all reality it is simply another way to keep the (Full) Members Only club at exactly the size it is now. After all, Ireland have already jumped through every hoop thrown in their way on the dark and twisting road to Test cricket, and suddenly looked to be on the finishing straight. Thus, yet another hoop has been added, which can only be jumped through five years down the line. They will have to defeat the lowest ranking Test side at home and away if they want their place in the Test club. It's a good job we never had this particular hoop before - I doubt we'd have any more than two Test nations even now if that particular caveat had always applied.
Far more sensible would be to find out which cricket boards are interested in playing Test cricket and helping them to overcome any obstacles, rather than just throwing further obstacles in their way until they give up. That way, we could have more Test nations, not less, and we could bring the standards of the lowlier nations up, rather than just ignoring them and hoping they go away. It's only logical if you're a governing body.
Say, for instance, that the Netherlands want to play Tests. Rather than cutting them adrift after their unfortunate World Cup Qualifier, I would retain their ODI status. I would also support them in trying to establish a decent domestic structure. This would of course cost a lot of money, but it has to be an option. You could, theoretically, base one team out of each of six major centres for cricket in the Netherlands: VRA Cricket Club (Amstelveen), Amsterdamsche Cricket Club (Amstelveen), Hague Cricket Club (The Hague), Excelsior Cricket Club (Schiedam), Salland Cricket Club (Deventer), Kampong Cricket Club (Utrecht). It's not exactly like there would be a lack of players, either, seeing the number of players who have represented the Netherlands at various levels. The Topklasse already attracts enough overseas players in its current form and this more streamlined competition might attract even more. Players like Sharn Gomes, Heino Kuhn, Bradley Barnes, David Wiese and Cameron Borgas already visited Dutch shores in 2013, and a more prestigious competition might invent even more high-quality names. Perhaps two per team would keep standards up?
It's not only the Netherlands that could have taken advantage of such a scheme. Canada (Edmonton, King City, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg), Ireland (any six of many top-notch facilities), Scotland (Aberdeen, Ayr, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Stirling), and many others besides could all use the exact same blue-print for domestic structures, if they wanted to. A couple of obvious issues are quality and cost. A look at the current Logan Cup would suggest that the quality of such competitions wouldn't be any worse, while the cost could easily be met with a little bit of lateral thinking. After all, the local players don't have to be on full-time professional contracts - they could be on pay-as-you-play deals, with most of the games scheduled on weekends to keep costs down. Any overseas or southern hemisphere-based players could also be employed by local clubs in coaching roles during the season, which would kill two birds with one stone. First-class status would also make the competitions more attractive to potential sponsors, and it might even be possible to make a weekly (or similar) highlights show attractive to a television channel.
But rather than being used productively to globalise the game in any way, cricket's finances are being divided to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. The attitudes of the powers that be are archaic and dangerous, because I personally cannot see how they can help cricket to grow properly.
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Martin Jones is a teenage cricketer with an obsessive interest in the game, particularly the more obscure and quirky areas of it that don't get enough attention. He has also written articles for Planet Cricket, Third Man Cricket and ESPN Cricinfo.
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