The Tim Brooks Column
Participation rather than Performance
The Tim Brooks Column: Previous Articles
Since its inception the ICC development programme has focused on performance. The creation of the World Cricket League and qualifying structure for the T20 world cup saw virtually all of its associate and affiliate members play competitive, international fixtures. It also provided a yardstick, through the creation of rankings, by which members could assess their progress. This became an integral part of the development plans that members submit to their regional development managers.
Of course in such a system that will always be winners and losers. Afghanistan’s remarkable climb up the WCL ladder saw them attain ODI status but Argentina has slowly seen confidence ebb away as they have been subsumed by a culture of demotion. These highs and lows were expressed as ‘successes’ and ‘areas for improvement’ respectively.
But the ICC have now switched the focus to participation and the chief objective of their ‘bigger, better global game’ philosophy is to achieve seven figure participation outside its test match playing heartlands.
Currently standing just below 730,000 this represents a significant challenge for regional development offices who have already witnessed considerable growth in playing numbers over the last decade, although this has to be seen in the context of increased levels of economic migration and the rapid accession of new members over that period.
With participation being the new shining beacon to which all ships must steer their course there will be a period of realignment of objective setting and funding strategies. It is likely, for instance, that a large proportion of development grants available both centrally and regionally will be allocated to participation or, to use a corporate term, ‘outreach programmes’.
But it is important to realise that this headline figure does not equate to playing numbers, as within the ICC statistics junior and senior players are only subsets of the overarching participation number. In practice this means that a significant proportion of this figure is made up by people, mainly school children I expect, that have been introduced to cricket as part of a cricket clinic or a session within the school curriculum.
While this is an important component of spreading the game, especially in those members where ex-pats dominate, it is almost meaningless if seen in isolation. The million landmark will only leave a lasting legacy if there is a parallel shift in the number of participants becoming junior and senior players. Because if they don’t there is only one logical conclusion: they played cricket once and didn’t like it.
If the current upward trend of participation is maintained then the million mark is likely to be reached by 2020, especially if given regular boosts by development grants. Theoretically this should translate into a large playing base which in turn should provide a larger, more competitive pool of players to drive up performance of age group and national teams. This is, at least, the hope.
But ‘project million’ also suggests that the ICC is taking a longer term view. With an onus on performance there were financial incentives for teams to focus resources on elite players and national team performances. In many members this pressure resulted in a myopic short term strategy of achieving results with a core of, in many cases, experienced club cricketers drawn from ex-pat communities. Local players and aspiring talents were often kept on the sidelines unless they jeopardised results.
Although certainly not intended the effect of the ‘performance’ culture has in many cases been an insular, introverted culture. This was never going to be the basis for sustainable development. So the change in emphasis must be welcomed. Some of the newer member nations had been trying to run before they could walk. I’d rather see the foundations laid for cricket to flourish amongst local populations than international tournaments dominated by ex-pat players. The results can wait.
It was quite right and proper that the ICC insisted that its associate and affiliate members, some of whom had been taking their grants and not playing a competitive fixture from one year to the next, made an effort to integrate into the regional tournament structures and qualification pathways. But the fixation with performance was beginning to dominate development agendas and see short-termism prevail.
After an experiment with eight divisions the WCL will be trimmed back to six and members will be encouraged to see promotion and performance as the product of a commitment to local development rather than come at the expense of it. All going well this should lead to more balanced national teams with a mix of experienced ex-pats and aspiring local players. And that would be a refreshing site for all supporters of the global game.
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