ICC’s development funding and expats …
One of the favorite topics, sometimes unnecessarily controversial, sometimes unnecessarily defended, is that of expats from test countries playing in the national teams of other countries. Despite talking about this issue for years, I still feel that those who want to agree will agree, and those who dont want to, will not. Both sides will end up creating their own definitions of things and label discussions as racist or politically incorrect, without realizing the fundamental issue being discussed.
First, to set some ground rules for the discussion. Whether the sport is Mainstream vs Minority is one thing. Whether it is Mass vs Niche is another. Finally, whether it is played by Expats vs Born and Bred players is completely a third issue. Usually, people will take the third issue as being the first one, and claim that it is racially motivated.
Mass vs Niche issue rarely comes up today. In Pakistan, until the mid 70s, the game was played predominantly in the cities, and that too by upper to upper middle class. Miandad’s Six in 1986, and then the World Cup victory in 1992 changed that, and today, the remotest of villages also plays cricket. Perhaps Kenya or some other African country today also suffers generally from this Mass vs Niche issue, but predominantly associates dont have this problem anymore.
Mainstream vs Minority is most apparent in African test countries like South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa is 70% Black, Zimbabwe is almost 99% Black. But their cricket teams were completely white. Even test playing countries realize that this is an issue and try to work on it, some in good ways, some in bad ones. But nonetheless, if the sport is played by a minority, any country will and should try to spread it. Denmark is another country that is seeing the sport played by it’s South Asian minority these days, but a bigger cause for concern for them is that it has gone from maintream to minority in the last 20-30 years.
Expats vs Born and Bred players is completely seperate from Minorty vs Mainstream issue. It is not a complex distinction, but it is made complex for some reason. Lets look at the current WCL Div 3 teams for examples.
Denmark suffered from a Mainstream vs Minority issue. While their team had lots of players belonging to South Asian community, they were all born and bred in Denmark. USA on the other hand, hardly, if none at all, had anyone born in the US. Their entire team comprised of either ex domestic players from India/ WI, who had migrated to the US after having learnt their cricket and developed it in the test country. USA sufferred from a Expat vs Born and Bred issue. Italy too, with the exception of their Captain, had all other players either as expats or as imports from Australia. Oman was made completely of expats. Only PNG was the team that fielded only Mainstream players.
Hong Kong has a population of about 7M. Out of that, there are only 11K Pakistanis, and about 15K Westerners. The entire team was composed of these 2 ethnic groups. the 95% Chinese population was completely oblivious to Cricket. Within those ethnic groups, there were only 4-5 Born and Bred players (better than what they used to be before though), and the rest, especially all their players above or equal to age 30, were expats.
So whats the distinction between an expat and a born and bred player? Lots of people also start asking strange questions in this regard and try to muzzle the topic with political incorrectness. The player doesnt have to be necessarily born in that country, but at least needs to have migrated to that country before the age of say …. 7 or 8. Someone who goes through the age level teams for that country starting from U11 all the way up. The exact reverse is ofcourse seeing Anderson Cummins, at age 40, turning out for Canada in 2007 World Cup !!
The issue with fielding a team of expats is that it is an artificial representation of the development of cricket in that country. It will also, in 99% of the cases, not raise the standard of the associate too much. If the player was indeed a test level player, he would play in the test countries A or first XI, and not look for a career elsewhere. You also end up treating a national cricket team as a franchise, where other things instead of the development streangth determine who you can play in your team.
Many of these things the ICC cannot control as such. It was in 2001 that Italy complained to the ICC that if the players, who had never lived in Italy, but had Italian citizenship had the right to vote in Italy, not letting them represent Italy in cricket was a violation of their rights. This is not an invalid complaint, although it doesnt mean that you go completely blind to the issue.
The fundamental issue is that ICC’s funding is limited ONLY to playing standard at this point in time. In an ideal world, that would be the right way, as it is objective and fair. But we dont live in an ideal world, and the game that we are trying to develop has a history of being unnaturally restricted.
ICC doesnt not have to prevent citizens from playing for their country, but they can very easily start looking at other metrics in addition to standard for funding. They should give equal weightage to number of born and bred players, and perhaps a slightly less weightage to whether the sport is mainsteam or minority.
The best candidate for funding is one who has high standard, with born and bred players, with mainsteam appeal to the sport. Only this kind of a team can be built on and improved. It is very easy to give a player a development index number on both the B&B and Minority variables. It is NOT politically incorrect to do that, it is not hampering the person’s chances in playing for that country in any way, it is only helping the cricket board monitor their development. Govts do it all the time in census. You want to play the best players, play the best players irrespective. But the ICC has to look at other variables in addition to standard for the distribution of funding. Many argue that this will lead to the countries discriminating against their citizens to field teams that satisfy ICC criteria. This is bogus argument, as if the boards do that, they can be sued by the citizen. ICC is not asking who to select and who not to select, ICC is only asking to report on those selected. The only thing likely to happen is that the board will invest in junior development and mainstreaming to improve their metrics naturally, and thats exactly what the objective is.
One very common, and very wrong explanation used is that this is how cricket has always developed in all the test playing countries. This is incorrect. Thats how the game was taken to another country, but you dont create a team out of those and start playing at the highest level. White English may have taken the game to the west indies, but the team playing in 1930 was made up of locals. The current situation is that not only are expat based countries so at the national level, but also at the U19 level. The other thing is that countries like Hong Kong, UAE, USA, Canada trace their cricket history back 150 years. USA was supposed to be the first team that played international cricket. So if in 150 years, we are still at the point where the game is being played by expats, then what makes anyone think that what we are doing right now is the right way forward? Expats have been moving to Canada, USA for the last 40 years from South Asia and Caribbean, yet their team is still not entirely born and bred in Canada/US. There are numerous examples in Cricket history where 100 years ago, an expat based team had a reasonably high standard, and 100 years on …. well …. still has the game played by expats, and has low standard as well. A minority based team is still something significant, Zimbabwe even got Test status despite being a minority sport. But expat based team is really nothing.
And then what of England? Trott, Peterson, Morgan, all can be called expats according to our definition. Well, shouldnt happen either, and I am sure if the entire team is composed of such players, there will be questions asked about the standard of play in England.
For the world cup, Netherlands squad now has almost 50% players not born in Netherlands. This is unfortunate, as it is also the demand of the tournament, that the standard be high. But then again, the issue is that if 10 years ago, the ICC had looked at mainstream appeal, born and bred players in addition to standard, they would have invested a lot more in countries like Nepal, Uganda, or Namibia, who could have used the extra cash to develop the infrastructures required to raise their standards, we might not be in the situation today where UAE cannot field a team in Asian Games !!