WorldT20 Qualifier: The pretentious Oman and Hong Kong and the hapless Nepal and Papua New Guinea

The 2014 Hong Kong team, street cricket in Papua New Guinea, a cricket stadium in Nepal(clockwise from top)

The 2015 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier played in the month of July in Scotland and Ireland saw Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Omanqualify for the World Twenty20 event to be held in India in 2016. It was the first time Oman qualified for a major ICC event, while Nepal which played in the 2014 WorldT20, was unfortunate to miss out on a berth.

This article attempts to argue that both the qualification of Oman and Hong Kong,in spite of having attracted accolades from many quarters, do not bear any significance to world cricket. In fact it is a loss to cricket that both Nepal and Papua New Guinea could not measure up to the flagship event.

Barring Oman and Hong Kong, the rest of the qualified teams are chiefly composed of native players. This deficiency of native contribution and lack of support among natives is rest assured to render the qualification of these two Asian teams gratuitous to cricket. Meanwhile, Nepal and Papua New Guinea, both of which have a strong following at home, missed out on qualifying, making it a heavy loss to cricket.

How Omani or Chinese are the qualified sides?

Among the teams that competed for a spot in WT20 2016, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, Oman, Canada and Hong Kong have no major fan followings in their respective countries. The sport is mainly played by the expatriates and has no interest among the natives of their countries.

The United Arab Emirates team consists of 11 Pakistanis, one Indian and a Sri Lankan. Only 3 of them are Emiratis. The captain of the side, Mohammad Tauqir, is aged 43, and has already retired once before making a comeback. The average age of the side is almost 32. Most of the players hold day jobs and the sport in their country is exclusively followed by the expat communities. Cricket in the UAE does not reach the sporting consciousness of the natives.

The United States of America is constituted of only three American-born cricketers. The rest are Indians, Pakistanis and West Indians. The Canadian team has only two Canadian-born cricketers. Almost none of the team members play cricket professionally.

The Oman team has only one Omani in their team while Pakistanis comprise most of the rest of the team. The Hong Kong team has no Chinese player in their side despite the Chinese comprising 93% of their population.

Whether the qualification of Oman and Hong Kong would reach the households of their respective countries is a question, let alone gleaning celebrations at home.

Cricket’s prosperity in PNG and Nepal

On the other hand, Papua New Guinea is formed entirely of Guineans. Cricket is a famous sport in the country, especially in the Papua region, and is a favorite past time activity of the children. Hanuabada, a suburb of Port Moresby – the capital of Papua New Guinea – enthralls boys in the streets who play cricket day in, day out. Cricket is fervently followed in the island nation and has the indigenous population fanatically playing the game.

The Namibian team is also fashioned chiefly by Namibians with only two of the team members being of South African origin.

The arrival of satellite channels and the influence of Indian media turned the Himalayan country of Nepal into a cricketing hotbed and it already has a monumental impassioned fandom enamored by cricket. Crowds that can put the fans of its neighbors to shame teem cricket grounds during match days and whenever the home side tours, the passionate Nepalese swarm giant screens in the capital city to savor every bit and piece of the game.

Much like the other South Asian countries, cricket is an integral part of Nepali streets. The national team has beaten several big names such as New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan at age group levels. The country is enthused by cricket and the victory over their arch rivals Afghanistan in WT20 2014, had fans receive the team to a heroes’ welcome.

The brace of earthquakes that shook the Himalayas must have taken its toll on the performance of the Nepal team in the qualifiers as they surprisingly finished last in their group. Nonetheless, the fact Nepal has shown steady, exponential progress in cricket cannot be denied.

Will some country’s cricket teams never improve?

In contrast, two of the teams that qualified for the main event, Oman and Hong Kong, have almost no support at home. The strength of the team primarily depends on the talents that are washed ashore. With better expatriates, come better results. But once they cave into their own professions, the performance ebbs.

Cricket in these countries, simply said, resembles a candle’s fire – it burns until the wax lasts. The expatriates cannot sustain good performances. They do not simply have a next generation to hand over the baton to, at least until another set of expatriates arrive aboard.

But cricket in Nepal and Papua New Guinea is like a bush fire. Once it is stoked, it seldom sojourns. It spreads as fast as the wind and before you could realize, the entire nation would be incinerating with the frothing sport that is cricket.

Canada and USA have been playing cricket since 1844. UAE became a member of the ICC in 1989. Hong Kong started playing cricket in 1866. Yet, these teams have not made any major strides in international fixtures, despite consistently outperforming teams with homegrown players at the associate level, thanks to the burgeoning economy that attracts immigrants from South Asian countries.

In the contrary, Afghanistan cricket team was formed in 2001, and they have already made a mark for themselves in world cricket, by being ranked 9th in WorldT20 above both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, both of which are Test playing nations. Nepal, as aforementioned, has attained stardom despite having played their first game in 1996.

How can cricket teams be made country-representative?

All these things make one thing clear, that ICC needs to adopt better methodologies to pick the right team for global events like the World Twenty20. If cricket wants to go global, ICC should realize the fact that teams like Oman and Hong Kong would yield no benefits to cricket’s expansion.

Moreover, allowing these teams to field players from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka will only decimate the chances of cricket taking roots in countries like Nepal and Afghanistan.

It is imperative that cricket limits the number of expatriates who can play for a team. Perhaps, they could take a leaf off IPL’s book and limit it to four expats per team. If not, these ‘global franchises’ would rob the chances off the earnest cricket playing nations.

If that’s a farfetched dream, then ICC could pigeonhole teams into two, based on fan following at home and the number of homegrown players occupying the side. The teams like Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Namibia could be put into one group and the other gimmicky sides could be shoved into another with comparatively more teams making it to the next level from the first group and only a few from the next.

Nepal and Papua New Guinea have a lot to offer to cricket. They are countries that can help cricket push its borders. It’s time that cricket realizes it and does justice to these ‘genuine’ cricket teams.

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