Beyond the Test arena: wonderful stories and astute analysis from frontiers of cricket


  • New book offers fascinating insight into cricket outside elite

  • Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts highlights passion for game

  • Comes as ICC plan to cut back World Cup

Jon Culley

As much as gloating or despairing over England's woeful World Cup performance has been the dominant talking point in cricket these last few days, there should be no overlooking the development that has befuddled onlookers even more perhaps than Eoin Morgan and company failing to score 276 runs to beat little Bangladesh on a flat wicket in Adelaide.

The International Cricket Council, with total disregard, apparently, for the excitement generated by participation of Ireland and Afghanistan, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates in the current tournament, wants to cut the number of teams in the next World Cup in 2019 from 14 to 10.

Coming at a time when the trend in major sports around the world is to expand and explore new frontiers -- Luis Figo, a candidate to be the next President of FIFA, wants the football World Cup finals enlarged from 32 to 40 or even 48 teams -- the ICC's plan has been dismissed in some quarters as "bonkers".

That was the word used by Martin Crowe, a member of the successful New Zealand side of the 1980s, in a column he now writes for the ESPN Cricinfo website.   There are plenty who share his sentiment, although the interests of cricket's lesser nations could do with a few more.

Cricket as a world game is in the grip of a self-interested elite, among whom much of the power now resides with the so-called 'big three' of India, Australia and - whisper it - England.

At Test level, the highest level of the game, there are only 10 participating nations, and even though World Cups pique the interest of the media every four years, not too much is written about cricket elsewhere and few cricket followers have much knowledge or understanding of the game outside the established powers.  Yet there are 106 members of the ICC.
Picture of ex New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe
ICC plan 'bonkers'
 - Martin Crowe

An attempt to put this right is made by the authors of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts (Pitch Publishing), a collection of essays that will leave the reader much better informed as to the state of the game in its far flung reaches.

It has a narrow focus in that it is limited to only 10 nations from the 96 that do not play at the top level but they are a carefully chosen 10, comprising the four so-called 'minnows' at the current World Cup, plus two whose fortunes have faded after earlier success in Kenya and the Netherlands, two who can be identified as 'on the up' in Papua New Guinea and Nepal, plus China and the USA, the two most obvious nations with vast potential for growth.

The chapters on each are written by five journalists - Tim Wigmore, who contributes four, Peter Miller (three), Sahil Dutta, Tim Brooks and Gideon Haigh, who allowed the publishers to reproduce an article he wrote about Papua New Guinea for The Nightwatchman quarterly in 2013 and who also wrote the foreword.

There are inspirational stories on many levels, not least the one Wigmore recounts in his essay on Afghanistan, in which a young man carrying an AK47 as he watched a game returns to take part at a later date without his weapon, explaining that as he was playing cricket he did not need it.  Even the Taliban, despite their opposition to most things rooted in Western values, approve of cricket.  Just as in Ireland, where the team drew players from both sides of the border even at the height of the troubles, cricket is a force for unity.

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There are cautionary tales, too, such as that of the Netherlands, whom many would probably still have supposed to be, along with Ireland, the top cricket-playing nation outside the established Test nations but where cricket's popularity is in sharp decline.  Ireland beat England in a World T20 match in 2009 and defeated Bangladesh in a one-day international the following year but did not qualify for the 2015 World Cup, losing their ODI status with the ICC as a result.  Cricket did not feature among the top 20 pastimes in the Netherlands in a recent poll and fewer than 6,000 Dutch people now play the game. Scotland, by comparison, has an estimated 60,000 active cricketers.

In a recent review, Gideon Haigh, while admitting that his assessment was not entirely without bias, declared Second XI to be "one of the more important and timely cricket books to be published in a long while."  There are plenty who would agree.

Buy Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts from Amazon or Waterstones.

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