The year 2023 was – as is often the case – something of a topsy turvy year for associate cricket. On-field successes were hampered by off-field issues, and much of the game seems to be in a state of flux. No changes there then.
The year started with a fine performance by Rwanda in the inaugural Under-19 Women’s World Cup. They beat Zimbabwe in the first round to secure progression into the tournament’s Super-12 stage where they beat the West Indies. Their success showed up the ICC’s bizarre decision to prevent any African associate member from qualifying for the next Women’s ODI World Cup at a time when women’s cricket in the region is growing rapidly.
Indonesia were the other associate with a win over a full member at that World Cup, beating Zimbabwe in the consolation matches. UAE and Scotland only beat other associates, whilst USA – granted automatic entry by the ICC – went winless. Despite finishing in the top eight, Rwanda will have to qualify for the next World Cup whilst the two teams they beat will get automatic entry.
Cricket World Cup League Two concluded in dramatic fashion in February & March with Nepal winning 11 of their last 12 games to secure their place in the World Cup Qualifier, though the continued presence of rape-accused Sandeep Lamichhane left a bad taste in the mouth, with Scotland notably refusing to shake hands with him after a game. By the end of year Lamichhane had been found guilty and is facing up to ten years in prison.
February also saw Argentina’s Alejandro Ferguson continue his long international career, playing T20Is 29 years after making his debut at the 1994 ICC Trophy. He wasn’t the only old-stager in associate cricket this year with Frank Nsubuga – debut 1997 – still turning out on occasion for Uganda.
The European international season is an extended one these days and saw play in almost every month of the year, beginning with a series in La Manga between Spain and the Isle of Man, with the hosts winning 5-0 with one match abandoned.
The Asian region was the only one to hold a 50-over tournament for its national teams, with Nepal beating UAE in the final of the ACC Premier Cup in April to qualify for the Asia Cup. “Drawn” with India & Pakistan in the tournament in August/September, they lost both games convincingly.
There was controversy at the South East Asian Games in Cambodia in April/May. With medals awarded in Sixes, T10, T20 and 50-over formats for both men and women, Cambodia’s men’s team swept almost all before them, winning golds in three events, only missing out in the Sixes where they were beaten to gold by Singapore. This despite having barely played any matches before the event.
The Malaysian Cricket Association were immediately suspicious, pointing out that several players in the Cambodian team were only granted passports as naturalised citizens six days before the games and seven weeks after the deadline for submitting a squad shortlist.
It raises the spectre of cricket teams doing what many gulf nations have done in athletics and gifting passports to competitors from more successful countries to try and buy their way to success, particularly in these multi-sports events where all participants must be citizens of the country they represent.
It wouldn’t be the only time Cambodia would be embroiled in controversy in 2023. In November they walked off the field during a tour of Indonesia in protest at an umpiring decision, forfeiting the game in the process. For many reasons, they are a team to watch in 2024.
In May, news began filtering out about the ICC revenue distributions for the 2024-27 cycle. The BCCI were set to receive US$230 million annually, with the 96 associate members combined receiving US$67 million. This isn’t an even distribution with some members apparently receiving as little as $50,000 a year – less than the BCCI get for each two hours of the year. If only the already rich are benefitting from increased revenue, how does the game survive, even in some full members?
The BCCI and their vocal defenders will no doubt point to how much of those TV rights are paid to show India games. But this ignores the fact that they’re paid to show India play other teams.
The announcement later in the year that cricket would be included in the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles was a rare positive off-field moment for associate cricket. Even if associate members have little to no chance of playing in the games, the increased government funding and media coverage of cricket in many of these countries has the potential to be transformative.
The excellent year for Rwandan women’s cricket continued in June when they won the Kwibuka Cup tournament in June, an invitational tournament they host that has fast become one of the highlights of the women’s associate calendar. Victory came through a win in the final against Uganda, a team that had beaten them by over 200 runs in a tournament 15 years prior.
The undoubted highlight of the associate cricket calendar came in June/July when the Netherlands qualified for the World Cup at the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe. Qualification was assured when they beat Scotland in the Super Six stage, but before that they played one of the all-time great ODIs against the West Indies in the first round. Chasing 374, they managed to tie the game before Logan van Beek won the Super Over almost single handed – clubbing 30 runs and taking two wickets to secure the win.
Wins over full members also came for Oman (against Ireland) and Scotland (against Ireland, West Indies and Zimbabwe). Ireland were frankly embarrassing in the tournament, with their only wins coming against associate nations. A decade ago, Ireland were one of the best examples of how the dividing line between full members and associate members didn’t really exist. And so it remains.
The tournament capped a superb series of qualifying events for the premier men’s 50-over tournament, but the ICC did so little to promote it that by the time the World Cup came around later in the year, many were assuming the format was on its last legs. One major cricket website even claimed that there had been no great ODIs since the 2019 World Cup final, something that anyone who saw that Netherlands v West Indies game would definitely dispute.
This lack of promotion was a feature of the year. Whilst it would be churlish to suggest that things hadn’t improved, the ICC’s social media channels remain quicker to promote full member bilateral series or even franchise T20 leagues they have no stake in ahead of their own events. The quality of the coverage – commentary apart – also leaves a lot to be desired
This came to a head during the Men’s ODI World Cup itself. Despite claiming that the end of the global qualifier for the Men’s T20 World Cup would lead to a higher profile for the regional qualifying events, the ICC scheduled the Americas and Asian finals during the World Cup. This will be repeated next year when the first of three European sub-regional qualifiers for the 2026 Men’s T20 World Cup coincides with the 2024 tournament. ICC events are the one part of the cricket calendar that the ICC actually has control over and scheduling like this suggests carelessness at best, and outright incompetence at worst.
The first of the five regions to determine its qualifiers for the 2024 Men’s T20 World Cup was Europe, with Scotland hosting six other teams at the end of July. Ireland were given an almighty scare by Italy on the opening day, only just beating them by 7 runs. They held on to qualify but were beaten by Scotland on the final day, who qualified alongside them. Despite their success in the two qualifying events they played this year (or if we’re being really cynical, maybe because of their success) they haven’t played a single game since. Some teams are playing too much international cricket. Some teams aren’t playing enough. This shouldn’t be a difficult problem to solve.
Almost simultaneously, the East-Asia Pacific qualifier took place in Papua New Guinea, with the hosts winning every game in convincing fashion to book their ticket to the West Indies and USA.
Vanuatu hosted the women’s EAP final in September – with teams still progressing to a global qualifier in the women’s game – and went unbeaten in the seven-team event, pipping Papua New Guinea to qualify for the global qualifier. Chaos was caused in the tournament when flight delays meant that Indonesia – and one member of the commentary team – arrived late to the tournament. Despite this chaotic beginning, Indonesia were able to finish third in the tournament.
The Americas qualifier in Los Angeles saw USA go unbeaten to secure their place in the global qualifier, though headlines were made before the tournament when Canada selected transwoman Danielle McGahey in their squad, causing several people who were previously unaware that Canada even had a women’s team to become suddenly “very concerned” about women’s cricket in Canada. The headlines died down when McGahey had a poor run of form during the tournament, with “transwoman has disappointing tournament” evidently not fitting the narrative such people like to promote about transwomen participating in women’s sport.
By year’s end, McGahey (and all other transwomen although McGahey is the only one to have ever played women’s international cricket) had been banned from international cricket. The ICC cited safety concerns, despite the fact that the only serious injury during the tournament came from a ball hit by one of McGahey’s teammates.
I’m not going to claim to have all the answers to this debate, which is an incredibly toxic one – even the mildest support of McGahey has seen people be accused of being sexual predators – but what I do know is that trans people are one of the most marginalised groups in society with often very poor mental health outcomes, and that participating in sport has been shown to improve mental health.
I also know that claims from the ICC of wanting to protect women’s cricket count for very little when they have no problems with one of their full members banning all women from playing cricket and outright refuse to assist the exiled women’s cricketers from this country. Of course, the reality is that the ICC can do very little about Afghanistan. Full members never vote for any independent oversight so all the ICC can do is interfere at the margins.
The European qualifier took place at the same time as the Americas event with Scotland and the Netherlands qualifying for the global qualifier ahead of Italy and France. Allegations soon followed that France Cricket were faking the results of women’s domestic matches to get more ICC funding – allegations backed up by members of the national team.
Cricket returned to the Asian Games for the first time since 2014 in September/October. Five associates took part in the women’s competition with Mongolia – on debut – eliminated in the first round with Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Malaysia all eliminated in the quarter finals, though Thailand were the only team eliminated on the field after rain washed out the other three matches.
Nine associates took part in the men’s tournament, drawn into three groups for the preliminary stage with the group winners joining the full members in the quarters. Nepal qualified from group A and became the first men’s team to pass the 300 barrier in T20Is when they thumped Mongolia, Hong Kong qualified from Group B and Malaysia qualified from Group C.
The five full members fielded weakened sides due to the ongoing men’s 50-over World Cup and Malaysia very nearly pulled off a surprise, losing by just two runs to Bangladesh in their quarter final.
At the Men’s Americas T20 qualifier final in Bermuda in early October, Canada edged out Bermuda on net run rate after a winner takes all game on the final day in Hamilton to secure their first place at a global event since 2011.
With the cricketing world largely concentrating on the men’s ODI World Cup, an unassuming bilateral T20I series between the women’s teams of Argentina and Chile briefly captured attention. After being put in for the first game, Argentina racked up a scarcely believable 427-1 from their 20 overs, aided by some ropey bowling from the inexperienced Chilean side which featured several deliveries that failed to land on the pitch. Lucia Taylor scored a record 169 and shared in a record 350 partnership with Albertina Galan. Chile’s Florencia Martinez conceded 52 in a single (23-ball) over.
The home side continued their demolition job, scoring 300-6 in the second game and 333-1 in the third to make it over 1000 runs in the series. Maria Castiñeiras became the first woman to score back-to-back T20I centuries.
This series preceded the 18th men’s South American Championship with Argentina going unbeaten to win the tournament for the 11th time.
The Asian regional final qualifier for the men’s T20 World Cup took place during the World Cup, with hosts Nepal qualifying alongside Oman after winning their semi-finals against Bahrain and UAE respectively.
The men’s ODI World Cup itself saw the Netherlands perform admirably, finishing last but beating South Africa and Bangladesh in the process.
Zimbabwe missed out on that World Cup and their year didn’t get any better in qualification for next year’s Men’s T20 World Cup. A surprise loss to Uganda on the fifth day of the tournament coupled with an earlier loss to Namibia meant that they finished third behind Namibia and Uganda, the latter qualifying for a global ICC event for the first time.
The USA finally got Major League T20 off the ground this year and it appears from afar that the event was a success. But it wouldn’t be a year in USA Cricket without something going wrong – the American Premier League tournament this past week has been marred by umpires refusing to work as they had been unpaid (and thrown out of their hotel rooms in the night as the league hadn’t paid the hotel) and the league’s owner filmed verbally abusing hotel staff.
Games continued village cricket style with members of one of the teams umpiring at one end. In these uncertain times, we need a dose of familiarity, and an incompetently run T20 League in the US brings us that. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.