“The Pepsi ICC Development Programme was launched in 1997 with the aim of developing cricket into a truly global sport by fostering the game in the ICC's existing Associate and Affiliate Member countries, and by attracting new Members.” - The ICC Website.
The ICC is celebrating “a hundred years of cricket” this year. And yet there are presently only 10 Full Members out of a total of 104 Member countries.
Consider these facts. Since 1998, South Africa, Australia, England and Pakistan have toured India for Test series thrice. Sri Lanka and West Indies have visited just once and Bangladesh, India’s neighbour, never.
In the same period, India have toured Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh thrice. There was just one tour to South Africa and New Zealand.
This shows how skewed the touring trends have been. Thus, we see more Australia-England and India-Australia tours and fewer tours involving countries such as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
This is due to reasons such as the financial muscle of the boards concerned, the history between the two countries, the financial “attractiveness” of the series and so forth.
I see two challenges before the ICC and cricket as a game:
1) If ten Full Members cannot compete with each other at regular intervals, then how can the game globalise? In fact, the game is moving in the other direction. Cricket is getting concentrated amongst fewer nations.
Added to this is the looming threat of terrorism and political stand-offs which is only accelerating the process of “shrinkage” of the cricketing world.
2) Consider this: as per the ICC’s website, Bermuda, Canada and the USA were accorded Associate Member status in the 1960s. And yet, they’re not much better off after 40 years of being ‘Associates’. The Netherlands, Canada, UAE, Kenya and Scotland have all participated in the World Cups but still are a long way away from getting Test status.
When will these Associate Members compete in the Test arena? When will cricket penetrate different regions and get participation at the highest levels?
The ICC claims to have done many things for the game's progress and global reach. While some of them may be substantial and commendable, they clearly are not sufficient.
The ICC needs have some clear strategies to attain its claimed objectives of popularising the sport and taking it global. Its strategies need to be time-bound and specific to a region. A brand cannot become global unless it is able to sufficiently "localise" itself. (HSBC's tag line of "World's Local Bank" is a classic example).
The process by which an Associate Member becomes a Full Member needs to be strengthened so that such members can make it to the top more quickly but not at the cost of the game's quality.
Given the current economic scenario and the outlook for the global economy, ICC will be well served to pursue the game's globalisation plans religiously.
Until the game reaches a wider audience and engages more countries and peoples, appealing for cricket's inclusion in the Olympics can only be termed as laughable.