Friday, 4 March 2011

Does Canada belong at the Cricket World Cup?

Everyone loves an underdog, not so a whipping boy. So which is it Canada? Should we empathize with this group of resolute triers, or be embarrassed that our national team is demonstrably out of its depth at the Cricket World Cup.
There is no baseball style 'mercy rule' in cricket. A shellacking is just that. It must be taken on the chin and accepted with dignity. The etiquette of cricket demands a degree of decorum regardless of the imbalance between the contestants.
Forget cricket's traditional image. The World Cup, currently taking place on the Indian subcontinent, is as far removed from tea, cucumber sandwiches and the village green as you can imagine. This is kill or be killed in an arena with no hiding place.
In South Asia, cricket is akin to religion. The top players are worshipped as rock stars, sport's answer to Bollywood if you will. Their legions of face-painted fans are young, boisterous and partisan. They demand their energy and fanaticism be reflected on the field.
Inside the ropes there's a hostile environment. Protocol dictates the fielding team clap the incoming batsman. That's where the pleasantries end. When someone's throwing a hard leather ball at you at 90 miles an hour, you better know what you're doing.
The sooner they can get you making that long, lonely walk back to the pavilion the better. Humiliation is the name of the game. The bowling team wants to see the back of you before you've had a chance to get your eye in. Any batsman is most vulnerable in the early moments of his innings.
Cricket's version of intimidation is nothing new. Students of the game will know all about the infamous "Bodyline" series of the 1930s. The bowling tactics employed by England captain Douglas Jardine against Australia led to a diplomatic incident and a change in the rules.
Trash talk is par for the course. In cricketing circles, vocal intimidation is known as 'sledging'. A batsman, surrounded by a ring of five or six fielders must be mentally strong enough to block out the taunts. There is a fine line between good humoured banter and personal abuse.
It is a form of legal bullying. In no other sport can an entire team focus on an individual member of the opposition from such close quarters. In many respects cricket's origins, as a game played by gentlemen, have been lost at the elite, professional level.
The case against CanadaSo is Canada strong enough to compete at the World Cup? Not according to the game's governing body. The International Cricket Council has ruled that Canada, and three other non-Test playing nations, be excluded from the next World Cup in 2015.
The cricketing minnows have little ammunition to support their future participation. Canada, for example, has never progressed beyond the initial group stage in three previous World Cup tournaments and has won just a single game.
None of these semi-pro cricketing nations harbour any hope of winning the World Cup. All have a sprinkling of individual talent but a lack of resources and an absence of regular exposure to first class opposition limit their collective potential.
The ICC argues neither Canada, nor its fellow associate members, will be missed in Australia and New Zealand four years from now. These teams do not help sell World Cup tickets and, generally, do not contribute to exciting matches for armchair fans around the world.
Cricketing miracles are few and far between. Ireland's shocking victory over England is proof that 'Cupsets' can happen but it will cut little ice with the sport's overlords. Never mind a victory for the little guy, the Irish will be out of luck four years from now.
The Cricket World Cup will contract for the second consecutive edition in 2015. Only ten nations will participate, four less than at present and a far cry from the 16 countries which battled for supremacy in the West Indies back in 2007.
The decision makes financial sense for the ICC. It could spell disaster for cricket's wannabes. It's a classic 'chicken-and-egg' scenario. Canada may not be good enough to compete on the world stage, but how does it up its game and increase revenue if denied the chance to face superior opposition?
The ICC, it appears, is not bothered. It got its fingers burned in 2007 for a variety of reasons and will not go down that road again — at least not in the foreseeable future. It wants every game to be compelling viewing for its global audience and its corporate partners. Cricket in Canada is an alien concept to many Canadians, never mind the rest of the world. The climate, of course, doesn't help but that doesn't mean the sport is not played. There are hundreds of active League clubs in Ontario alone.
All those clubs have players, umpires and administrators. They all have families who enjoy, understand and participate in the game at the grass roots. The numbers add up quickly, but not quickly enough for the International Cricket Council.
John Davison's record breaking World Cup century for Canada has been quietly forgotten. Canada's battling performance against Pakistan's heavyweights was clearly a fluke. Canada, and others, are seen as an unnecessary expense.
It's a shame for the growth and prosperity of a sport too often dismissed as too long and too boring by those who fail to appreciate its appeal.

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