Friday, March 31, 2017

The Rivalry

Which is the biggest rivalry in cricket these days? Is it

  • (a) England vs Australia - for the hopeless tragics? But it only come alive during the Ashes. OR
  • (b) India vs Pakistan - well, they don't seem to be playing each other often enough except for the big tournaments, where Pakistan always seem to be falling short :). OR
  • (c) India vs Australia - produce great cricket and controversies. Yes they are very close to the top, OR
  • (d) BCCI vs Supreme Court? Not much of a contest as the Supreme Court always seems to be winning, OR
  • (e) West Indies Board vs West Indies players - this one seems to have been going on forever. Should be the next challenge for India's Supreme Court which has taken serious interest in cricketing matters.
But for pure on-field action and actual "context", nothing beats the nascent rivalry which has developed between Ireland and Afghanistan. There can't be more disparate nations. And yet here are two teams who find themselves in the same boat and fighting for a similar cause - Test Status - the Holy Grail for all cricketers.

Both Ireland and Afghanistan add the feel-good factor in these murky times (and not just from a cricketing perspective). The Irish for being able to produce one upset after another at the biggest stage - Pakistan, England, West Indies - that's an impressive lineup. In earlier times, even one big victory  would have been good enough to get Test status (Bangladesh beating Pakistan in 1999 World Cup). But not anymore. The Irish have staked their claim as the best Associate nation for the best part of last decade. In the limited chances they have got, they have proved that their performances haven't been just a flash in the pan. They have shown remarkable consistency given the limited opportunities, while at the same time seeing their best players being regularly poached by English! ICC certainly needs to take steps to ensure that England stop using their annual game against Ireland as a campus recruitment exercise!

On the other hand, Afghanistan have brought a fairy-tale story to life. Coming from a war-torn country, the fact that they play itself was considered a big story. Not any longer. They show that they can compete with the big boys. Although they haven't got the big scalps like the Irish. But they are consistent. Unlike other Associates, they do not depend upon expats but home-grown players (rather grown in refugee camps). Their sheer presence at the global level warms the heart. And their players back it up with flair and competition. Just how loved the team is can be seen, when the losing team joins them in a victory dance (West Indies in the last T20 World Cup).

In the light of this, comes the Inter-continental Cup, with the winner getting a chance to play a series of First-Class matches against the bottom placed Test team (Zimbabwe, whom both Ireland and Afghanistan regularly beat) to get Test status. Hence the special context which this rivalry has got. Ireland have been the more consistent ones, with Afghanistan coming up fast. Even their contests have got the dash of controversy. (Remember Nabi running out Joyce).

So two well-matched teams, representative of the greater Associate cause, Test status at stake, and with a dash of controversy adding to the bite in the rivalry. They may be just off the spotlight, but this is "the rivalry" on the global cricketing stage.

Although now the Irish are showing signs of decline while the Afghans are on acsendancy as was evident in the recent series played in India. With ICC showing signs of bringing more teams into the Test fold, we certainly don't want to see Ireland going the Kenya way. Hopefully recent performances are just a blip.

1 comment:

The Commentary Box