Growing cricket through the Commonwealth Games

Ananya Upendran
22 Jun 2019
Growing cricket through the Commonwealth Games

Birmingham 2022 will mostly see Women's Cricket. ©Getty Images

On Thursday (June 20) the Commonwealth Games Federation announced that women’s T20 cricket is set to be part of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. This announcement was made following a joint bid by the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) in November last year. While the 71 member associations of the Commonwealth Games Federation must pass a 51% vote to ratify the decision, this is expected to be a mere formality. Their final decision will be made public within the next six weeks.

The introduction of women’s cricket into the Commonwealth Games will be a big step in terms of growing the game in more countries, building a bigger fan base and thereby inspiring more young girls and women to take up the game.

In a conversation I had with Venkatapathy Raju, former India left-arm spinner, a few years ago, he spoke of the effect the introduction of cricket in the Asian Games had on non-Test playing nations. Raju, who was at that time working as the Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Development Officer, had seen from close quarters how quickly the game was beginning to grow in countries like Nepal, Thailand and even China. Raju called it the ‘medal incentive’.

He explained how many countries like China, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia, allocate funds to sports based on the potential they see to win medals. One of the major reasons these countries (or the sports bodies) were hesitant to fund cricket was because of the lack of such an incentive.

The inclusion of cricket in the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, Raju believed, was the turning point for the Asian nations. “Good performances in these multi-sport events, will lead to more funding, and thus a steady growth of the game in these countries. The following of the game will increase too.”

Raju’s thoughts about the growth and acceptance of the game not only apply to the non-Test playing countries in men’s cricket, but also all the women’s teams.

Sana Mir, former Pakistan captain, spoke of how winning back-to-back gold medals in the (2010 and 2014) Asian Games made the nation wake up to the women’s team. “This title is something that really gave women cricketers recognition back in 2010 when we won the gold medal. Ordinary people started knowing about women’s cricket and everyone started ‘owning’ the women’s team as a nation should. So this is something that we knew was going to be very important for the development and promotion of women’s cricket in Pakistan,” Mir told in 2014.

Pakistan has since seen a gradual improvement in their game over the years. They are currently placed fifth in the ICC Women’s ODI Championship table, having registered their maiden ODI series win over West Indies, and also tied both their ODI and T20I series against South Africa in South Africa.

Bangladesh and Thailand are also among the teams that have benefitted from being involved in the Asian Games. While the former won the silver medal twice, their improved performances meant the Bangladesh Cricket Board began investing more in the women’s game— the results of which were seen in their Asia Cup triumph in 2018 followed by their victory in the ICC Women’s World T20 Qualifier in Netherlands. Thailand, currently 12th in the T20I rankings, registered their maiden T20I victory against Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup last year and also won the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Asia region qualifiers.

Their rise in the recent years echoes Raju’s words: “In another 5-10 years, these teams will be challenging the very best.”

The women’s T20 tournament in the 2022 Commonwealth Games is set to be an eight-team event where teams will qualify based on a ranking system. While this means the likes of Scotland, Uganda, Papua New Guinea etc. will probably miss out, the tournament will hopefully be the start of bigger and better things for women’s cricket— maybe it can do what the Asian Games started for cricket in that part of the world.

Aside from the impact it will have on the players, cricket’s re-introduction (men’s cricket was part of the Games in 1998) in the Commonwealth Games will also lead to a growth in the fan-base. The fact that the Games will be telecast by the national broadcaster will help in that regard— multi-sport events often attract many a casual viewer. Who’s to say cricket won’t find a few new fans along the way?

Soon after the Commonwealth Games Federation made their announcement on Thursday, Manu Sawhney, ICC Chief Executive said: "We are committed to accelerating the growth of the women's game and breaking down barriers and gender stereotypes along the way. We share our ambition to deliver greater equality, fairness and opportunity in sport with the Commonwealth Games Federation.”

As Tom Harrison, ECB Chief Executive Officer added, women’s cricket’s introduction into the Games program will allow the sport to “capitalise on the global reach of these Games to showcase the very best of women's cricket and in doing so inspire a new generation of women and girls from around the world to start playing the game.”

Ever since the resounding success of the 2017 Women’s World Cup in England, women’s cricket has continued to capture the imagination of the media and fans around the world. With the 2020 Women’s World T20 and the 2021 Women’s World Cup lined up, the 2022 Commonwealth Games will be another big milestone for the women’s game to look forward to. /codes_iframe