For someone who has watched both hockey and cricket for close to 30 years, it is hard to miss out on the rise of the Asian minnows in both these sports. Just as 2006 was a turning point in Asian Games hockey — a tournament far more established than the Asia Cup, when neither India nor Pakistan made the finals for the first time (and South Korea beat China in the final) — 2014 could be the breakthrough year for the lesser-known teams of cricket.
We got a hint of that in Afghanistan’s victory over Test-playing Bangladesh, who in some ways are minnows themselves. But, Bangladesh have found a position in the big chasm that exists between the ‘Big Three’ — India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and the rest of the Associate nations like Nepal, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.
Statistics reveal that shorter the format, the more unpredictable the results. At one point, that used to be the case with the 60-over matches when they first came to prominence, and then it became 50-overs a side. Now, we also have a T20 format. So the unpredictability escalates — though critics say it is a breeding ground for corruption. We will leave that for another debate.
Currently, even as many of the top cricketing nations are going through a churning of their own, with one generation of older stars making way for newer players whose performances resemble a choppy stock market, some of the ‘newer’ cricket-playing nations are making their presence felt. As mentioned earlier, that is happening more often in the shorter format. For instance, Afghanistan have begun to scare bigger cricket-playing countries of the region with four wins each against the Netherlands, Scotland, Kenya and Canada, who have all played the game for a far longer time. They even put it past Bangladesh in the recent Asia Cup.
The Afghans also have 11 wins in 23 completed T20 matches. By and large, the weaker the cricketing pedigree — at least for now — the better their results as the formats get shorter. In Test cricket, Bangladesh has a win-loss record of 0.05 (4 wins in 83 Tests), but it has a far better record in ODIs with 80 wins in 283 matches at a win-loss record of 0.40. And, with 10 wins in 34 T20 internationals, they have a win-loss record of 0.41. Similarly, Zimbabwe who have Test wins over India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have won a total of 11 times in 93 Tests (0.19), their win-loss rate is 0.37 in ODIs (110 wins in 421 games) and it is 0.16 in T20s (4 wins in 29 matches).
In hockey, the supremacy of India or Pakistan was not even questioned until 2006. The two clashed in each of the seven Asian Games finals from 1958 to 1982 (though Pakistan won six times to India’s lone gold). But for the next five editions of the Games, from 1986 to 2002, at least one of the two — India or Pakistan — figured in the finals with South Korea pushing out one of them from the title-round. In between, in 1990, Pakistan beat India once more.
But the turning point, as it were, was in 2006, when China beat Pakistan and Korea beat Japan in the semi-finals, while India did not even figure in the last four and ended sixth instead! Four years later, in the 2010 semi-finals, Pakistan beat Korea in a penalty shoot-out and Malaysia put out India in extra time. Pakistan won the gold beating Malaysia, while India beat Korea to the bronze.
In cricket, of the 13 editions of the Asia Cup, India and Sri Lanka have won five times each to Pakistan’s two, while the 1993 edition in Pakistan was cancelled. It was in 2012 that a window of hope emerged for a team other than the Big Three, when Bangladesh beat not only India but also Sri Lanka in the league, and went on to make the final, which, however, they lost to Pakistan.
This year, Afghanistan made its debut at the Asia Cup, and in only their second ODI, they humbled Bangladesh — though they lost comprehensively against Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Still it was a commendable performance. Afghanistan’s rise over the past decade or so has been rather dramatic. Their national team was formed only in 2001, but by 2010, they had qualified for the ICC World T20, which was its first major tournament. Despite not qualifying for the 2011 World Cup, they did get temporary ODI status till 2013. Afghanistan went through the wringer of the ICC World T20 qualifiers, and made it to the 2012 ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka, and late last year, they edged out Kenya and the UAE to claim one of the four berths meant for Associate countries for the 2015 World Cup (50-over format) in Australia.
While Bangladesh has risen above the Associate status and has been playing Tests and ODIs, Afghanistan is spreading its wings in cricket in a very decisive manner. Meanwhile, others from Hong Kong and Nepal, and of course the UAE, nurse dreams of making it big on the international sporting stage.
About a year ago, when the heavyweights of world cricket were already evaluating their chances at the 2014 ICC World T20 and the 2015 World Cup (50- over), minnows like Ireland, Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong were taking circuitous routes to get into these world events. Sure, they may not cause more than the occasional ripple, but be sure that the minnows are here to stay, and in time will create a few shocks too.
Entry of various countries into different formats
There was once a time when Test cricket meant only England and Australia with South Africa in tow — for the first 12 years of Test cricket, beginning 1877, it was just England and Australia, before South Africa was inducted in 1889.
It took almost 40 years for the West Indies to be added to that list in 1928. New Zealand (1930) and India (1932) came in later and it took 30 more years for Pakistan to join the club in 1952. The Sri Lankans joined in 1982 and another 10 more years passed before Zimbabwe made the cut in 1992. In 2000, it was Bangladesh’s turn. There have been no more new entrants since.
Coming to One-day Internationals, Australia and England played the first one in January 1971. Two years later, Pakistan and New Zealand joined the club in February 1973. West Indies (September 1973), India (July 1974), Sri Lanka ( February 1982), South Africa (November 1991), Zimbabwe (October 1992) and Bangladesh (October 1997) joined the list for ODI countries in that order.
Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan, the UA E, Hong Kong, Nepal, Kenya and Canada, among others, have been granted temporary status in both ODIs and T20 Internationals, with a formula for relegation and promotion on the basis of performance. Other than Nepal, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and the UAE — the four Asian qualifiers — the teams in the first group stage are Bangladesh, Ireland, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe. The top eight teams in the ICC T20 Championship rankings have been seeded into the Super-10 stage and they will be joined by two teams from the Group Stage.