Cricket boldly going where it has never been before

Tony Cozier assesses the increasing `globalisation' of the game
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The Independent Online
A question for Ally McCoist and John Parrott. Which sport staged international tournaments in the past month in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Toronto and Nairobi?

The answer is cricket which, at long last, is breaking free of the self- imposed claustrophobia that has largely confined it to nine Commonwealth countries.

In the space of three weeks, those fierce arch-rivals India and Pakistan contested five one-day internationals in the unfamiliar neutral setting of Canada's largest city and 12 countries as geographically diverse as Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the Maldives and Fiji met in the inaugural Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Pepsi Trophy in the Malaysian capital. Eight of the nine full members of the International Cricket Council (ICC) participated under the lights of the ultra-modern Hong Kong Stadium in the sixth six- a-side tournament there, the first granted ICC recognition.

At the moment Sri Lanka, the World Cup champions, Pakistan and South Africa have joined the host nation in the first tournament in Kenya to attract such eminent participants - and to be accorded full ICC status.

Tomorrow, Canada and Bermuda enter the mainstream of West Indies cricket for the first time as part of the annual limited-overs competition for the Shell-Sandals Trophy. Last April, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan played for the Singer Cup on the tiny pedang in the heart of bustling Singapore.

The initiatives for all this have been taken mainly by administrators far removed from the traditional powerbase at Lord's, headquarters of both the MCC and the ICC.

The Asian Cricket Council, formed six years ago principally on the instigation of the secretary of the Indian Board and ICC presidential candidate Jagmohan Dalmiya, staged the event in Malaysia. There the king's son, Tunku Imran, like David Gower an old boy of King's School, Canterbury, is an influential, hands-on president of the Association.

The push for the Toronto series came from the Indian and Pakistani boards. The Nairobi tournament was instigated mainly out of Johannesburg where the dynamic Ali Bacher is moving towards spreading cricket throughout the continent. The inclusion of the Canadians, Bermudans and, next year, the Americans in the Shell-Sandals was determined by the West Indies Board.

Dalmiya refers to it as the game's "globalisation". I S Bindra, president of the Indian Board, calls it "an amazing revolution". Indeed it is.

Until 1981, when Sri Lanka were admitted, the ICC had only six full members, those that played Tests and qualified automatically for the World Cup. In 1992, the end of apartheid allowed South Africa's re-entry and Zimbabwe were admitted. There are 22 associates which play the game recreationally and at varying standards but, all told, the ICC still has fewer members than most sporting organisations.

There have been three main catalysts for the transformation. The first has been the development and acceptance of the one-day game. None of the associates has a professional league and their cricket is restricted to the limited-overs variety which offers more of a chance of competing realistically. Zimbabwe, for instance, defeated Australia, and Kenya humbled the West Indies in their first appearances in the World Cup.

Satellite television has been essential to the game's new far-flung look. ESBN, the American sports channel that has recently set up in Asia, have paid $18m (pounds 12m) for the India-Pakistan contest in Toronto over five years, satisfied it will gain it millions of new viewers on the sub-continent.

Its more established competitor, the Murdoch-owned Star TV out of Hong Kong, transmitted the ACC Trophy from Kuala Lumpur and the Hong Kong Sixes live. When Bangladesh beat the UAE in the ACC final it set off the kind of wild celebrations in the streets of Dhaka not common in London when England happens to win a rare Test match.

The administrators have finally recognised that the more it can be seen, the more it is likely to catch on in parts of the globe it has not yet reached.

If the Hong Kong Sixes, played in a stadium custom-built for football, was to proper cricket what Screaming Lord Sutch is to British politics, it still attracted 12,000 cosmopolitan spectators who revelled in the excitement of constant six-hits and action.

Among them were David Richards, the chief executive officer of the ICC, and Shi Tian Shu of the China Sports Exchange Centre, who left keen to carry the international tournament to Peking, where there is already an annual Sixes among Commonwealth embassies and touring club teams.

"We had a useful conversation and we're certainly open to any requests for assistance," Richards said. If the ICC can get the Chinese playing this intricate game, that really would be a revolution.