Cricket is a sport that always seems to be in flux, debating everything from its’ overcrowded fixture calendar to its’ place as a relatively slow game in an increasingly fast paced world. It is also a game capable of providing joy and compelling narratives that few others can match.
2024 is a year with so much to look forward to, from a groundbreaking T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and USA to a first Sri Lankan Test tour of England for nine years. It is also a year where we continue to consider issues such as the all-consuming power of the BCCI and the role of The Hundred in the English domestic season.
Here at The Bouncer, we are optimistic that 2024 can be a great year for cricket, one where we will hopefully remember performances on the field more than arguments in the boardroom. So, with that in mind, here are 5 things we would like to see in the game this year.
The T20 World Cup revitalising cricket in the Caribbean
Can the 2024 T20 World Cup achieve the opposite of the 2007 tournament for cricket in the Caribbean? The last global ICC event to be staged on the islands arguably destroyed the game in the region. Huge white elephant stadiums were built out of town, steel bands and discos which had played at West Indies’ matches since time immemorial were banned and the event was corporatised to the point where spectators had cans of soft drink confiscated if they were not made by one of the ICC’s “commercial partners”. As a result, a whole generation turned away from the game. Of course, West Indies cricket was struggling even before this seven week monstrosity of an event but this was surely the death kneel. Watch an old DVD of England’s 2004 tour of the Caribbean and you will be struck by the number of locals in the crowd, despite the home team’s hapless performances. These days when England tour, the only fans inside grounds such as the unnecessarily large Sir Vivian Richards stadium in Antigua are from the away side, English people seduced by the prospect of a beach holiday as much as a day at the cricket. When West Indies played India in two Tests in Barbados and Trinidad recently, the games barely registered on the public consciousness, not even worthy of an entry in the back pages of the local papers. To anyone who remembers the heyday of Caribbean cricket, or even those of a younger generation who have watched the epic film Fire in Babylon, this is a crying shame.
Yet, there are a few, albeit frail, shoots of hope starting to spring through. The Four Knights Cricket Academy, started by Sirs Viv Richards, Curtly Ambrose, Richie Richardson and Andy Roberts seeks to revive cricket, not just in the mens’ native Antigua but across the region, by providing access to elite coaching and a centre of excellence for the Caribbean’s most promising youngsters. The influence of former greats has not always been a positive one on young West Indies players, with many legends having turbulent reigns as coaches or simply providing unnecessary pressure from the commentary box. However, this feels different. Hearing the four men talk about their deep love for cricket in the region and their belief that it can be revived is genuinely moving. Evidently, the passion for West Indies cricket burns as brightly in their hearts now as it did when donning the maroon cap to do battle on the field all those years ago.
The West Indies Academy, another much heralded project that launched last year, offers hope as well. Also based in Antigua, at the former ground of corrupt businessman Allen Stanford, its’ initial intake of 15 male and female players offers huge opportunity for player development, especially when one considers that the Academy plays in the regional 50 over competition and is slated for a place in the domestic red ball structure.
The T20 World Cup, co-hosted with the USA, offers a huge chance to revitalise cricket in the region. A dismal showing in the 2022 event in Australia aside, T20 is the one format of the game where the West Indies actually have a decent record in recent years, with World Cup wins in the inaugural tournament in 2012 and, memorably, in 2016 where Carlos Brathwaite’s four successive sixes in the last over sealed a remarkable victory over England. Although results since have been mixed, a series win against England this month underlined the potential of the side. With franchise T20 specialists such as Andre Russell returning to the squad, coupled with a reliable core of regular players such as Jason Holder and Alzarri Joseph and the advantage of playing at home, the West Indies should be considered real contenders. T20 internationals still command healthy attendances in the region, unlike red ball cricket. A good performance from the home side could unite people around the West Indies again and reignite interest in the team.
Sri Lanka sorting themselves out
This writer has just begun reading Nicholas Brooks’ magnificent history of the game in Sri Lanka, An Island’s Eleven. It serves as a reminder of what a precious thing Lankan cricket is and how it must not be allowed to fade away. Few nations in the game’s history have produced such skill and flair and given us all such pure joy as the islanders. From the explosive and game changing power hitting of Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana at the 1996 World Cup to the silky, wristy brilliance of Mahela Jayawardene and the metronomic run scoring of Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka has produced some of the finest batsmen the game has seen. They have also produced its’ greatest ever bowler. Muttiah Muralitharan does not receive the same adoration and global acclaim that Shane Warne did. Perhaps it is because he was less of a showman both on and off the pitch or perhaps because of the scandalous treatment he received in Australia, in particular, over his bowling action. Either way, his record speaks for itself as the highest Test wicket taker of all time, often in a team where he had to carry the bowling attack almost single handedly. Sri Lanka may not have players of quite this calibre anymore but there are still sublimely talented cricketers on the island. Dilshan Madushanka was the third leading wicket taker at the recent World Cup and batsmen such as Kusal Mendis and Dimuth Karunaratne still produce significant innings at Test level.
All of this makes the current state of the Lankan game all the more saddening. The ICC has currently suspended Sri Lanka Cricket from membership after the entire SLC board was sacked by the nation’s government, due to allegations of financial irregularities, during the World Cup. Although the decision has since been reversed by the government and the suspension lifted, funding to the board is still being tightly controlled by the ICC and the debacle is far from over.
Sri Lanka will tour England for a Test series this summer for the first time since 2016. Here at The Bouncer we fervently hope that the nation’s cricket will have sorted out its’ problems by then and the tourists will be able to mount a serious challenge to the home team. Nothing will give us as much joy as a strong Sri Lanka defying the odds again.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Cleeve @matthewcleeve on X
Another great summer of women’s cricket
The summer of 2023 wasn’t just about Bazball. The England women’s team stole the show just as much as the men as they too came from behind and levelled the Ashes with some thrilling cricket, coming within a whisker of defeating the all-conquering Australian tourists.
There are so many memories from that summer, from Tammy Beaumont’s double century in the solitary Test match, the first by an Englishwoman in Test cricket, to Nat Sciver Brunt’s three hundreds in the white ball games, the second of which nearly reclaimed the Ashes before an agonising last ball defeat ensured the urn would be returning to Australia.
England also possess an array of spin bowling talent that is surely the envy of the men’s team. Charlie Dean, Sarah Glenn and Sophie Ecclestone all starred at different times last summer and will be expected to take centre stage again against 2024 tourists Pakistan and New Zealand. Ecclestone, in particular, is a master of her craft and her flight and guile is a joy to watch.
Over 110,000 people attended matches in the women’s Ashes last summer with BBC sounds reporting over 1.2 million listening requests across the multi-format series. Women’s cricket in general is on a huge upward curve with the Hundred raising the profile of leading players at home and the first ever Women’s Premier League in India a global game changer, both financially and in terms of viewership. The challenge for England will be to build on that growth this summer without the profile of an Ashes series. More games scheduled for the larger Test match grounds shows how far the women’s game has come. The fact that England will not play a home Test match in the summer of 2024 shows how far it still has to go. If last summer’s Ashes proved anything it’s that there is a market for women’s Test cricket in this country and it can produce high quality and engaging Test matches. England captain Heather Knight recently spoke after England’s Test defeat in India about how hard it was to adjust to the format when her team so rarely played it. It would be a great shame if this generation of England players end their careers without having been able to showcase their considerable talents on a regular basis in the Test match arena. This England side deserves more than the occasional token Test.
Jay Shah not becoming ICC Chairman
In November, the ICC will elect a new Chairman. The front runner is Jay Shah, the all-powerful Secretary-General of the BCCI, the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Shah is also the Chair of the ICC’s Finance and Global Affairs Committee. The fact that the head of the richest and most powerful nation in cricket is in such an influential position when it comes to allocating the game’s finances speaks volumes about quite how beholden the ICC is to the BCCI. Shah is the son of Amit Shah, the Home Minister and right hand man of Narendra Modi, India’s President and leader of the right wing nationalist BJP party, the same man who named largest cricket stadium in the world, venue for the recent World Cup final, after himself. ICC rules prohibit government interference in cricket and Sri Lanka, currently, and Zimbabwe in the past have both been suspended by the ICC for such offences yet, in India’s case, none of this raises an eyebrow.
The BCCI already control cricket unofficially through their all-consuming financial power but if Shah becomes ICC Chairman then they will control it officially. It is hard to imagine a man who has already reshaped the game in India’s favour, recently agreeing a whopping 38.5% of all ICC global revenue to head to the BCCI, ensuring that funds are distributed more fairly across the cricketing world as head of the ICC. One fears for the smaller, less well-off boards such as Sri Lanka, South Africa and West Indies if Shah becomes Chair. After all, he has shown scant regard for their welfare in both of his previous roles.
Pakistan will also fear for their prospects in the international game if he is successful. Remember, it is the ruling BJP party of India, who Shah is so closely aligned with, that oversaw the scandalous denial of VISAs to Pakistani fans and journalists for the recent World Cup. Shah’s BCCI is also currently pressuring the ICC to remove the nation as hosts of the 2025 ICC Champions Trophy, threatening to withdraw India’s participation from the tournament unless their wish is granted.
International cricket will wither and die if only India’s interests are served. Everything Jay Shah has done in his career so far suggests his possible accession to ICC Chairman will only hasten the game’s demise. It must not be allowed to happen.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Cleeve @matthewcleeve on X
The County Championship growing in strength
Here at The Bouncer, we make no apology for our love for county cricket. It is a unique competition, one of the few red ball domestic competitions left that commands any sort of fanbase. It’s history stretches back like a tapestry telling the story of our game since it’s very inception. Spending a day at a Championship match is both an absorbing sporting experience and a welcome refuge from the excesses and instant gratification of the modern world. It has been written off and decried as long as one can remember, yet still keeps coming back every year, followed by an army of members and regular fans that will fiercely protect it from whatever shiny new entity threatens it’s survival. The recent advent of streaming has shown quite how large that fanbase is, far greater, one suspects, than many of the game’s administrators realised.
This year there is the welcome and much called for increase in weekend matches with 11 rounds scheduled to include a Saturday’s play.
During the long winter months, nothing sustains those of us who cherish cricket more than the thought of being back at a sunny Wantage Road, Hove, Taunton or whatever ground we hold dear, with a pack of sandwiches, a cooling drink and perhaps a copy of Playfair or the Cricketer’s Who’s Who, enjoying the gentle rhythms and timeless glory of a day’s play in the Championship.
With that joyful thought in mind, it’s time for The Bouncer to wish you a happy 2024. May it be a wonderful year of enjoying the game we love.