Business columnist Benjamin Lipson’s one-liner is perhaps the best retort to the above question - “You can’t expect to win unless you know why you lose.” Let’s face the bitter truth that cricket as a game hasn’t really gone beyond the handful of 8-10 countries and a majority of sports fans around the world don’t care about something we consider religion. And pundits would agree that when existing ‘weaker’ teams aren’t growing at a bullet’s pace, the chances of ‘new’ weak teams joining in and making it big are small.
Inexperienced teams have been part of ‘balanced’ tournaments against one another and part of World Cups where very few make it past round one. Thus, it is only when they play against formidable opponents that their deficiencies come to the fore, their mettle is tested. There is no better coaching manual than a home series against a much stronger team.
We’ve been hearing stories of cricket being popular in Canada, USA, even Hong Kong but they stop as being amusing exceptions. But with decisions such as disallowing associate nation teams from participating in the 2015 World Cup, one cannot expect too much progress. Also, with the popularity of one-dayers on the wane, it is even more reason for the ICC to scout for newer teams and feed the existing teams a diet of competition.
That said, cricket has allowed the tags of ‘underdogs’ and ‘champions’ linger for too long. Bangladesh, who made their test debut 12 years ago will still be considered easy to beat on this SA tour, though we hope their smashing performance in the Asia Cup earlier this year proves to be a turnaround. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, after being around from 1992, had a horrid past decade (only a reflection of the country’s economic upheaval) but have returned to tests only last year. As Indian fans, we cannot deny getting entertained in the 90s by the team’s bright talents – Paul Strang, Heath Streak and the superb Andy Flower. How many of us can name even three of the current players? Maybe this series might change that.
Coming back to this series, we are looking forward to the rookies (not so rookie if you consider some world-class players from Bangladesh) take on the likes of Dale Steyn and try to control Kallis and Amla.
Why do we recall the ‘upsets’ of a Bangladesh beating Australia (and us, many times!) or a Kenya pulling a rabbit out of its hat and stunning the world in 2003? That’s because these victories are few and far apart, and that’s reason enough for ICC and us to be ‘upset’!
Hopefully, the current minnows should reach ‘feared’ status as Sri Lanka has over the past 15 years and then we’d love to look at some new ‘minnows’. Might not happen in this series, but such series will only make it happen sooner.
Pic credit: AFP/Cricinfo