Owzat, butt!: Should Wales have national cricket teams?

(Title Image: Wales Online)

The issue of Wales’ peculiar absence at the top table of world cricket has been in the news yet again recently.

There are arguments for and against a Welsh team, namely the possible impact on Glamorgan’s finances vs a system which denies scores of Welsh men and women a chance to play internationally.

To start off with, there are several cricket formats:

  • Test/first-class cricket – Matches last for up to five days. It’s considered the highest level of professional cricket and usually the format most benchmarks are set by. The most famous example would be The Ashes.
  • One-day cricket – Also known as “limited overs”. Each side has a set number of overs (6 valid bowled balls in succession) over the course of a day. International one-day games – including the Cricket World Cup – are usually set to 50 overs-per-side.
  • Twenty20 (T20) – A shorter form of one day cricket, where each side only has 20 overs. These games are “TV friendly” and usually last for around 3 hours. It’s probably the most lucrative form of cricket at the moment in terms of money and sponsorship. T20 has its own World Cup.
  • 100-ball cricket – Another, even shorter, “TV friendly” format set to be introduced in 2020.
  • Indoor cricket – A cricket equivalent of Futsal/5-a-side. Scoring is based not only on traditional “runs” but also on which wall is hit within a court. The games are much shorter, usually 10 overs.

The Current State of Cricket in Wales

Cricket is probably the most popular summer sport in Wales. According to Cricket Wales‘ strategic plan 2014-2019 (pdf), there were 618 senior teams with an estimated ~15,000 junior and senior club members at the end of 2014.

Cricket Wales is one of the 39 area boards that make up the EnglandandWales Cricket Board (ECB). They’re also recognised as a national governing body by Sport Wales and the Welsh Government, with about half of their funding coming from Sport Wales. Their main area of responsibility is developing the club, youth, women’s and amateur game.

Glamorgan Cricket Club – based in Cardiff, but occasionally playing matches in Swansea and Colwyn Bay – are one of the 18 first-class counties playing in the English domestic pyramid. They’re responsible for developing professional-standard cricketers for both the English men’s and women’s game.

Glamorgan has won six major honours since they joined the English county championships in 1921, taking part in the first-class County Championships, the One-day Cup and T20 Blast. Cardiff has also been selected as one of eight city-based franchises to take part in a new 100-ball domestic competition from 2020.

Glamorgan’s home stadium, Sophia Gardens, is the only Test-status ground in Wales and occasionally hosts England matches. It’ll also host games in the 2019 World Cup.

The latest financial results, from 2017 (pdf), show Glamorgan made an operating profit of just over £3.6million – thanks in part to a £2.5million payment from the ECB for Glamorgan not to host England test matches between 2020-2024.

The general financial state of the English game overall is quite poor. A recent BBC investigation found that Glamorgan was the only first-class county to have made a profit between 2014-2016 without ECB income.

In addition to Glamorgan, a Wales Minor Counties side plays in the English Minor Counties Championship, while Cardiff University is recognised as a “centre of cricketing excellence”, occasionally playing matches against county sides.

Domestically, there are regional senior and junior amateur competitions – including ECB-accredited North Wales and South Wales leagues – as well as mid-week and T20 competitions, but there’s no single all-Wales competition.

What about the national teams?

The “Welsh” cricket development pyramid (Pic: Cricket Wales)

For Wales, see England.

Scotland and Ireland have their own international teams and domestic set-ups, but cricket is one of the few team sports – though easily the most popular one – where Wales doesn’t compete competitively internationally in our own right (other examples being ice hockey and some Olympic sports like athletics – though in the case of the latter Wales is still represented at the Commonwealth Games).

Welsh players represent England at international level – the most recent examples being Simon Jones and Geraint Jones, who played a key part in England winning The Ashes in 2005 but who’ve since retired. Some Irish and Scottish players have played for England too, the most high-profile example is Ireland’s Eoin Morgan.

Despite the anomaly, Wales has had a men’s national team for intermittent periods in the past. Wales took part in the International Cricket Council (ICC) Trophy 1979 by invitation – finishing second in their group behind Sri Lanka – and also took part in the British Isles Championship (alongside Ireland, Scotland and an English XI) between 1993-2001.

A Welsh side was formed to take part in one-day internationals against England between 2002-2004, (famously) winning one and losing two.

However, only full members of the ICC can play Test matches. Wales isn’t a member of the ICC and isn’t even an associate member like Scotland and Ireland.

There’s a women’s Welsh national team and they take part in the English Women’s County Championship. They also played in the Women’s European Championship in 2005 (which Wales hosted), finishing third ahead of Scotland and the Netherlands – but they’ve since reverted to the men’s model, not competing internationally and any players good enough representing England.

Calls for Change

In October 2011, a petition was submitted to the Senedd calling for a Welsh national (men’s) cricket team.

In the call for evidence, the ECB said (pdf) that if Cricket Wales wanted to establish a national side eligible to compete in international competitions, they would need to apply for affiliate status with the ICC. However, Wales would have to separate itself from the ECB and meet international standards for competitions, venues etc. The ECB said there’s no reason why Wales couldn’t meet this status “in the future”.

The ECB was pretty open-minded towards the prospect and say they would support, “the democratic decision and preferences expressed by cricketers in Wales.”

Presumably, Cricket Wales would lose ECB funding, accreditation and grants as a result, but joining the ICC would open the door to ICC development grants. Sophia Gardens would lose Test host status (and has been discouraged from hosting Test matches in the future anyway, as mentioned) but would presumably host international games by Welsh national teams.

Cricket fan, Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid, Carms E & Dinefwr), submitted evidence (pdf) which proposed that:

  • The ECB enter two teams for one-day and T20 tournaments, on the basis that the ECB represents two distinct nations; though it would require “special provision” by the ICC. Wales would then be able to compete and qualify for international tournaments.
  • Cricket Wales seek eventual ICC status. Due to Wales’ player/club base, he said it’s “highly likely” Wales could easily gain affiliate status like Scotland and Ireland.
  • In terms of player qualification criteria, they would need to be “carefully defined”. There’s usually a residency requirement to represent a nation.
  • The ECB has provided development funding to Scotland, Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey; there’s no reason this couldn’t be the case for Wales. However, membership of the ICC, and gaining “High Performing Status”, would result in “substantially more than current ECB and Sports Wales funding.”

Cricket Wales were vehemently opposed to national teams at the time, calling it “neither reasonable or feasible” (pdf), citing benefits of ECB affiliation – especially in administration and funding – as opposed to ICC membership.

Both Cricket Wales and Glamorgan remain opposed to the idea and despite expressing support for a Welsh one-day cricket team in the Senedd chamber in 2017, Carwyn Jones has backtracked and is now seemingly against the idea too – mainly based on fears from Glamorgan’s chief executive, Hugh Morris, that Glamorgan would take a financial hit. Hugh is a “Proud Welshman“, naturally.

While Glamorgan would certainly lose money relating to the English national teams, arguing that they would lose domestic competition funding or be thrown out is a little bit like arguing that Cardiff City etc. should be forced to play in the Welsh Premier – though cricket maintains its own funny little rules and Glamorgan’s fears shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

Scotland is currently seeking to join the English one-day domestic game from 2020, so there’s no reason why Glamorgan – under the same circumstances and with almost a century of experience playing in English domestic competitions behind them – shouldn’t be able to remain within the English domestic structure as they currently are.

The Welsh Government and/or Sport Wales would probably have to bridge any ECB funding relating to international games that would be lost until the Welsh national set-up is on a stable footing and competitive.

Where would Welsh national teams start?

Presumably, at the bottom.

For the men’s team, that means Division 5 of the World Cricket League (alongside the likes of Guernsey, Germany, Vanuatu, Bermuda).

I may not know enough about the strength of the domestic game, but we’ve played cricket in Wales for hundreds of years and have the resources of a first-class professional county and its academy to call upon. Assuming that stayed the same, Wales would probably reach one-day status (like Scotland, Netherlands, Ireland, UAE) relatively quickly and that would open the door to World Cup qualification in all formats and full ICC status.

The women’s team might have an easier ride of it as there are fewer international women’s teams to play against. It would probably take a number of years before they could be competitive though.

If Glamorgan and Cricket Wales have failed to develop the domestic game – their main purpose – to the point that Wales wouldn’t be able to put out competitive national sides when the time comes, then it’s right to ask what’s the point of either of them and why they’re still getting Welsh taxpayers money?

Arguing that Wales shouldn’t have teams because they “wouldn’t be any good” – unlike cricket powerhouses like Italy, Japan and Ghana – would be a little like saying the Welsh football and rugby teams should’ve been abolished in the mid-90s; Wales lost to Leyton Orient in 1996 and I don’t need to bring up some of the many hidings the rugby team got.

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