One of the most wonderful things about the great game of cricket is its global nature. It’s a sport that is loved across the world – I was listening recently to a podcast in which a reporter was talking about how it is even beginning to win new fans and players in Russia. That’s quite an achievement in a country that is so in love with football, particularly in the wake of the recent World Cup there.
But it is also often easy to forget this global dimension when we watch the usual merry-go-round of the traditional Test nations playing against each other. So, with that in mind, I wanted to look beyond India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, England, Australia and the West Indies – and consider which of the less-lauded cricket-playing nations might be worth watching out for in the coming years.
I had to start with Scotland, simply because they were behind one of the more eyebrow-raising results of the past 12 months. England – the number one ranked One Day International team, were recently humbled by the Scots in a six-run win – one that Kyle Coetzer’s side (or their fans) are not ever likely to forget.
In terms of potential, batsman Calum MacLeod certainly showed plenty on that historic day in Edinburgh, smashing a remarkable 140 from 94 balls to drive his team to victory. It was a tough and gritty performance all round by the team, and an experience that should help them out in the future when they face similarly tough opposition – they’re certainly not going to be intimidated by other teams any more. Of course, this kind of result is usually a one-off, and not necessarily a sign that Scotland is all set to become a cricketing powerhouse – but you try telling that to the Scottish fans.
Canada is probably best known among world cricketing fans at the moment as being the scene of disgraced Aussie batsman Steve Smith’s recent low-profile return to playing, in their own domestic 20Twenty tournament. But Canada also actually has its own rich cricketing tradition – they’ve played an annual match against their arch rivals the USA since 1844. They are also the leading nation in the North American region, and have been associate members of the ICC since 1968 – and while they’ve never reached the knock out stages of a major tournament, the success of their recent domestic 20Twenty tournament suggests that the potential is there for them to take the next step.
Now this is a team that I am genuinely excited about. Perhaps not in its current incarnation – although they do have their stars – but more for the future. This year saw them officially become the 12th Test playing team on the planet, and given the difficult circumstances that have existed in the country for so long, I think that is a remarkable achievement.
Cricket has come along way in Afghanistan – from a game played in refugee camps to the creation of a team that can now compete against the world’s best. Tragically, the situation in Afghanistan is still too dangerous for them to play at home, but the national pride that they embody and the team’s own resilience in the face of all the challenges they have faced will stand them in good stead in the coming years. They are a tough, physical side, and even have the first ever player born in the 21st century in their ranks – the 17 year old Mujeeb ur-Rahman. He now has contract in the IPL, and a bright future ahead of him – and I believe his national team do too.