New Delhi, Aug 19: Former Zimbabwe cricketer Dirk Viljoen has advised the International Cricket Council (ICC) to learn from football if it truly wants cricket to become a global sport.
The Gentlemen's Game has witnessed some growth in recent times after ICC granted T20I status to every member country but a lot needs to be done to bridge the gap and help the sport gain foothold in unchartered territories. Viljoen believes the only way for the sport to grow is when top teams start playing with the lower-ranked sides and associate nations more often for that will help the latter improve themselves, and provide a level playing field to all the teams when they compete for the world cup.
Responding to MyKhel's query during a media interaction organised by Sony Sports Network, Viljoen - who was part of the once strong Zimbabwe team during the late 90s and early 2000s - said the global cricket body will have to consciously work on increasing the pool of teams and not just restrict it to the Test-playing nations if it wants the sport to grow.
Currently, only Test-play nations tour for bilateral series and they hardly play against Associate nations, which prevents the sport from breaking the boundaries and the growth of the sport in that nation is retarded. Citing the example of football, the cricketer-turned-commentator said that football powerhouses tour smaller nations which helps the latter to take their game to the next level but such a practice is still lacking in cricket.
When asked what according to him is the reason that teams cricket powerhouses are not playing frequently with Zimbabwe and other such teams, and if the ICC should work to change this trend, Viljoen said, "I think the ICC will have to be very careful in the sense that here we are saying that cricket is a global sport. But the reality is, when we play a world cup, we have only 10-12 teams participating. That cannot constitute a global sport.
"The whole world plays football and we all compete and we try to get to play in the world cup which has a big pool of teams participating. How do we get the ICC to say if we are a global sport, how do we all compete? The other issue is Brazil can come and play football against Zimbabwe, England can play football against Kenya, but India is not allowed to play cricket against Jersey because they don't fall into a Test playing nation rankings. If I fall out of the Test rankings, how do I get to play at the highest level to make my team better?"
"To get better, I will have to get to play in tougher competition and prove myself on the world stage. Whereas football doesn't have these regulations. Cricket is still confined itself to Tests and if I am not a Test-playing nation, I am not allowed to play against the top teams. That does not grow the global game. So in my opinion ICC should be having a serious look at it. I am not advocating that India gets on the plane and goes to play against Kenya or Jersey all the time, but how we lift these teams is what they need to ponder. So that when it comes to qualifying for the world cups, we are all sitting in the same position," he added further.
When asked if the absence of big Indian stars such as Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, and Jasprit Bumrah would dampen the excitement of the three-match ODI series between Zimbabwe and India, Viljoen said, "It's a hard one to answer because in world cricket we all want to watch big names play. However, if I was sitting as a junior Indian player on the tour, I would aim to be that big name (in the future). We all started our careers as a small name in the game. So I think the beauty of India committing a team to Zimbabwe regardless of their perceived no full-strength side is huge for a country like Zimbabwe. How does a country like Zimbabwe sit at the head table as an international cricketing side because players are too tired or teams are too busy playing?
"So what India has done (with this tour) is twofold, first, they've sent a team on the tour with a perceived second-string side which gives Zimbabwe an opportunity to compete at an international level. Second, what they've done as well is that they've said the youngsters - who have been waiting in the ranks - here's your opportunity."
He further added, "Having said that all these players missing, what would the answer be if say Virat, Rohit, Bumrah, and Hardik were actually injured? Well, then you didn't have an excuse. I don't think it's a bad thing, it's a good thing. I think the fact that India could probably put up three international teams and compete against the best of teams is a big stride in Indian cricket. If I had been the coach of this Indian side, I would have asked all these youngsters on the plane guys here's an opportunity for you to go and shine. Yes, from the Indian crowds' point of view it could be a disappointment but it's an opportunity for these youngsters to become the next Kohli or next Rohit, or next Bumrah."
Watch the LIVE coverage of the India tour of Zimbabwe 2022 on SONY SIX (English), SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) & SONY TEN 4 (Tamil & Telugu) channels at 12:45 pm from 18th August 2022.