Monday, 21 October 2013

Q&A - Everything you need to know about Welsh cricket

When was cricket first played in Wales?

The earliest recorded match to have taken place in Wales was in 1783 on Court Henry Down in Carmarthenshire. The match was arranged by J.G. Philipps, who was a member of the Carmarthenshire gentry and became MP for Carmarthen Borough in the same year.

Has there ever been a Welsh national team?

Ninety years ago, in 1923, the first attempts at forming a Welsh national team took place when Glamorgan batsman Norman Riches played an influential role in forming the Welsh Cricket Union. He did this because he believed there was enough talent in Wales to create a representative Welsh side.
It was decided not to pursue a Welsh test team because at the time this would have led to Glamorgan dropping out of the County Championship. Nonetheless, the Welsh Cricket Union saw a Welsh national cricket team as a longer term goal and continued to organise international matches against teams such as Scotland, New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies, who Wales defeated in 1928.
In 1969 the Welsh Cricket Association was formed to organise a Welsh amateur team. During the early 1970s the amateur national team played several home internationals and played the MCC once a year.
In 1979 Gibraltar pulled out of the ICC Trophy and so the Welsh side was asked to take part. The Welsh side beat both the Netherlands and Israel, narrowly lost to the USA and had their match against eventual winners Sri Lanka abandoned due to bad weather. This meant Wales finished 2nd in their group but could not carry on to the semi-final as only one second placed team went through and Canada had more points in their group.
Between 1993 and 2001 Wales competed in the annual Triple Crown Tournament, played between Wales, Ireland, Scotland and an England Amateur XI. The tournament was hosted by Wales in both 1996 and 2000.
Between 2000 and 2004 Wales also played an annual 50-over challenge match against England in June. Wales won the first of these matches by 8 wickets.
Since 2004 no team representing Wales has played an international match.

Why is it the right time to establish a Welsh national cricket team?

Cricket is a game of history and traditions that have stood the test of time for centuries.
Wales was in fact the second country to begin playing cricket, after it was invented in England, with the first known games taking place in the 18th Century. Cricket clubs in Wales were also set up at that time, making them amongst the oldest in the world.
Throughout the 20th Century a Welsh first class team played matches against other international sides, including in international tournaments, but a permanent Welsh national team was never established.
And so until the 1990s cricket in Wales, along with Scotland and England, was governed by the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB). But Scotland took the positive decision to establish its own national side, which gained ICC recognition in 1994. Ireland had already gained membership to the ICC a year earlier in 1993.
There are in fact six ICC recognised teams in the British Isles because even the small islands of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have their own teams. Wales is, therefore, in the unique position in the British Isles of being unrepresented.
Wales missed her chance to establish her own team in the ‘90s because the decision was taken by the powers that be that Wales would be better off being represented by England. And so the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) was established once Scotland had set up its national team.
But the idea of establishing a Welsh side was never forgotten.
The occasional Welsh player managed to play for England, averaging around one player every ten years. It has in fact been over eight years since the last Welshman played senior international cricket – Simon Jones in the Ashes in 2005. This means a whole new generation of Welsh players in their twenties have gone without experiencing international cricket.
But now the game of cricket is changing internationally and Wales must be a positive part of that change. The Woolf Review into cricket’s governance, which talks about establishing a Welsh team, came to the conclusion that cricket needs to become more transparent, to open up and avoid vested interests if the game is to expand globally.
Twenty20 is also changing the face of the game and winning over new fans across the world for the sport. As Twenty20 increases cricket’s popularity, financial opportunities for emerging nations will increase and the emphasis on test cricket will decrease somewhat. This makes it absolutely the right time to establish a Welsh national team so that as these major changes take place we do not miss our opportunity again but instead reap the sporting and financial benefits.

How popular is cricket in Wales?

Cricket in Wales is somewhat of an anomaly and is not always very visible. As Dominic Malcolm notes in his book Globalizing Cricket: 'the curiously anonymous history of Welsh cricket is... probably a consequence of a failure to either passionately embrace the game (as evident in the Caribbean) or to reject it outright (as in America). Rather, for much of the game's history the Welsh have appeared to be content for their game to quietly become subsumed by its English big brother'.
Nonetheless, cricket is still regarded as Wales' third sport behind rugby and football.
This was not always the case because cricket was the first organised team game in Wales. The establishment of many famous football and rugby teams in Wales were actually as a result of cricket teams wanting to keep fit over the winter through other sports. This is the case for Premier League side Cardiff City FC, who were established by Riverside Cricket Club in 1899.One of Wales' most famous rugby teams, Pontypool RFC, was also formed by Pontypool Cricket Club in 1868.
Since the beginning of the 20th Century the popularity of cricket has fallen behind that of football and rugby but cricket is changing. The much shorter Twenty20 format is opening cricket up to new audiences and expanding the game of cricket to new nations. Just like the 100m in running is considerably more popular for viewers than the longer running formats, this is becoming true for cricket. With the popularity of Twenty20 growing globally it is likely that cricket in Wales will also see an increase in popularity.

What will happen to Glamorgan?

The idea of establishing a Welsh national cricket team is intended to compliment Glamorgan. It is important that Wales has a strong county representative in the County Championship. But is also important that the nation has a strong representative in international fixtures.
Glamorgan is currently struggling as a county. It is in a large amount of debt and the administration of the club has led to high-profile resignations and serious questions raised over the running of the club.
It has already been confirmed by the ECB that establishing a Welsh team will not effect Glamorgan's status within the English county system. This precedent already exists in football, where Wales has her own FIFA recognised national team but several Welsh clubs play in the English leagues. The question mark is over Glamorgan hosting England internationals, which will be addressed later on.

Will the team be any good?

This is a question often raised in justification for not having a team. It has even been raised by Sports Wales in the National Assembly.
The question, however, should not be entertained. The only question that is relevant is “who are the best 11 Welsh cricket players?” These 11 players will then be who makes up the team and it will then be the job of the board to get the best out of those 11 players with the resources available. At times they will win and at times they will lose. But as a Welsh team we will support them regardless. This is the nature of international sport.
What is not in international sports' nature is to simply not have your own team but to try and get your players into another country's team. The Welsh football team isn't particularly good. There is currently no expectation for the team to win European or World Cups. But few would argue that we should abandon the Welsh football team and try to get one or two of our best players into the England team instead. Seeing Gareth Bale play at Wembley, with the Three Lions and the word England on his chest and 10 Englishmen as teammates would offend most Welsh football fans' sensibilities. But this is precisely the situation for cricket in Wales.
Regardless, Wales could certainly rival Ireland and Scotland and challenge some of the test playing nations. Ireland, for example, have recorded famous victories over Pakistan and England. And yet we have more players, we have more clubs and we have better facilities than Ireland. In Scotland and Ireland they also have more sports than Wales, with Gaelic football and shinty/hurling as well as football and rugby competing with each other. In Wales it really is just the big three that have large fan bases and participation.
We also already have two first class teams, Glamorgan and Cardiff MCC University, and we have a wonderful test ground in the SWALEC Stadium.

Isn't England just a Great Britain team?

No. In the British Isles there are six teams recognised by the International Cricket Council (ICC), who are the sport's international governing body. These are Scotland, Ireland (the Republic and Northern Ireland play as Ireland), England, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. The England cricket team is not, therefore, something similar to a Team GB. It represents only England and Wales, although almost all games are played in England and the team's name, flag, colours and insignia make no reference to Wales. Wales is in actual fact the only area of the British Isles with its own national government that does not have a team.

Why are Glamorgan and Cricket Wales opposed to establishing a Welsh national team?

Glamorgan believe that they will go bankrupt if they can no longer host England test matches in the SWALEC Stadium. Due to the very high levels of their debts it would seem that they believe hosting some of the incredibly lucrative England test matches is the only thing that can get them out of this debt.
Establishing an ICC-recognised Welsh team would not immediately prevent them from bidding for tender for England matches but they clearly believe that it would lessen their chances.
And yet, hosting England test matches is one of the reasons they find themselves in this financial situation. In the past they have bid too high for the tenders to host test matches and then failed to make the money back as a result of very poor ticket sales. This has put them in the position of owing large amounts of money to the ECB rather than profiting from that relationship and even having test matches stripped from them. Furthermore, hosting third party matches in cricket is completely normal. Pakistan and Afghanistan both play all of their home games in the United Arab Emirates.
What is perhaps more worrying for Glamorgan is that, whether there is a Welsh team or not, there is no guarantee that Glamorgan will win further tenders to host England matches anyway since the process is so competitive and there are now many top-quality grounds in England.
The last tender process led to Wales hosting none of the test matches for the recent Ashes. Instead, England played one “home” ODI game in Wales. However, England also played an ODI in Ireland and Australia played an ODI in Scotland. This means that England and Australia each played as many games in Scotland and Ireland as they did in Wales. The key difference is that Scotland and Ireland have their own national teams, with 11 players from each country playing in those games. They also both got international exposure in their own right. For Wales meanwhile, not a single Welsh person played during the Ashes and our country got international exposure as a place where England go to play their “home” games. What message does that send out to the world about Wales.

Cricket Wales's bitterly ironic opposition to a Welsh team is ostensibly about finance. They believe cricket as a sport in Wales will suffer because they will no longer receive funding from the ECB. Instead they will receive funding from the ICC just like all the other cricket boards in the British Isles.
However, Cricket Wales also seems to be ideologically opposed to establishing a cricket team for Wales. They have never engaged in the process with any openness and have not made any efforts to explore whether establishing the team would be a viable possibility. From the very first moment they have been absolutely opposed to it and have made every effort to shut it down.
It is surely the case that an organisation called Cricket Wales, who receive funding from Sports
Wales, who in turn receive their budget from the National Assembly for Wales and the
Welsh Government really ought to be doing everything possible to establish a Welsh cricket
team rather than everything possible to prevent it.

Establishing a Welsh team would mean becoming an ICC member and part off the ICC funding stream. A Welsh team would in fact open up new funding possibilities. On top of the standard ICC funding Wales would push to quickly qualify for Higher Performance Programme funding and, in recognition of the need to expand cricket to new nations, Wales could receive funding through the ICC’s Big Better Global Game. There are then, of course, the lucrative television rights that are available to nations with their own team. Sponsorship will also play a role.
One of the arguments often made against establishing the team is that there will be no international matches played in Wales any more and hence a loss of income. But this argument comes from people who seem to believe that a match is only international if England is playing in it. But of course when Wales has her own team there will be considerably more international cricket matches played in Wales, which brings new opportunities for revenue. Qualification for tournaments also leads to increased revenue.
We only need to look to Ireland and see the sold-out matches they play against England, Pakistan and other touring sides, along with their appearance at World Cups, to see the enormous funding potential for a Welsh team.
Ultimately, if you look at the amount of funding that Cricket Ireland has then it is a similar level to the money provided to Wales by the ECB. Cricket in Ireland is developing rapidly and they are able to support a successful national team and push for test status, which suggests that we would be more than capable of funding ourselves.

Shouldn't we just make the England team more Welsh? Wouldn't that be better?

That may be better for Wales than the current situation but it certainly wouldn't be better for England. The thing that we have to remember is that this isn't just about what is good for Wales but also what is good for England too.
The English cricket team is very much a unique expression of Englishness and English culture. From the rendition of Jerusalem at the start of games (England’s unofficial national anthem), to the Flag of St. George, the Barmy Army and the Three Lions; the England cricket team is one of those rare occasions where England revels in being English. This campaign is not about taking that away from them in order to impose some hybrid where we attempt to mash together the cultures and symbolism of our two countries into one team.
So if there can’t be a Welsh cricket team then it would be an improvement to see Wales better represented as part of the current England team (the name, the badge, the kit, the players etc.). But it would be better for all concerned if we were able to have two teams that fully represent each nation rather than one team that only half represents both of us.


Jac o' the North, said...

"It is essential that Wales has a strong county representative in the County Championship." I'm not sure I'd agree with that, especially if it means not having a national team.

If it's either or, then it has to be a national side.

Jac o' the North, said...
This comment has been removed by the author.