Michael Pavitt: Why the Commonwealth Games needs cricket and cricket needs the Commonwealth Games

South Africa won the gold medal when cricket last featured in the Commonwealth Games at Kuala Lumpur 1998 ©Getty Images

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That appears unlikely.

Given the shorter timeframe afforded to the English city after stepping into the breach after Durban were stripped of the Games nearly a year ago, Birmingham will have to keep their foot firmly to the pedal.

The establishment of an Organising Committee will be at the top of the checklist, with appointments likely to be made in the not too distant future.

Life as an Organising Committee has already been sampled somewhat by Birmingham, due to the response from sports regarding their participation on the programme.

A petition was set up to protest the decision not to include the optional sport of shooting. A separate petition was established to call for a velodrome to be built in the West Midlands for the Games, rather than hold track cycling competitions in London.

Archery took a more novel approach, as they set up a working group to target reinstatement to the Games. Whether they hit a bullseye remains to be seen.

All three of those sports fit into the category "optional" on the Commonwealth Games Federation’s (CGF) Transformation 2022 document, with 16 core disciplines.

I would like to propose a third category to perhaps create a kind of venn diagram of Commonwealth Games sports.

This category would be titled preferred sports and would include one name.

There is no real secret that the CGF are keen on the prospect of cricket making a return its sport programme, 20-years on from its last appearance at Kuala Lumpur 1998. A potential return was mooted for Gold Coast 2018, then for Durban 2022, while there was even talk Birmingham could include it should they get the 2026 Games.

As it happens they have the Games four years earlier, but there appears to be the same head scratching at exactly how to get the sport onto the programme.

It was widely believed that women’s cricket was set to feature at Durban 2022 before the plug was ultimately, and rightly, pulled on the South African dalliance with hosting the Games.

Now, it appears there is a fondness for mixed cricket being included at Birmingham 2022, with CGF President Louise Martin raising the prospect at the city’s unveiling as hosts in December.

Her suggestion was not the first time I had heard the idea mentioned in connection with 2022, which may be a result of a couple of factors.

The first is the CGF’s desire to ensure gender equality, with the organisation having achieved a parity in terms of medal events at Gold Coast 2018, making it the first multi-sport event to have an equal split for men and women.

Having evened out the scales, you can see the problem should women’s cricket be added to the programme, but not men’s.

It is the addition of men’s cricket appears to be the actual problem, something acknowledged by Birmingham City Council officials in December.

"As we began assembling the bid what became apparent was that the governing body the International Cricket Council was reluctant because India is very protective of its Indian Premier League competition and do not want anything which might compete with that," Ian Ward, Birmingham City Council Leader and the head of the successful bid, was quoted as saying.

"As well the England and Wales Cricket Board are developing a new T20 competition, this will be launched in 2020 and they are also very nervous about a competing competition in summer 2022."

The situation and the clear desire from both the CGF and Birmingham to have cricket included at the Games, appears to have strengthened the need for creative thinking about how to get the sport back on the programme.

Mixed cricket, it would appear, seems to be where the wind is blowing if the sport is set to make an appearance in Birmingham.

There are some clear questions about this.

The first and one most prominently mentioned when the idea of mixed cricket has been mooted in the past surrounds safety. The idea of men bowling at women has prompted concerns, given that some of the fastest male bowlers can deliver the ball at around ninety miles per hour, while the fastest women’s delivery recorded in around 78mph.

While it is likely that Twenty20 cricket would be the format, how would the teams be split. Could there be a scenario where the match is split in two, with women’s teams battling it out for the first 10 overs before switching to men’s, before their scores are added?

These areas would certainly need to be ironed out.

Another concern would be that this could have a detrimental effect on the women’s game, which has made huge strides recently. After all, last year’s Women’s Cricket World Cup final sold out at Lords, with a crowd of 26,500 in attendance.

Would creating a mixed team format slow, or worse, damage the growth of the women’s game.

There is a clear desire from Commonwealth members to see the sport return to the Games, with Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees President Brian Lewis among those backing its reappearance.

"I think where there is a will, there is a way," he said. "I think that instead of people focusing on reasons why it can’t work, we need to open our minds. Sport has changed. There was a point in time where the same establishment had grave reservations and were very adamant that T20 couldn’t work. Now the tables have turned as T20 is the modern 21st century, while test cricket is struggling to remain relevant."

Lewis believes cricket’s return to the Commonwealth Games would reenergise the West Indies team by increasing the competition in the Caribbean, but also strengthen the interest of the Games internationally.

"Be it women’s cricket or men’s cricket, the sport needs to grow a new fanbase and become truly global," he said. "As much as some would like to believe, it is still very much a Commonwealth sport. It is not global in the true form of global."

Lewis’ statement is certainly true. It is obvious to anyone who looks at the major nations involved that cricket is dominated by Commonwealth countries. It is something of an oddity, that such as Commonwealth centred sport does not feature at the Games, particularly as cricket has featured at other events, such as the 2014 Asian Games.

While cricket has appeared to have started flirting with the notion of Olympic inclusion, one could argue that its rightful place is at the Commonwealth Games. Particularly until its borders extend beyond the Commonwealth nations.

The benefits to cricket seem fairly clear. I remember being at an event prior to the 2015 Rugby World Cup where then Japan coach Eddie Jones claimed the addition of rugby sevens to the Olympic programme had a huge impact on the growth of the sport in the country and neighbouring China, primarily because it had become a medal event at the Games.

Rugby sevens, of course, debuted at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and pushed on for Olympic inclusion from there.

Cricket’s place at multi-sport events seems obvious to me, given the T20 format. While other sports draw for a close at the end of a competition day, a cricket match under floodlights would certainly keep the atmosphere going. It just seems a no-brainer.

People will raise concerns over the quality of men’s players and teams that Games would be able to attract. After all, an English team did not appear at Kuala Lumpur 1998, while India sent a weakened team. Albeit one that included Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and VVS Laxman.

My thought would be to propose a men’s and women’s tournament take place at Birmingham 2022. If a men’s competition does not emerge, then so be it.

Gender equality can take a back seat on this as far as I am concerned, as the women’s game and the Commonwealth Games would surely both gain from cricket’s inclusion.

If it proves a success and men’s teams join later, that would be welcomed.

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