Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Celtic League: A way to expand cricket in Europe?

In recent years we have seen some news in European Cricket that can shape the future of cricket in the continent. First is the resurgence of Irish cricket and their dramatic chase against England in world cup. Along with that the game has made right noises in Netherlands where the performance in world cup has helped cricket to stop it's downfall, while the Scots have been doing really good. Though they failed to make it to the world cup, but then after that made to finals of Intercontinental cup, teams performing very well in matches against Neth, Ire and other ODI and the junior team making it to the World Cup the game surely is on a roll

Besides that there have been lots of talks in Welsh Parliament about a separate Welsh team under the Gambit of ECB which even though is a English and Wales team, but conveniently remove Wales. Who knows soon over time like the Scots who went independent may soon happen for Welsh too.

England winning Ashes back to back also is coming at a right time bringing attention for cricket across Europe.

Celtic League is the place Cricket Should look upto

However the most encouraging news has been initial talks between Scotland and Irish cricket boards over the formation of a Celtic League. This idea is not a new one. We have recently seen a very successful East African Trophy and Premier League involving 4 teams from Kenya and 2 from Uganda. The tournament which started without sponsors or broadcaster before the end of tournament had both. The rebellious players who on seeing the success of the tournament apologized and are planning to come back. But where did the idea of Celtic League or East African tournament come? Both the Celtic League and East African tournaments came from a game that cricket should learn a lot of things from- Rugby

The Celtic league is already a very successful tournament that involves teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales & Italy. This tournament which started in 2001 has picked up popularity over time and become the only first class tournament of these nations. It has also helped to have the first professional teams in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There have been some downsides where some professional clubs could not balance the sheets and hence were dissolved. The mistakes of the tournament can studied and ensured that they are not repeated

Cricket should definitely pick this brilliant experience and go for a similar league not just for Ireland and Scotland but even go further and have more nations as a part of it. Presently England with its 18 counties is the only place where professional Cricket is possible in Europe. European laws make that easy for these team to allow their players in county cricket but that has its risk of losing players to England. As an alternative professional set up to come to levels of county cricket is not possible if Ireland or Scotland go alone or together but lies in the fact that Wales, Netherlands and Denmark are brought into the fold

Professional set up depends on 2 major factors:- 1. The Economy of the countries i.e GDP of the countries, 2. The level of Interest- Are people willing to come to watch the game. The number of teams from each country should be based on both these factors. The fact can be seen that in Celtic League(Rugby), with a economy of 226 B$ Ireland had 4 teams while Wales with a GDP of 73 B$ had 5 teams and what happened? Even though Rugby would be slightly more popular in Wales than Ireland but soon the clubs started failing as they could not find money to sustain.

Going by the present Populations, Interest Levels and GDP the best format would be 4 teams from Ireland , 3 teams from Scotland, 2 from Wales, 2 from Netherlands and 1 from Denmark. This set up would help provide a much bigger population and economical base to sustain the game both in quality and monetary terms.This will help provide an alternate to County with more opportunities for domestic players.

The 12 teams can be as follows
Ireland:- Similar structure as Rugby Union: Ulster (Belfast), Munster (Cork), Leinster (Dublin) & Connacht (Galway)
Scotland:- The recently started 3 team tournament is the perfect way to go ahead: North (Aberdeen), West (Glasgow / Ayr), East (Edinburg)
Wales:- Presently only 1 county takes part in County championships. To increase participation it should be increased to 2 teams:Cardiff & Swansea (Glamorgan)
Netherlands:- The recently started North vs South competition is a perfect platform to go Celtic: North (Amstelveen) & South(Rotterdam)
Denmark:- Cricket is a very lower interest level, hence the whole national team should take part to ensure a competitive tournament. The capital Copenhagen is a perfect place.

The tournament may not be initially having the resources to go completely professional so can start as semi professional. Also since most of the places have stadiums Home and Away would be the best format. Any further expansion is very much possible in Netherlands and Denmark if it helps raise the profile of game in the country. Finally like Rugby the tournament should be run by a company with stakes of all the boards and an independent director. If cricket goes professional in these countries then it can pave the way for Euro Cup and further raise the profile of game.

Lets  hope the first step of Celtic Cup containing 6 teams of Scotland and Ireland goes ahead becomes a success like East African tournaments. I surely will be watching this space