International Cricket Council to hold a T20 championship shaped by current events

From+left+to+right%2C+Kieron+Pollard+from+West+Indies%2C+Virat+Kohli+from+India+and+Rashid+Khan+from+Afghanistan+pose+together.+In+their+careers%2C+Pollard%2C+Kohli+and+Khan+have+cemented+their+places+as+top+T20+cricket+players+internationally.+

Illustration by Angelina Hu

From left to right, Kieron Pollard from West Indies, Virat Kohli from India and Rashid Khan from Afghanistan pose together. In their careers, Pollard, Kohli and Khan have cemented their places as top T20 cricket players internationally.

By Trisha Iyer, The Harker Upper School

As tropical storm Shaheen made landing on the Arabian peninsula earlier this week, residents of Oman scrambled to find shelter and stay safe. Amidst the devastation of the storm, several worried officials found a relieving sight: lush, thick grass nourished by the storm’s three to four inches of rainfall — or, in other terms, a perfect green backdrop for several intense matches of cricket.

Organized by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the Men’s T20 World Cup runs from Oct. 17 to Nov. 14. T20 teams from 16 countries will take part in this tournament: after eight underdog teams play each other in a series of preliminary matches hosted by Oman, the winning four have the chance to compete for the championship in the United Arab Emirates with the current top eight T20 teams. T20 cricket is one of three forms of cricket, as well as the shortest, limiting each team to playing twenty overs of six balls each. The other two formats are One Day cricket, named after the duration of the game, and Test cricket, which can last for up to five days.

Afghanistan, Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and the West Indies are the current top eight teams, and the underdogs seeking to challenge them will be Bangladesh, Ireland, Namibia, the Netherlands, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Scotland and Sri Lanka. The last cup took place in 2019, when England took the championship title

For cricket fans, this upcoming World Cup is a welcome step toward a new normal after the period of limited sports activity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to safety protocols, the tournament, which was originally slated to take place in 2020 in Australia, was scrapped with hopes that a 2021 cup would go smoothly. 

“I was very disappointed [at the news] because the World Cup is a very special time for all cricket fans, because their country is up and has the chance to become the international champion,” Riya Gupta (11), an avid follower of cricket, said. “But with COVID, obviously, we want the players to be safe — because when you watch cricket a lot, you develop a lot of care for the players.” 

The cup changed venues again in June, moving from India to Oman and the UAE due to the spike in India’s COVID-19 cases brought on by the delta variant this summer. 

Current events have continued to set a turbulent backdrop for the tournament. 

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has instigated a period of massive political turmoil in the country, but the new government formed by the group has expressed intentions to still send a team to the championship this year. Afghanistan’s ICC membership may be ruled as invalid: an ICC guideline requires that full member states like Afghanistan have designated teams and opportunities for women to play cricket along with men, and a statement from the Taliban’s culture minister has made clear that the new government has no plans to support female cricket players or professional athletes in general. 

In addition, should the Afghan team, which ranks eighth in the world, play under the flag of the Taliban rather than that of the previous government, the ICC has made clear that it retains and intends to use the ability to call an emergency meeting on whether to vote the team out of the tournament

Sriram Bhimaraju (10), a cricket fan who has been playing the sport since elementary school, expressed sympathy for the players and their perseverance. 

“Cricket is more than just a sport for a lot of people, so I’m glad that the Afghanistan team is doing all they can to still provide entertainment and support for their fans, even in such a hard time for them,” he said. “I know that Afghanistan is still going to be playing, and I really admire them for it because I know this situation at home is not easy right now.” 

Riya pointed out that a key Afghan player, Rashid Khan, has not been able to return home because of his turmoil at home and his cricket obligations. 

“He’s just jumping from country to country, from cricket game to cricket game,” she said. “I think the entire team is probably facing similar situations. It’s not the easiest situation to be in, but they’re still sacrificing their own time with their families because they’re playing cricket.”

The cup also marks the departure of Virat Kohli from his position as captain of the Indian T20 team in an effort to reduce the intensity of his workload. Kohli will remain a player for the T20 team and captain for when the team plays team the other cricket formats, One Day and Test. The loss of his strengths as a motivating and people-oriented captain has dismayed many fans. 

“He has been a great captain and has taken Indian cricket to new heights,” Sriram said. “As a captain, he has individual conversations with each player on how to improve. He’s super encouraging: if another team player does good, he’ll celebrate more than them. He’s a very, very good team player that way.” 

To Isha Kotalwar (10), a cricket fan, Kohli taking a lighter workload may benefit the team in the long run. 

“I think he’s been pressured too much with captaincy plus batting,” she said. “He hasn’t scored a century [100 runs, a measure of keeping score] in a while. I think with less pressure on him, he can just focus on his batting and nothing else, and maybe he’ll start batting well again.”

Many cricket fans are eager to see how England, and Australia, cricket favorites, will play in their matches. One of the most anticipated matches will take place on Oct. 24 between India and Pakistan, two other staples of T20 cricket.  

“It’s a historical rivalry, and India doesn’t play Pakistan outside of World Cups [because of political tension],” she said. “But it should be fun, because everyone’s really passionate about it. It’s a tradition in my house — every time they play, we call people over to watch it.”

This story was originally published on Harker Aquila on October 18, 2021.