A lack of information in the information age
I've written before about my fondness for the way international cricket is structured below Test level. Regional tournaments feeding into global tournaments. Teams moving up and down the rankings based solely on their on-field performance. It's how a sport should be run, and a structure that I'd love to see applied above the associate level.
However, one inescapable fact is that the whole thing is marketed terribly. Tournaments are announced sometimes just days before they happen - if they're announced at all - and scorecards - even just results - can at times be next to impossible to locate.
We're supposed to be living in the information age. Details on these tournaments - many of which are qualifiers for World Cups - should be easy to find online. But they aren't, and even cricket's governing body sometimes doesn't seem interested in providing them.
One can go on the website for the governing body of almost any major sport and find fixtures/results of World Cup qualifying matches. They may be hard to find, but they are there. Not so with the International Cricket Council, which governs what they claim is the world's second most popular sport.
The worst culprit by far is the ICC's African region. The ICC Africa website, at the time of writing, hasn't been updated in over two years, with the most recent article being about Kenya beating the Netherlands in a T20I in April 2013. The website currently contains an advert for tickets to the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy.
ICC Africa very rarely announces tournament dates, and one usually finds out about them through reports in the media in participating countries, sometimes after the tournaments are complete. The region provides no press releases.
The ICC's Americas regional office does have a sporadically updated website, but one can't rely on them to update it with tournament details with any regularity. A banner ad at the top reads “Read the latest Americas Newsflash”. Said latest newsflash dates to January 2011. Like the ICC Africa region, they provide no press releases.
The Asian Cricket Council - which in future will be run directly from the main ICC offices in Dubai - was by far the best of the regions, announcing their tournament schedule well in advance and providing live scorecards of every match through Cricinfo, most of which had commentary. One can only hope this arrangement will continue under the new management of the region's development activities.
ICC East Asia Pacific also do a great job. Active on social media, they provide lots of information about tournaments, enough to forgive them their occasional use of the incorrect Australian method of displaying innings scores.
ICC Europe's coverage has declined in the last 18 months or so and I shall leave it to others to judge whether or not this is due to the ending of the relationship between this website and the European office at Lord's. Press releases about tournaments are not always put on the ICC Europe website.
ICC Europe do produce a regular newsletter in conjunction with the All Out Cricket magazine. It's a glossy publication, but the majority of its contents have nothing at all to do with European cricket. I have nothing against All Out Cricket, and I'm sure they'd do a top notch job on a feature about MS Dhoni, I just don't think it should be the cover story - and take up a third - of the ICC Europe newsletter, as it did at one point last year.
There is more live scoring of matches these days, but only on the CricHQ website. CricHQ covers a lot of cricket, both real and imaginary. Live scores of World Cup qualifying matches jostle for position with live scores of completely fictional matches in which Australia score 1000 in a one-day international.
Even on the real matches, CricHQ is far from a finished article. It looks very much like a work in progress, and still has a number of bugs. The management of the organisation wisely dropped a plan to charge for access last year.
When the scores are there, the regional organisations don't always make it obvious on how to find them. One ends up having to use the awful search engine on CricHQ, which presents results in a seemingly random order, and doesn't seem to recognise that a person searching for “Canada” might also want results for “Canada XI” or “Canada National Team, Men's”.
Video coverage - mostly highlights - is becoming more common - which is a good thing - but video coverage isn't much use without the tournament information/scores to go with it.
An ICC spokesman confirmed to me that it is the regional offices themselves that are responsible for creating and uploading content to the ICC website. Given the lack of consistency in that content - with one of the regions not touching their section in over two years - it seems that the ICC isn't all that interested in what goes on those regional sections, something made clear by them not expanding their most recent website redesign - now almost two years old - to the regional sections.
The recent rise in “unofficial” international tournaments, caused largely by ICC cutting a large number of its members off from formal international cricket, has seen the problem compounded. Scores of these tournaments can be impossible to find, and tournament organisers sometimes seem actively unwilling to share them when asked for.
Even the ICC global tournaments for associates and affiliates aren't marketed well. With less than three months to go until the World Twenty20 qualifiers in Ireland and Scotland, anybody planning on attending the tournament doesn't even know exactly when the tournament will be, never mind what the fixtures are.
ICC might point out that three participating teams are yet to be decided, so fixtures can't be announced yet, but that didn't stop them announcing the 2015 World Cup fixtures in July 2013 when three participating teams were also yet to be decided.
One has to question what sort of sport's governing body makes it so difficult to get information about world cup qualifying - and other - tournaments. In the modern world, it should be easier than ever to get this information. But for cricket it seems to be getting worse.
Such a bad job at marketing what is a good product makes the cynical side of me think that it's being done on purpose. Make it hard to get information about these teams so that fewer people are interested in watching them, making it easy to remove them from major tournaments.
Perhaps this isn't the case. Perhaps they are just bad at marketing. Perhaps nobody involved with the ICC's media operation really cares about promoting associate and affiliate tournaments. Whatever the reality of the situation, it is unacceptable that in the information age, it is so difficult to get this information.