Internationals not internationals, eleven not equalling eleven
Back in July, the England and Wales Cricket Board announced the fixtures for England's trip to the United Arab Emirates to play Pakistan. Pencilled in for the 23rd of November at the Shekih Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi was a Twenty20 match against the host nation.
This was a match between two sides with T20I status, scheduled four months in advance and set to take place at a ground approved by the International Cricket Council to host full internationals. We were told that the reason for the Hong Kong game earlier in the tour not being an ODI because there wasn't enough time to make it one, and that it wasn't at an approved ground. That definitely wasn't the case this time, so the match was a full T20I.
Only it wasn't. It was an England XI against a UAE XI in a T20 friendly. So it seems that the rumoured reason for the Hong Kong game not being an ODI - the ECB didn't want to fork out for their player match fees - was accurate. In an interview with Tim Wigmore for Cricinfo, Emirates Cricket Board (another ECB!) CEO David East referred to the UAE not being able to finance a full international. This implies that a relatively impoverished cricket board was expected to finance a match with one of the richest cricket boards in the world.
East said that the teams mutually agreed to make the match a friendly, no doubt with his arm metaphorically twisted behind his back. England tried to make out earlier that Hong Kong had requested their match be a friendly. This is palpable nonsense - all associates, not just Ireland and Afghanistan, are desperate for more fixtures against full members. Suggesting that any of them are happy with "friendlies" is laughable.
The distinction may seem odd - after all even as a full T20I, it would have still essentially been a friendly, as is most (possibly all) international cricket outside of ICC organised tournaments. But a full international brings with it the possibility of sponsorship. Who wants to finance a practice match? This isn't helped by the antiquated notion of status that the ICC is beholden to.
England of course have form in this regard. Way back in 2006, they initially wanted to make Ireland's inaugural ODI at Stormont one of those silly "whole squad plays" matches. Common sense prevailed and the ICC insisted on it being an ODI. Since then though, England have seemed somewhat reluctant to play Ireland, with matches scheduled at rather inconvenient times. The 2013 and 2015 matches were scheduled on week days during the school term, whilst the 2017 one is pencilled in for April.
The match - unlike Pakistan v Hong Kong earlier in the day - wasn't even an 11 a-side match. Whilst England seem to have only played 11, the UAE decided that they'd play 17 players. The already silly situation of two T20I status teams playing at a T20I ground but not playing a T20I became a farce.
This habit of teams not playing standard 11 a side matches is becoming ever more frequent. Just the other day a Western Australia "XI" lost 13 wickets in a match against the touring New Zealand side. Three players were allowed to bat twice. These aren't cricket matches - they're glorified net sessions.
Moving back to the lack of time excuse given for the Hong Kong match for a moment, it is notable that just over a year ago, India were able to organise an ODI series against Sri Lanka with less than a fortnight's notice after the West Indies pulled out of a tour. There's other examples of full member matches being scheduled without much notice.
But when it's an associate involved, there's always excuses. There's not enough time, there's not enough money or there's not enough room in the schedule. An ODI fund has been proposed that may alleviate some of the problems, but that shouldn't really have to exist.
If two international teams play each other, it should be an international. This isn't rocket science. If ICC ruled that matches between teams with a particular status had to be full internationals no matter what, these problems would vanish overnight. But they'd also need to put a requirement on full members to play associates, and with the FTP thrown out with the "big three reforms" there isn't even a requirement for full members to play each other any more.
Already the requirement in the playing conditions to have TV umpires at all ODIs/T20Is is relaxed when associates are involved. Why not relax requirements on facilities and ground size too, within reasonable bounds? If the requirements are making it hard for associates to arrange matches but easy for full members, it could be argued that this amounts to a form of indirect discrimination.
Would the ICC do this? As the saying goes, where there's a will, there's a way. Whilst the ICC may talk a good game on developing associates, their actions are speaking louder than their words. The people who make the decisions that count don't seem to be interested in helping out associates. There is no will, so there is no way.