In September 2021 a 16-year-old girl from Francophone West Africa found herself the centre of attention in the cricketing world. Cameroon’s Maeve Douma attracted attention for the unprecedented feat of running out four non-strikers backing up (aka Mankad) in the same match against Uganda. Videos of her were shared instantaneously on social media and received coverage in major media publications around the world. She was interviewed – through a translator – on the Final World podcast.

It was indicative of the successes of the ICC’s development team. Associate cricket is perhaps more visible than ever before and is increasingly non-Anglophone and beyond the scope of the former British Empire.

That increased visibility hasn’t corresponded with a closing of the gap in standards with the full members though. Whilst the gap between the top associates and lower full members is practically non-existent, the manner of defeat for Scotland and Namibia in the Super 12 stage of the T20 World Cup suggests that half a decade away from competition with the top teams has – unsurprisingly – widened that gap.

With an end to the CWC Super League, a reversion to using rankings to decide automatic qualification for ten teams in the fourteen team World Cup in 2027 and no indication that the top full members will have to qualify for the expanded 20-team T20 World Cup in 2024, it seems unlikely that the gap is going to close any time soon.

It was heartening during the World Cup to see that basically everybody now realises that the “first round” is nothing more than a qualifier for a 12-team tournament. Speaking of scams, the ICC chose the T20 World Cup to start selling NFTs – non-fungible tokens. I won’t bore you with a full explanation of what they are but in short they’re a form of “digital collectable” that sells for ridiculous sums even though the purchaser is only really buying a certificate of ownership of the artwork. They’re the modern version of the old fad for selling ownership of stars.

The trade in NFTs has a highly damaging impact on the environment with some estimates putting the carbon footprint of a single NFT as equivalent to two months electricity usage of someone living in the European Union. Despite this though, a piece on the environmental impact of the tournament instead decided to say that expansion of international cricket was the greater concern.

It doesn’t take much to realise that expansion could actually help reduce cricket’s impact on the environment, with a move to more regionally based international competition rather than teams regularly travelling halfway around the world. But I digress.

NFTs have also been listed as a potential revenue source for the increasingly ubiquitous presence of the tournaments of the European Cricket Network, no doubt looking for a revenue source beyond people playing fantasy cricket. Next year’s European Cricket League will be sponsored by a crypto currency based on a cartoon dog.

The 2021 edition of the ECL was cancelled due to Covid, though the organisation did run the European Championship, the first international T10 tournament. The National Counties Association XI (formerly known as the Minor Counties XI) represented England and won the tournament, a rare success for England in international cricket in 2021, beating Belgium in the final of the 15-team tournament.

The absence of teams representing Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Jersey or Guernsey and with none of the Netherlands, Italy or Germany fielding a first XI meant that the tournament wasn’t quite as good as it could have been, but it was a fun watch and seeing a match like Luxembourg v Norway on a major UK sports TV channel was unthinkable when I first started writing for CricketEurope almost 16 years ago. By that measure, the tournament was a success despite the absence or watering down of those bigger teams.

It remains hard to see what the point of the European Cricket Series is beyond providing content for fantasy cricket players. Several videos from the hundreds of matches played across the continent briefly went viral, but not for the right reasons. Rather than the reaction to Pavel Florin in 2019 which was largely one of admiration for someone who loved cricket, the reaction to many of the videos shared widely in 2021 was one of mockery. Sometimes this even seemed to be encouraged by the social media arm of the European Cricket Network.

The successful running of the European Championship did suggest that cancellation of the European sub-regionals was premature and at the very least more teams than the four finalists that gathered in Spain in October could have been involved.

I’ve mentioned this often in this very column this year but the lack of consistency in the ICC’s approach to Covid issues was maddening. Some tournaments were cancelled, some were postponed and some were moved to different hosts. The use of rankings based on 3 year’s performance when 10 year’s performance were used for Under-19 cancellations was equally maddening, no more so when Thailand were robbed when the Women’s World Cup Qualifier was cancelled mid-tournament due to Covid-19.

It’s again indicative of the increased visibility of associate cricket that the decision to exclude Thailand attracted widespread criticism – it isn’t all that long ago that associates being treated unfairly was widely ignored in the mainstream. The ICC for their part seem to be happy to ignore the criticism and ride it out.

Around the same time as the binning of the CWC Super League and cancellation of the Women’s World Cup Qualifier the ICC issued a new Global Growth Strategy. Short on details as these things often are it seemed to be more focussed on growing fans rather than growing participants.

Growing the fanbase of cricket (or creating incremental fans as the strategy document puts it) is important – there’s no use in increasing playing numbers if nobody wants to watch them play – but one needn’t come at the expense of another. Some of the decisions taken by the ICC this past year are welcome though, particularly the expansion of global events in the men's game (though the size of the women's tournaments are falling behind) and what at the moment seems to be a serious effort to get cricket into the Olympics.

As 2022 starts, sport around the world is feeling the impact of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. It remains to be seen whether the various ICC pathway events - including those that are still postponed from 2020 and 2021 will manage to go ahead as planned. With pathway events for the 2024 T20 World Cup also planned for this year - the European region having already announced their sub-regional events - it could be a busy year for associate cricket. Or maybe a busy year for the ICC rankings. Watch this space.