The growth of women's cricket

On Thursday, Thailand beat Pakistan at the Asia Cup in an exciting finish where they completed their run chase with just one ball to spare. It was their tenth win over an ICC full member and seventh since August 2021.

If this was the Thailand men's team, we'd probably be preparing for the first Test in Bangkok in the near future. But it was the Thailand women's team.

Probably the greatest success of global development since the rise of Afghanistan, the Thailand women's team have clearly established themselves as the premier associate side in women's cricket.

Were it not for a grossly unfair ICC decision to base qualification for the women's World Cup and Women's ODI Championship on ODI rankings that Thailand weren't eligible for after the World Cup qualifier had been cancelled mid-tournament (Thailand having beaten two full members and almost certain of a place in the ODI Championship at least) they would now likely be preparing for several ODI series against the best women's teams in the world.

Whilst they have since granted women's ODI status to Thailand and four other associate members (Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Scotland and USA) they simultaneously kicked every other associate member out of the ODI World Cup pathway, and the 5 associates with ODI status is short of the eight that have it in the men's game.

The Women's World Cup itself remains an 8 team event until 2029 when it expands to ten teams, still short of the 14 that will be in the men's event from 2027. The T20 World Cup, which Thailand recently missed out on qualification for, is a ten team event and whilst it expands to 12 in 2026, the men's event will be a mammoth 20 team tournament from 2024 and there is no commitment to expands beyond that until after 2030.

This is despite the ICC announcing on international women's day this year that they "are committed to gender equity" and called on the cricket world to "drive transformative change and be part of accelerating the growth of the game".

Given that the ICC's acceleration of growth is positively glacial, it seems that for the ICC it's a case of "do what we say, not what we do".

We've recently seen Indonesia and Rwanda qualify for the first ever Women's Under-19 World Cup. The launch of the Women's Under-19 World Cup is undoubtedly a positive, but with places in senior World Cups being so short on supply, the ICC risk falling behind of how quickly women's cricket is growing in some places.

Women's cricket is growing rapidly in Asia and Africa - and to a lesser extent in the other ICC regions - with countries often fielding teams far more representative of their populations than in the men's game. Nine teams were involved in African qualifying for the inaugural Women's Under-19 World Cup - more than any other region - and yet no associate member from that region will be permitted to qualify for the next Women's ODI World Cup.

The ICC has a history of making changes too late, notably with giving Ireland full membership probably about five years too late. They're making the same mistakes again with women's cricket. A commitment to have men's and women's World Cups be the same size by the end of the decade should be the bare minimum.

As it is though, expansion of the women's World Cup could be too late for this golden generation of Thai cricketers. At least the ICC are consistent on that.

Players switching countries

During the recent East Asia Pacific sub-regional qualifier for the 2024 Men's T20 World Cup, Samoa were without the services of Sean Solia, who captained them at the equivalent event in 2018. Not because he was injured, not because he wasn't released by his New Zealand domestic side, but because he was touring India with a New Zealand A side.

He wasn't the only player with associate links in that New Zealand A side either. Former Hong Kong international Mark Chapman also played for the tourists as did former Dutch international Michael Rippon and current Dutch international Logan van Beek.

Australia have also picked a former associate international for their T20 World Cup squad with former Singapore player Tim David set to make the trip having made his debut for Australia last month.

It's difficult to blame the players in these cases. The career of a professional cricket player is a short one and we shouldn't begrudge them maximising their income in that short time. Also, with the exception of Rippon, all have spent their formative years in the countries they either have switched to, or are in the process of switching to. These aren't cases of players being "poached" from associate sides.

But as someone who is a fan of associate cricket, it still leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Associate sides can't progress if their best players could leave at any time to play for another country.

Instead the blame must lie solely with the ICC who have put so much power - and money - in the hands of a small cadre of nations. The cricket economy simply doesn't allow associate sides to retain their best players.

Some might suggest not allowing players to switch nations. But would Singapore and Hong Kong have had Tim David and Mark Chapman if playing for them had left them ineligible for Australia and New Zealand? It's unlikely.

With the development criteria having vanished, "heritage" players playing for national sides are increasing in number. I wouldn't want a return to the days when passport holders could be prevented from playing for their country, but it's a reminder that such switches could become more common in future.

The Rugby League solution of allowing players to be simultaneously eligible for a Tier One (Australia, England, New Zealand) nation and a Tier Two nation would likely be unworkable in cricket given how busy the calendar is. Switching the stand-down period to return to an associate a player has previously played for down to one year would help avoid the sort of situation we saw with Boyd Rankin when he was out of international cricket for three years in his prime when he was ditched by England.

There's no perfect solution though, and I'm not going to try to come up with one. The ICC could help but are unlikely to so long as the countries that benefit from players being able to switch are pulling the strings. I'll even enjoy seeing Tim David play for Australia in the World Cup as he's one of the best T20 players on the circuit. But part of me would always rather he'd have stuck with Singapore.

Is international cricket best served by one of Samoa's best players missing a World Cup qualifier to play for New Zealand A? I think we can all agree that it isn't.