The magic of minnows — sport must make more room for them


This is all the more essential in a sport like cricket if it is to become truly global.

This is all the more essential in a sport like cricket if it is to become truly global.

On November 6, when the subcontinent woke up to a lazy Sunday morning, the Netherlands were three-quarters into a top-notch upset win over South Africa in the Men’s T20 FIFA World Cup. ‘ICC. The Proteas, after a fine win over India, had set the mood for a title contender to lose the must-win match and withdraw from the tournament.

The seismic result was contextualized in two ways. The first was to highlight South Africa’s propensity to lose crucial matches at major tournaments, and the second was to tell how the Dutch had ensured India were top of the group and led the way. in Pakistan to sneak in, with a potential dream final against India looming (a possibility that was ruled out after England’s stunning triumph over India on November 10).

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These are not abnormal acts

Absent from the whole discussion was the clear superiority of the Netherlands on the pitch. It was a pivotal moment in the country’s cricketing history, a win that ultimately helped the European country finish fourth in Group 2, ahead of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, securing automatic qualification for the 2024 edition. was still considered an abnormal act, more the defeat of South Africa than the victory of the Netherlands.

This lack of recognition has often been the bane of the less publicized teams. Their inclusion is initially resisted – one of the major cricket tournaments is called the Champions Trophy, where only the top eight teams in the world can play. Then, when they are included, they are simply seen as part of the numbers, mostly catalysts for a larger cause. The fact that they do everything to improve themselves despite limited finances and average facilities is never taken into account. These are feel-good stories, at best.

But one of the hallmarks of sport is to raise awareness, from time to time, that there is a plethora of “invisible” excellence. In the 1983 World Cup (60 wins), Zimbabwe beat Australia, and in 1999 the African country was knocked out of the group stage at the expense of Sri Lanka and England and even recorded a memorable victory over India. As Kenya reached the semi-finals in 2003, Ireland beat Pakistan in 2007, and four years later beat England in Bengaluru as Kevin O’Brien’s searing 63-ball 113 helped the Irish to hunt a mammoth 327.

In the ongoing T20 World Cup, Ireland beat West Indies and England; Zimbabwe beat Pakistan and Afghanistan came within five sets of beating Australia. In fact, in the 2021 and 2022 editions of the T20 World Cup, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh had to play the qualifying rounds to participate in the main tournament, while Afghanistan, which was not even full member of the International Cricket Council until 2017, gained direct entry.

In the midst of made-for-TV sports shows

Perhaps one of the reasons for the undesirability of “minnows” is the way modern sports are packaged and sold. There’s a very thin – often invisible – line that separates sports from entertainment, and prime-time TV slots and big-budget broadcast deals are a sign of that. It is now increasingly aimed at an audience that wants their stadium or home theater experience to be a thrilling spectacle, a hopeful escape from everyday struggles. A “minnow” whipped by a far superior team doesn’t quite fit this bill.

Perhaps that’s why a gang of 12 top European football clubs have sought to create a competition behind closed doors in 2021, seeing themselves as entertainers more than sportsmen. This may also be why the FIFA World Cup, which is due to start in Qatar on November 20, is often criticized as bloated, and the group stage of 32 teams – which is due to increase to 48 in 2026 — is a marathon sleep fest.

But the beauty of live sport is that it’s not captive and it’s not conforming. It often takes place in a messy, imperfect world, and that’s what makes it exciting and dramatic. Senegal beat reigning champions France in the opening match of the 2002 World Cup, South Korea eliminated Italy from the same tournament held in South Korea and Japan, and Indian club Aizawl FC became the champion of the 2016-17 I-League ahead of the power of clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Bengaluru FC are prime examples.

In tennis, it’s for this very reason that the 2021 US Open felt so fresh, with Daniil Medvedev beating Novak Djokovic to rob the Serbian of a record 21st Major and the first Grand Slam in men’s tennis – winning the four Majors in a single year. – since 1969, and teenage duo Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez in the women’s final. The sport rejuvenated last week when 19-year-old Holger Rune beat five top-10 players, including Djokovic in the final, to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Paris.

Building a Legacy

In today’s era of cutthroat professional sport, success is often defined by an inhuman standard. Any career that doesn’t end up building a legacy is not viewed favorably. But there’s more to the sport than impressive feats that end up creating icons. It is also about the aspirations and dreams of young people, novices and outsiders.

The value of the so-called minnows is justified not only by their winning but also by their enthusiastic participation. It is imperative that we give them time and space and provide them with enough competitive opportunities to grow. This is all the more essential in a sport like cricket if it is to become truly global.

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Ten years ago, writing in The Guardiancolumnist Andy Bull expressed his helplessness in trying to explain the words of Pakistani off-spinner Saeed Ajmal. doosra‘ – a delivery that goes in the opposite direction of a traditional off-break.

“I have long since given up trying to figure out how the conjurer did his trick with the watermelon,” he wrote. “After countless hours of fruitlessly scrolling through online discussion forums, I resigned myself to being beaten and told myself that life is richer if you leave room for a little magic. here and there.” So will it be in the game with the magic of the ‘minnows’.


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