It is tempting to think that there is more professional international cricket currently being played than at any other time during the history of the game.
In New Zealand, the women’s one-day international tournament of 50 overs per side is underway. In Sri Lanka, the Indian men’s Test team comprehensively beat the host team in a two-match series. Pakistan is hosting Australia for the first time in 24 years in a three-match Test series, while the West Indies men are contesting a three-match Test series with England.
Earlier this month, Bangladesh men and Afghanistan shared the honors in a two-match T20 series, following on from a three-match ODI series, won 2-1 by Bangladesh, while in New Zealand, South Africa’s men drew a two-match Test series with the hosts.
As if this abundance of series was not enough to keep a handle on, the next round of the International Cricket Council Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2 has resumed. This is part of the qualification pathway to the 2023 World Cup due to be held in India.
Seven teams comprise the league. The top three will progress to a qualifying tournament in June 2023 in Zimbabwe and the bottom four to a play-off stage for the right to join that tournament.
In the League 2 pathway, which began in August 2019 and has a cut-off date in February 2023, each team hosts three tri-series, generating 21 in all. On each occasion, the host team will be joined by a different two of the other six teams, with each team playing each other twice. This means that, during the tournament, each team plays each other team twice at home, away, and at a neutral venue.
In the current tri-series, the UAE played host to Oman and Namibia between March 5 and 12, followed by Nepal and Papua New Guinea between March 15 and 22.
This series was originally scheduled to be hosted by Papua New Guinea in June 2020 but is now in the UAE. The magnitude of rescheduling that is required to catch up with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been substantial.
One example has been the slotting in of a postponed Oman versus Namibia match into the current tri-series in the UAE. As a result of the COVID-19-induced disruption, the number of matches competed by the teams has been very uneven. Oman has completed 28 matches, winning 17 to claim top position, while the other six teams have played between eight and 16 matches. Scotland and the UAE lie in second and third places.
Playing catch-up with series and fixtures is one explanation for the plethora of cricket in evidence. Another factor is its planned expansion.
The ICC’s vision in its Strategy for Global Growth, unveiled in November, was to make the game accessible to more nations, players, and fans, with a distinct focus on investment in women’s cricket.
An early response to this came last week from Cricket Ireland, which announced a 1.5-million-euro ($1.66 million) investment that included the offer of 20 women’s playing contracts — seven full-time, nine part-time/educational, and four non-retainer contracts — tripling its pre-2019 expenditure.
The Irish women’s team is ranked just outside the top eight and will be aiming to improve the ranking based its new professional status.
The women’s ODI World Cup, which is taking place now, has an eight-team, round-robin format in which all teams play each other, the top four qualifying for the semi-finals. England, as reigning champions, has lost three of its first four matches and may not qualify.
Meanwhile, England’s men’s team is attempting to recover from its recent disastrous performances in Australia. It produced a much-improved batting display in the first Test against the West Indies, but its bowling attack lacked experience and guile to force victory.
Much criticism was levelled at the pitch prepared in Rawalpindi for the first Pakistan-Australia Test match. A combined 1,187 runs were scored for the loss of only 14 wickets. The match referee rated the pitch as below average as it did not allow for an even contest between bat and ball. There was a lack of pace and bounce for fast bowlers and no assistance for spin bowlers. Consequently, the ICC has penalized the Pindi Cricket Stadium. It could have been worse.
Pitches categorized as poor or unfit carry higher penalties and possible withdrawal of status. Such pitches do not help the cause of Test cricket.
Pakistan is in a difficult position. Following a terrorist attack on Sri Lanka’s team in 2009, there was no Test cricket played on home soil for 10 years. Since 2019, Pakistan has hosted three two-match series against Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and South Africa. Australia’s visit is a symbolic next step in Pakistan’s return to home-hosting but, in deadening the pitch to negate Australia’s pace attack, a new problem was created.
The upshot is that Pakistan’s Test pitches will be overhauled. Some redemption was achieved in the second Test in Karachi where a remarkable contest unfolded. Pakistan was set a fourth-innings target of 506 to win, scoring 443 for seven wickets to secure a draw and, almost, an improbable, historic, victory.
Among the potpourri of international cricket that is being played this month, it is possible to discern some trends.
First, is the re-emphasizing of Australian ascendancy in both women’s and men’s cricket. Second, is that India is about to embark on a fresh challenge to that position. Third, is that women’s cricket is developing fast in countries such as South Africa, the West Indies, and Ireland. Fourth, is that England has entered a testing transition in men’s and women’s cricket. Fifth, is that Pakistan is seeking to re-establish itself as a major force. Sixth, is that the UAE and Oman have established themselves as serious challenges among associate countries, as well as in providing top-class hosting facilities for major competitions.
A constant trend, the expansion of T20 cricket, is about to receive its next boost with the start of the Indian Premier League 2022 on March 26.
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