TWO-TIME champions West Indies’ missing out on the Cricket World Cup for the first time in the tournament’s history, and host Zimbabwe’s gut-wrenching failure yet again, have been the biggest talking points of the qualification competition ending this weekend in the southern African country.
Sri Lanka and Netherlands prevailed in Zimbabwe and will be joining the eight automatic qualifiers for the World Cup in India later this year, a 10-team event that has drawn widespread criticism for its small size – a factor that almost certainly excludes some of planet’s most prominent cricketing nations from the World Cup every four years.
One of the most candid critics of the shortened World Cup has now turned out to be former Zimbabwe fast bowler Brighton Watambwa, who played six Test matches for his country in 2001 and 2002.
“Most sports are increasing the number of teams in the World Cup, but not cricket,” Watambwa, who later on captained lowly Belgium, told The NewsHawks this week from Brussels.
“Why is that, and would that be the case if India, England or Australia were at risk? No one says anything about this, but it’s shameful and highlights what we all already know. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all supported Zim cricket at some stages. What did England and Australia ever do? Prostitution is a thing! The hypocrisy in cricket is shocking. It’s been clear for almost a decade now.”
The once mighty West Indies, winners of the first two World Cup editions in 1975 and 1979, will be absent from the tournament for the first time after a humbling Super Six defeat to Scotland in Harare last week.
Hosts Zimbabwe, riding on the wave of record home support in recent times, were the next big-name scalp of the seemingly cruising Scots on Tuesday. The Chevrons then saw their World Cup dream go up in smoke with a 31-run defeat in Bulawayo, but Scotland were not able to wrap up qualification after a Bad de Leede-inspired Netherlands stunned them by four wickets on Thursday.
It means that two out of the three full members of the International Cricket Council (ICC) that took part in the qualifiers have been knocked out.
Netherlands goes through alongside 1996 World Cup champions Sri Lanka, although at the time of this interview it looked like Scotland had it in the bag, prompting Watambwa to hype the Scotsmen up despite inflicting pain on his home country.
“Fair play to Scotland, I will be supporting them as all these (lowercricketing nations) nations are going through the same s**t,” said the 46-year-old former express bowler.
In light of a smaller World Cup in cricket, involving just 10 nations of the planet in a sport that claims to be one of the world’s fastest growing sports, Watambwa has called for a financially viable breakaway structure to include the sidelined parts of the globe.
“I genuinely wish there would be the equivalent of LIV Golf in cricket because the current situation is bollocks. I really hope the Saudis come,” Watambwa said.
Launched in 2022, The LIV Golf rivals the iconic PGA Tour. LIV Golf, whose CEO is Australian former world number one golfer Greg Norman, is bankrolled by Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.
In the ongoing feud between the PGA Tour and LIV, it has been reported this week that Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer in history, would have been a billionaire by now had he agreed to join LIV last year.
LIV tournaments became the richest in golf history when the Saudi-financed tour began around this time last year, with each regular event totalling US$25 million in prize money. Despite attracting criticism from even some of the world’s best golfers, who accuse it of “diminishing golf as a sporting test”, LIV – initially bankrolled with at least US$2 billion – has not looked back, despite talk of a possible merger with the PGA tour.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia has also taken world football by storm, recruiting some of the global game’s biggest names, using the West Asian country’s vast wealth.
These are some of the riches that Watambwa would like to see being invested towards an equal distribution of power and resources in cricket, in the wake of the World Cup debacle.
Taking stock of the qualifiers in Zimbabwe, it is hard to disagree with Watambwa’s assessment that the forthcoming World Cup will be without quite a few decent international sides. Certainly Scotland and Zimbabwe, even West Indies, ought to be going to India had it been a bigger tournament.
Meanwhile, despite yet another tearful ending, 46-year-old Watambwa has praised the Zimbabwe team’s mix of talent and structure, labelling Dave Houghton’s side the best crop since the disturbances of 2003-04 when the country’s finest generation left at the height of a bitter conflict with the board.
“Either way, I like the way this team plays, there’s a lot more intent and belief, but at the end of the day I can only relate to when I played, as I’m not there anymore,” commented Watambwa.
“Ultimately, today’s game (Tuesday against Scotland) should’ve been a comfortable win. We seem to always be found wanting when seemingly all the hard work is done, regardless of generation. So again we fail, more heartbreak for the supporters and we look to the next tournament. The worst, and best part is, there was amazing support for the team, and it seems a team more united than I’ve seen for ages. But yet again we couldn’t cross the line when we had a great opportunity. Indeed one-day cricket is a game that’s decided on the day and how you perform on the day. But for me, there’s a certain personality that goes with that, and I remember thinking when I saw Scotland’s score, that we were going to kill it, but a very distinct note of caution is that we have never turned that corner of comfort, that an easy target is an easy win. A lot of that is exposure and experience. This team seems to me to be the most mature we’ve had for almost 20 years or so, but regardless of how many plaudits they deserve due to performance, circumstances always prevail and we end up perennial runners-up.”