The case for a Welsh national cricket team

Devolution is all the rage at the minute, but in cricketing terms England and Wales are still intimately tied together. Should Wales separate from the ECB and go it alone?

The World Cup is the great chance for the underdog, and Ireland have again proved in their tenacity what it takes for an associate member to compete in the international area. This year, cricketers from the Emerald Isle have followed up their win over England in the last World Cup with a win over the West Indies.

Welsh cricket finds itself somewhat flagging on the international stage – this is despite having  twice as many clubs as internationally recognized Scotland and nearly four times as many as Ireland.  It also has a population of club cricketers and fans that amounts to more than any of the Associate ICC members – the level below Test-playing status.

There is a strong alumni of cricketers from Wales who have gone on to represent England.  Ashes 2005 hero Simon Jones is the last Welsh cricketer to play for England, now ten years ago. Sydney Barnes, the legendary fast-medium bowler played 27 Test matches for England and took 47 wickets for Wales in first-class cricket, before retiring at the ripe old age of 57.

Robert Croft, Pat Pockock and Matthew Maynard, to name but a few, have also donned the Three Lions.

An all-time Welsh XI would be more than handy. The real question is whether they have the resources to field an internationally competitive XI.

Once upon a time, Wales beat England in a One-Day International. Okay, so it wasn’t really a One-Day International. And it wasn’t really a Welsh team, augmented by the world’s best all-rounder at the time and perhaps ever, Jacques Kallis. But Steve James and his men still fought tooth and nail to defeat an English side by the narrowest of margins.

Despite there being Wales age group teams up to U18s – I know this from personal experience having been stuffed in the County Cup final against a strong under 17s Wales side at Oundle – it does seem strange that they are not represented at senior international level.

In 2013, the matter was put up for debate at the Welsh Assembly. As expected for a proud nation, some proud views were aired.

Bethan Jenkins, Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on heritage, culture, sport and broadcasting said: “Wales is the second-oldest cricket playing country in the world, yet it is alone in the British Isles in not having its own national side. Even Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have their own teams.

“Rugby and football players get to grow up dreaming of playing for Wales. But for those who love cricket there is no Welsh team to dream of playing for or to support.”

There are of course manifold issues that would arise from a break away from the ECB.

Swansea East Labour AM Mike Hedges commented: “If Wales broke away from the England and Wales Cricket Board to set up its own board under the ICC, Glamorgan would have to leave the County Championship and there would be no more Test matches at the Swalec Stadium in Cardiff, with all the revenue it brings from Sky TV. If Glamorgan was no longer in the Championship, it would receive none of the shared-out revenue.”

The Welsh cricket team does have some history. Wales used to play against visiting teams like New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies during 1920s & 30s. They managed to defeat West Indies in the past. Wales also participated in the 1979 ICC Trophy. They performed commendably, winning two of their four matches and narrowly missing out on the semi finals.

The number of domestic players in Wales is higher than both for that of Ireland and Scotland. Glamorgan, the county team representing Wales, has won the county championship three times, while Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and Netherlands – who have also taken part in the County Championship – could not even come close to such performances.

We have seen fledgling teams such as the Netherlands, Ireland and Canada develop strongly in recent years. Given a chance to shine on the International T20 and ODI circuit, we have also seen the likes of Kenya and Afghanistan make the required steps to compete internationally. So why not Wales?

Wales would most likely look to become an Associate member of the ICC as a first step on the international ladder, and would soon find their way to the top of the pile alongside or slightly behind Ireland.

They would  be able to play in World Twenty20s and fight for World Cup places. They would be able to form a cricketing Celtic League with Interpro and Pro Series teams from Ireland and Scotland, dare we say, even England?

It would be a huge leap of faith but a strong one. We have seen Afghanistan come from out of absolutely nowhere to be competitive on the international stage. If the ECB allowed Glamorgan to stay in the County Championship, the move for Wales to go solo just might be potentially easier and quicker than first thought.

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