Surprise Countries that Could be the Test Nations of the Future
Afghanistan is one of the greatest stories in world cricket. In just a decade they went from the obscure depths of the World Cricket League to become one of the biggest teams in the world. It was a meteoric rise that few could have predicted, but one that has left many wondering, “Who will follow in their footsteps?”
With that in mind, here are the five countries most likely to replicate Afghanistan’s success ten years from now.
Germany is not a country that you would typically associate with the game of cricket, but they have been called the “fastest growing nation in world cricket” and if you exclude the Netherlands, they have more players than any country in continental Europe.
Most of this is down to Germany’s open immigration policy, which has helped them to build a team of strong, experienced cricketers from Asia and Africa. The German national cricket team has experienced a relatively slow ascent, gaining Affiliate status as recently as 1991 and then Associate status 8 years later, but in the last few years they have improved immensely and currently play in Division Five of the World Cricket League.
There are over 6,000 players of hard-ball cricket in Germany with many more playing soft-ball cricket. There are also around 400 cricket clubs compared to just 50 or 60 a few yeas ago. They have even had pieces in The Independent and on CNN, all of which have helped to further boost the game of cricket in Germany.
The Ireland cricket team has been steadily improving over the last couple years and was recently granted Test status, becoming the 11th nation to do so. They are still being written off because they are a small country that tends to stick with home-grown sports and don’t have a great affinity for cricket, but this is one of the fastest growing sports in the region, especially in Northern Ireland.
Typically, “Ireland” refers to the Republic of Ireland, with Northern Ireland either joining in with Team GB (as with the Olympics and Rugby League) or getting their own team (as with soccer and many other sports). There are a few exceptions though and cricket is one.
This has helped to boost the popularity of cricket in Northern Ireland, which in turn will ensure there is a bigger pool of talent to choose from for future generations. It may not topple games like rugby, hurling and gaelic football as the country’s most popular, but it could certainly challenge for a spot in the top five and that would be more than enough to ensure the Ireland cricket team continues to improve.
Nepal already has a place on the world cricketing stage, but they haven’t made much of an impact over the years. That could change though as they have invested a lot into their youth facilities and also have a growing number of senior and junior cricket clubs across this small nation.
Domestic cricket is on the rise after the founding of a new T20 league in 2014 and they are also beginning to create a generation of truly exceptional players that can make their mark on the world stage and inspire the next generations.
Nepal is small, but cricket is one of their biggest sports and in a few years they could emulate the rapid ascent that we saw from the Afghanistan cricket team.
The ICC has been targeting China for years and they finally seem to be getting their message through, with the Chinese cricket team granted Associate status in 2017. There is a relatively long history of cricket in this country, stretching back to 1858, but they don’t have that many clubs and they have thus far been embarrassed on the world stage, for the most part at least.
So why are China on this list? Well, for one thing, the ICC, and all of world cricket, is desperate to get China involved with the sport—if they succeed then everyone benefits. Secondly, China have invested large sums of money in sport over the last decade and most of that has gone into improving their output in sports that have a global interest.
Soccer has been one of their main focuses, and they haven’t exactly flourished there, but they have succeeded elsewhere. Snooker is a great example of this. Not too long ago there was only 1 Chinese player on the circuit, with the other Asian players hailing from Thailand. Today, China are producing as many young stars as Europe, and it’s all thanks to the countless clubs and trainers working behind the scenes.
1. The United States
If there is one country that the ICC wants to fall in love with cricket more than China, it’s the United States. It’s a similar story here, not only does the USA have a strong structure in place to nurture the next generation of sporting superstars, but it has a massive potential fanbase.
The USA also has a track record of quickly taking to international sports. They have improved immensely at the game of soccer and in the space of a single generation they have gone from an obscure team to world champions at Rugby Sevens.
The sports betting landscape in the US is also changing. History shows that sports betting can play a huge role in boosting high-action, fast-paced games, and while that doesn’t say much for long-form cricket matches, it’s great news for T20 cricket. If bookmakers in the US get behind a cricket competition, offering World Cup or IPL betting, and legal bookmaking continues to spread, it could introduce this game to more than 300 million new fans.
It takes a lot to convince the US public to follow any non-home grown sport, but the ICC’s work seems to be paying off. The USA became the 105th ICC member in 2019, just two years after the formation of a new governing body. There are also cricket clubs springing up all over the country, and while these are so far only really appealing to the Asian immigrant population, that could change in the near future.
by Adrian Sælen