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Opinion

Gap's never been wider between cricket’s Big Three haves and the have-nots ... and it’s only getting worse

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Expert
18th December, 2023
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Australia’s thumping first Test win over Pakistan highlighted the ever-widening gulf between cricket’s three superpowers and the other nations fighting a losing battle. 

It’s not just in the Test arena but in all three formats of the international game, in men’s and women’s cricket, that Australia, India and England hold all the aces. 

From the moment Pat Cummins won the toss and elected to bat in Perth, there was a sense of inevitability about the result which comes from not just this Australian team’s dominance in recent years but decades of doing likewise to stronger Pakistani outfits. 

It has been a similar tale for this summer’s other touring team, the West Indies, and sadly, South Africa slipped into the depths of touring cannon fodder last season by sending easily their weakest team across the Indian Ocean since readmission three decades ago. 

And the Proteas are set to send a watered-down Test team to New Zealand in February because they are prioritising having their star players available for the South African T20 league. 

Of the 12 Test-playing nations, who is a threat to the Big Three? 

New Zealand of course won the World Test Championship two years ago and always punch above their weight but with their talisman Kane Williamson, plus Trent Boult, Tim Souther and Neil Wagner in the twilight of their careers, there are doubts about whether they’ll have the depth to keep the top trio on their toes long term. 

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Pakistan should be a force to be reckoned with like India but due to self-inflicted dramas such as their history for sacking administrators, coaches and captains at the drop of a hat and issues beyond their control, as in the ongoing geopolitical conflict with their richer neighbours to the east, they have been perennial under-achievers apart from Imran Khan leading them to improbable glory at the 1992 ODI World Cup in Australia. 

Sri Lanka came within a whisker of qualifying for this year’s World Test Championship final but they are not a patch on their great teams of the past. 

The Windies and Zimbabwe are regressing at an alarming rate, Bangladesh have never made the leap from erratic to consistent performers on the international stage while Ireland and Afghanistan are still in the embryonic stages of their Test education. 

If you’re the pessimistic type, it’s not hard to think that being “world” Test champions isn’t quite the global conquest it’s made out to be. 

AHMEDABAD, INDIA - NOVEMBER 19: Pat Cummins of Australia lifts the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Trophy following the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 Final between India and Australia at Narendra Modi Stadium on November 19, 2023 in Ahmedabad, India. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

But it’s not just in the less financially sound arena of the traditional five-day game where the Aussies, Indians and English enjoy a stranglehold. 

One of those three nations has appeared in every men’s ODI World Cup final since it started in 1975 and they’ve won the past seven trophies since Sri Lanka upset Australia in the 1996 decider. 

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T20 cricket is seen as a leveller in that smaller nations have a better chance of success against the big dogs in the shortest version of the professional game. 

But the Big Three still claim the trophy or appear in the final more often than not – in the brief history of the T20 World Cup since 2007, the power-wielding trio have won four of the eight titles with only three finals not featuring at least one of them. 

Australia beat India to win the ODI World Cup last month after doing likewise in June to claim the Test crown. 

There are no prizes for guessing which three teams are the favourites with the bookmakers for next year’s T20 World Cup – India, Australia and defending champions England. 

In women’s cricket, Australia and England have won all but one of the 12 ODI World Cup finals (NZ breaking the sequence in 2000) while in the T20s, the Windies won the inaugural trophy seven years ago before the Aussies have claimed the past three on the trot. 

LUCKNOW, INDIA - OCTOBER 29: Jos Buttler of England is bowled by Kuldeep Yadav of India during the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup India 2023 between India and England at BRSABVE Cricket Stadium on October 29, 2023 in Lucknow, India. (Photo by Matt Roberts-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

Jos Buttler is bowled by Kuldeep Yadav. (Photo by Matt Roberts-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

And after investing plenty of resources into the female ranks in recent times and launching the Women’s Premier League last year, India are emerging as the main challenger to Australia’s golden run at the top. 

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It’s hard to see any nation in the short, medium or even long term mount a sustained challenge to cricket’s three biggest nations. 

Some have seemingly already given up the ghost to focus on franchise cricket and in many ways it’s hard to blame them. 

As the Australians, English and Indian boards tee up more and more bilateral series against each other, their coffers will continue to grow and the gap will increasingly become a yawning chasm, if it isn’t already. 

Australia Women’s T20 World Cup trophy.

(Photo by Daniel Pockett-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

And don’t expect the ICC executives to bite the hand that feeds them from the world’s most populated nation. 

International cricket will always have a place on the global landscape and great strides have been made over the past couple of decades to expand the number of nations like the Netherlands and Afghanistan who can compete with the traditional nations in the shorter formats. 

The lure of the unexpected glory from a World Cup boilover like Pakistan and Sri Lanka enjoyed in the ‘90s will keep players and fans living in hope that they can upset the balance of power away from the Big Three at any given tournament. 

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But international cricket will diminish over time if there’s only three countries with the resources to keep their best players away from flash franchises with cash to splash. 

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