Cricket at African Games: status kerfuffle leaves sour taste

The sudden de-listing of South Africa matches as official T20Is left many fans scratching their heads in confusion.
Shounak Sarkar
It was double delight for Zimbabwean cricketers as the African Games in Ghana concluded last weekend. Eleven days after the women clinched gold in a thrilling final against South Africa, the Chevron men’s team repeated their exploits by blowing away Namibia by eight wickets in the final.
Bowling first, they were immaculate with their lines and lengths, chipping away at the Namibians with regular wickets. Every time the batters looked to up the ante, a wicket fell, preventing Namibia from forming meaningful partnerships. The innings coughed and spluttered along, eventually reaching 113/7 from 20 overs.
None of the Namibia batters except captain Malan Kruger could manage a strike rate above 100. The Chevron bowling was miserly with every bowler conceding less than 6.33 per over.
In response, the Zimbabwean batters blazed away to a fast start and never looked back. It was a very comfortable chase with Zimbabwe romping home with 5.1 overs and 8 wickets to spare. Opener Tadiwanashe Marumani was the chief architect, hitting an attractive 58 runs off 40 balls with six fours and three sixes.
It capped off a brilliant tournament for the men who won every single game and barring a close-fought win against Tanzania, looked a class above the rest. They had earlier also beaten Namibia in the group stages by 35 runs.

Consolation prize for Namibia
As for the Namibians, they would consider themselves fortunate to pick up a silver medal after almost bombing out in the group stages.
The inexperienced team struggled, losing consecutive games to Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Facing elimination, they finally kicked into gear against Tanzania with a crushing seven wicket victory.
This led to a three-way tie for second place, with Namibia, Tanzania and Nigeria all finishing on two points. However, Namibia’s superior net run rate saved their blushes and ensured they qualified for the semi-finals.
In the semis, they defeated Uganda by 24 runs, courtesy of a brilliant spell by fast bowler Handre Klazinga, who picked up 4/19. Klazinga topped the Namibian wicket charts with seven scalps, while captain Kruger was the team’s highest run-scorer with 118 runs at 23.6.
Unfortunately, pacer Ben Shikongo wasn’t able to replicate his good form from the Nepal Triangular Series. While impressive in the semi-final, he only picked up four wickets overall and was largely ineffective in the two games against Zimbabwe.

Kerfuffle with official status and rankings
The good news story of cricket’s debut in the African Games was however tempered somewhat, mainly due to the selective application of official T20I status for games across the tournament. Prior to the event, it was widely understood that all matches will carry official status and therefore will influence rankings, dependent on results.
But halfway through the Games, some scorecards on ICC Match Centre and Cricinfo were mysteriously amended, with games involving South Africa seemingly stripped off official T20I status. The Proteas had sent a largely U23 developmental squad to the African Games for both men’s and women’s events, but were still expected to compete under the official senior South African team banner.
What transpired instead was bordering on the farcical, with the men’s team renamed to University Sport South Africa (USSA) and the women’s team to South Africa Emerging Players Women Cricket Team. Rather conveniently, this happened after the men’s team crashed out of the tournament at the group stages, following a shellacking by Kenya.
While not confirmed, it has been speculated that CSA made a behind the scenes request to ICC to remove the official T20I status from their matches. It is yet another sad reflection of how elitist mindsets continue to plague the sport despite a global push made by the game’s governing body.
Also, the Asian Games Cricket event last year didn’t suffer from similar issues, despite participating Full Members from the region sending developmental squads, especially for the men’s event. Regardless, all games were still recognised as official T20Is. It would’ve been ideal if the ICC or officials at the games displayed the necessary backbone to stand up to these demands to ensure consistency; particularly in the T20 format which is supposed to have universal status.
To make matters worse, there has been a dearth of media releases by certain parties involved to clarify the matter for fans and journalists. Instead, they have been left to ponder and speculate on social media and wait for the latest update to the T20I rankings table to comprehend what exactly took place.
It has since emerged that games involving Zimbabwe men have also been de-listed as official T20Is. This is according to a tweet from Cricbuzz cricket journalist Bertus de Jong who contacted ICC and received confirmation.