Men’s cricket could return to the Commonwealth Games as early as 2022 if Birmingham is chosen as host city.
ESPNcricinfo understands that the city has been invited to bid for the Games by the UK government after Durban, which was originally scheduled to be the host city, was obliged to withdraw due to financial and political issues.
Women’s cricket was already included in the Durban schedule but Neil Snowball, the Warwickshire chief executive and a member of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games bid company, has confirmed the intention to include men’s cricket, too, subject to the agreement of the ECB and ICC. The format would be T20.
The games would be held at Edgbaston and at Worcestershire’s New Road home.
Birmingham will not be the only city vying to step-in as hosts. Cities in Canada, Malaysia and Australia are all expected to apply, while Liverpool have also confirmed their interest. Liverpool are not thought likely to include cricket among the sporting events.
Birmingham does have a couple of considerable advantages, though. As part of their bid to host the Games in 2026, they hired an independent company (Origin Sports) to put together a feasibility study that is understood to confirm their readiness for the event while, unlike some rival candidates, the city already has the vast majority of the venues – including the Alexander Stadium, Edgbaston, Villa Park, and the National Indoor Arena – required to host such an event in working order. The city does currently lack a 50m swimming pool, though one is scheduled to be opened in 2021.
Applications for the bid have to be received by the UK government by April 28 with a decision made by the end of July.
While the ECB has previously given their support for the idea of cricket returning to the Games, the support of the ICC cannot yet be guaranteed. India are scheduled to be the tourists to England in 2022, which might render their involvement more likely, but it is far from impossible that individual Commonwealth members could opt out of the Games even if the ICC grant their approval. England did not send a team on the only previous time cricket was included in the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998. On that occasion South Africa defeated Australia in the final.
Cricket is not currently one of the mandatory events incorporated into the Commonwealth Games but is on the list of optional sports that host cities have the power to add to their staging of the event as they see fit and with the support of the relevant sport’s governing body.
The Commonwealth Games might also be considered a stepping-stone towards cricket returning to the Olympics. Rugby 7s followed a similar route, appearing in the 1998 Commonwealth Games and progressing to the Olympics in 2016.
“It’s an obvious stepping-stone,” Snowball told ESPNcricinfo, “and, subject to ICC and ECB approval, we hope we can progress this four years earlier than we originally anticipated.
“We feel we have a very strong bid. Usually cities have seven years to prepare to host such an event, but we are certain we can deliver an outstanding Games in 2022 that includes men’s and women’s cricket.” (ESPNCricinfo)
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo