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The Australian men’s cricket team could be sidelined from the game’s historic return as an Olympic sport unless the side maintains a top five Twenty20 world ranking.
Cricket’s confirmation as one of several new sports at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics – alongside lacrosse, baseball, softball, squash and flag football – will feature six nations competing in separate men’s and women’s T20 competitions.
The lure of competing for a gold medal is a potential fillip for the international game, which is battling cashed-up T20 franchises and leagues bidding for players’ services.
A six-team format means a handful of top-tier nations will miss out on the sport’s first Olympic outing since 1900, with the International Cricket Council (ICC) previously proposing that qualification is based on T20 world rankings.
A decision on the qualifying process, and whether the lowly ranked USA would be granted a men’s and women’s slot as host nation, is not expected until 2025.
Australia’s women have long dominated the T20 format as three-time reigning World Cup champions and the No.1 ranked side, but the men’s outfit is ranked fifth in the world.
Australia’s men slipped as low as seventh in the rankings before their shock 2021 World Cup win in the UAE, and failed to progress from the group stage during last year’s tournament on home soil.
Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley said the prospect of Olympic berths being decided by ICC rankings would likely mean a rise in prominence for the bilateral series that dictates them, and countries pushing for their best players to play international T20s.
“We were very disappointed not to go further in 2022,” Hockley said of Australia’s most recent T20 World Cup campaign.
“If anything, I think you are seeing a trend towards more format specialisation … The challenge going forward is how do we make sure that we’re successful [in each format].
“We’re very fortunate that we’re also co-hosting the men’s T20 World Cup [in October 2028]. As we’ve seen in the build-up to this 50-over World Cup, there’s a real focus on one-day cricket.
“In the build-up to 2028, I think you’ll see a real focus from all the members, not just us, on the T20 format.
“The T20 World Cup, with the expansion now from 16 teams to 20 teams, is an opportunity for all of the cricketing countries to be able to compete.
“What the Olympics provides in 2028, and hopefully ongoing beyond that, is an even further pinnacle for the top six teams.”
Pat Cummins during last year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.Credit: Getty
Lucrative broadcast rights deals from the subcontinent have been a key driver in cricket’s Olympics return. It is also expected to feature at the 2032 Brisbane Games.
Hockley described the US market as “under-serviced in terms of cricket” but money is flowing into the game Stateside following the success of the six-team, Major League Cricket T20 tournament launch in July.
Aaron Finch, Moises Henriques and Faf du Plessis were among the captains for franchises that included New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Los Angeles. They are backed with millions of dollars from IPL owners and celebrities.
The US will co-host next year’s T20 World Cup alongside the West Indies, with games to be played in Texas, Florida and Long Island.
T20’s Olympics addition puts further pressure on the 50-over format, given an already crowded international calendar and the proliferation of domestic leagues around the world.
Asked if the chance to compete at an Olympics could stop players deserting the international game, Hockley said: “Absolutely, it’s another opportunity to represent your country on the world stage.
“The next exciting thing for cricket is that there’s more money and there’s more investment coming into the game.
“Our recent MOU with the players really sought to address a couple of things; one to make sure that our CA-contracted players remain among the best-paid team-sports people in Australia, so they continue to prioritise playing for Australia.”
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