• a small freshwater Eurasian fish of the carp family, which typically forms large shoals.
• a small or insignificant person or organization: the paper is a minnow in the national newspaper mass market
“We’re not minnows.”
Trent Johnston, 2012.
Odd terms in cricket seem to be the norm. The original meaning for Chinaman allegedly comes from when an English player couldn’t believe he’d been bowled by a West Indian player of Chinese heritage and said in a largely racist way: “Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman.” If a player said anything like that today he’d hounded in the press and suspended by the ICC. But yet we still call left arm wrist spinners, like Brad Hogg, Chinaman.
It’s doubtful that in modern cricket we’d ever have another racially motivated term come through. New deliveries are usually named by the bowler, a quick thinking member of the press or Tony Greig. And shots are mostly named after the batsman who plays them, or just a simple way of describing the shot.
If you aren’t one of the eight main teams in cricket, the boys club as the outsiders call it, you’re referred to as a minnow. A small fish of insignificance. Hardly worth talking about, mostly patronised, not seen as professional or good enough for teams to tour. In the 1983 World Cup the minnow Zimbabweans defeated the mighty Australians. In 1999 Zimbabwe played magnificent cricket. In 2003 John Davison set the tournament alight for Canada, and Kenya made the semi finals. In 2007 Ireland defeated Pakistan, and in 2011 they beat England. Over the years Bangladesh have often claimed big scalps as well.
That’s not even to mention that the very host of this tournament was a minnow who only 13 years after gaining Test playing status won a World Cup. Sri Lanka are the ultimate heroes for countries like Ireland, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and even Bangladesh. They went from non-Test playing to World Cup-winning in 13 years. When was the last time they were referred to as a minnow?
Minnow is a term I’ve always used. Associates and affiliates makes the teams sound like their insurance firms, and minnows is the term that everyone not associated with the non-Test playing world uses frequently.
Until a few days ago I never even realised that the smaller nations hated the word minnow. After a chat with the Afghanistan photographer and Ireland’s Trent Johnston, hate is the exact word some of the people from the associate nations feel about the word minnow. They feel it denigrates them as cricketers, patronises them, and doesn’t take their deeds seriously. Johnston probably has more right than most to hate it. He’s spent years being branded this way: “I’m sick of hearing minnow on the TV”. Perhaps the worst time for Ireland was the two months of constant minnow referencing when Ireland made the latter stages of the 2007 World Cup.
Afghanistan’s cricket team is their No. 1 ranked sporting team. According to Johnston, the Irish Cricket team is the No. 2 ranked sporting team in Ireland. These are not minority players or freak shows. Afghanistan, Ireland, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have probably spent more time preparing for this tournament than any of the major teams. This is their main chance of notoriety. They are full of professional players, coaches, analysts, fitness staff and administration. They came here to win. So far, with two of them heading home, and only must win games for Ireland and Bangladesh left, their chances are slim.
When they do win, they’re seen as comedy upsets or plucky amateurs who’ve downed the arrogant professionals. None of these teams win enough for their own liking. They all do what they can do to improve with average facilities and little finances. They’re aware they need to win more consistently to gain our ultimate respect.
But perhaps these sides have earned enough of our respect for us to stop using a word they believe, quite rightly, belittles them. We could stop using the term minnow in honour of all the time and effort professionals and amateurs have put into making their national sides stronger, especially those from nations that aren’t traditional cricket playing nations. These people have grown the game, often in places where it needs the most help, and I think the least we can do is just stop using a term they don’t like.
It’ll be hard for cricket fans and the media to stop saying it; it’s inbred so deep in cricket’s odd lexicon. But the good thing about cricket is that no one will settle for associates or affiliates as the name for long before someone comes up with something better. This time, perhaps it will be something a bit more respectful than calling anyone who doesn’t win regular Tests a small fish of insignificance. Cricket doesn’t really need the “M” word, but it does need sides like Ireland and Afghanistan.