Cup exclusion just not cricket

Once upon a time, for a decade or two, there were only three countries that played cricket at international level. England, Australia and South Africa. Then, one by one, the West Indies, India and New Zealand were added to the list.
Then Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

It took 120 years to get to 10, but the game was growing, albeit very slowly. Now, without the lure of the World Cup to aspire to, the world’s ambitious International Cricket Council associate nations say it will go backwards. Or at the very least, stagnate.

The ICC, having done an admirable job in spreading and developing the game all over the world, is now no longer allowing some of its greatest success stories to eat at the same table as the full members.

The decision was taken last October that the next World Cup—in Australia and New Zealand in 2015—will be contested by only 10 countries—14 currently campaigning on the subcontinent.
It is still to be decided which those 10 teams will be, with the ICC set to discuss qualification in April. A playoff series involving Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the leading associates is a possibility.

The Netherlands and Ireland, which respectively rattled and then beat England, the former custodians of the game, are the teams which stand to lose the most. But cricket lovers will also lose out. No minnows means none of the sheer delight that followed Ireland’s spectacular triumph on Wednesday night and no fairy tales like Kevin O’Brien’s stunning individual performance in lashing the fastest World Cup century.

Minnows have produced some of the most memorable individual performances. Remember John Davison’s 67-ball century against the West Indies at Centurion?

‘Nice to test ourselves’
The rank underdog very occasionally beating the odds is one of sport’s most charming features.
“It’s very disappointing, but I guess there’s a fine balance between maintaining the integrity of the competition and growing the game. We need to use the cricket we produce to make the case for having us around,” said Holland’s South Africa-born all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate.

“We don’t get the opportunity very often and it’s nice to test ourselves against the top teams. It’s difficult to get matches against the top sides; we’ve had one against a full member in the past two years,” Dutch captain Peter Borren said.

Whether the vanquished in mismatches actually gain anything from the humiliation is an ageless question, but Borren has no doubts. “We learn so much at competitions like this. Even against the West Indies, when we didn’t play well at all, we learned so much,” the skipper said, before taking on South Africa.

In spite of being rather condescendingly called “minnows”, the small teams have actually enjoyed some excellent World Cups.

Ireland and Bangladesh made the 2007 Super Eights, Kenya reached the 2003 semi-finals, while Zimbabwe made the Super Six that year and in 1999.

Ireland now have a very good chance of making the quarter-finals this year, especially if they beat The Netherlands and the West Indies.

South Africa coach Corrie van Zyl echoed the views of many players—and disagreed with the likes of Australian captain Ricky Ponting—when he said the minnows needed to be at the competition because “it’s important for world cricket”.

Conflicting demands
Van Zyl is the most reasonable of men, but his views are out of kilter with those of his own board.

In fact, the decision to cut the World Cup to 10 teams is believed to be supported by all the full member unions, at least by their boards, if not their players.

It will, of course, make for a very neat and tidy competition. Everyone plays each other once and the top four advance to the semi-finals.

Whether the burgeoning game of cricket will be killed off as a result in the likes of Ireland, The Netherlands, Kenya and Canada might not be immediately apparent.

There is no quick solution to the conflicting demands of full members, associates and television stations, which need enough matches to sell the advertising that covers their costs.
Too many matches also harm the product, which counts against a 12-team event. And if the 12 are split into two groups, there aren’t enough games.

A comprehensive qualifying tournament between the bottom-ranked full members and the leading associates is seen by some as a fair compromise, but not by everyone. The West Indies, for example, might be forced to qualify. And if they fail to do so, many Caribbean nations believe they would go out of business.

And what of the fully professional minnows, like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh? They invest millions of dollars in their domestic infrastructure and development programmes and, unlike Canada and the current Kenyan administrations which are beset with internal squabbling, deserve a regular place in the global economy of the game.

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