The International Cricket Council (ICC) is right now everyone’s favourite punching bag. All the criticism directed towards the ICC is about the decision to cut down the number of Associates and Affiliates at the next World Cup in 2019.
The fact that there will be just ten teams at the 2019 World Cup was known in 2011, so it is not a matter that has cropped up just now. But why let facts come in the way of an outrage? The issue is not about the lesser number of teams at the World Cup, it is about complete lack of knowledge about how the next mega event will operate.
Only eight sides will have the automatic qualification for the next World Cup in 2019. These will be the top eight sides as on September 30, 2017 on the ICC ODI Rankings.
Then the remaining four nations ranked in the ODI Rankings table (including Afghanistan and Ireland) will face-off against six other Associates in a Cricket World Cup Qualifier in 2018 in Bangladesh. So in effect it will be a battle between 10 sides for two spots. Where does it say that the Associates will not have an opportunity to play in the World Cup in 2019?
The outrage over cutting down the number of sides at the World Cup in 2019 is in a way justified. But what needs to be remembered that this decision was not made by the ICC staff or its CEO David Richardson. The board of the ICC comprising of all member boards was responsible for the decision.
The ICC is a member co-operative as Cricket Australia (CA) chairman Wally Edwards kept reminding us in the whole of 2014. So all the criticism should be directed at the members rather than the ICC. Unfortunately, the ICC is not a governing body in the true sense because of the structure of the sport.
The least everyone could do would be to look at how many opportunities are being created by the ICC for the top two Associates, Afghanistan and Ireland.
Ireland and Afghanistan, the only two Associates to be ranked on the ODI Rankings table will now be part of a 12-team ODI FTP calendar where the Test sides can play them regularly. Now, if the Test sides coming to Dubai to play Pakistan do not play an ODI nation like UAE or the Afghanistan, how can the ICC be blamed for it?
For their part, the ICC have given opportunities, by ensuring that Afghanistan and Ireland get to play more ODIs against the big boys. They have also been moved out of the one-day competition for the top Associates called the World Cricket League Championship. This is the most emphatic move by the ICC in favour of two of their best performing non-Test playing nations. Now, it is upto Afghanistan and Ireland to avail more opportunities. The ICC cannot force the full members to play either of them.
Afghanistan and Ireland will continue to be part of the first-class competition for Associates called Intercontinental Cup. So the opportunity to play a Test against the last ranked Full Member in 2017 is very much on for the champion of the Intercontinental Cup.
Also, what is the guarantee that Bangladesh and Zimbabwe will definitely play in the World Cup in 2019? We could well have Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, UAE or any of the other Associates taking the two available places in 2019.
Would that not be a big victory for world cricket? A Full Member being knocked out, just like you have at Football World Cups, where previous champions too miss out in the qualification process. Unfortunately cricket is not as evolved globally as football, but this is the closest we can come to developing a system.
The other factor is the television viewer, especially in India, the most important factor in all cricketing decisions these days. By 2019, the Indian viewer would have had eleven seasons of the Indian Premier League and and ten seasons of Champions League Twenty20. It would hardly be a surprise if international cricket, especially between the lesser sides, will have as much appeal for the Indian viewer as it does now.
The best place for cricket to be expanded globally is at the World Twenty20 where more sides can go, play and even cause major upsets. That should be the perfect launch pad for growth of cricket. Unfortunately, the cricket ecosystem for very long has had a warped view of adding more sides to the Test bouquet, when the growth has to happen at the bottom via the Twenty20 route. Hopefully the decision on World Cup 2019 can be the kickstart to being realistic about how the game can grow.