Wake up the ICC Full Members as the Associate Members will be ever ready to give them sleepless nights! I recently wrote about the Irish Cricket Team, describing its rise from nobodys to virtual powerhouses, challenging the most strong teams evenly and playing a decent match with them.
The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, have seen plenty of surprises and unexpected results from both the Associates and Full Members teams. All these teams have made the most of it, by burning the midnight oil and making the opposition teams to lick their own wounds. Whatever any opportunity had arisen, they grabbed them instantly and thrashed or challenged the opposition at one point.
Before coming into the depth of the World Cup, the Associates come into the World Cup well prepared after playing the World Cup League(WCL), which all ICC member countries apart from the 10 Test-playing nations are eligible to participate in, is a well-structured and organised competition and has been for the last seven years. The WCL has been designed in such a way that there are ‘no games without context’, Tim Anderson, the ICC’s global development manager, explained. All matches are part of a qualification system that includes promotion and relegation. Cricket below the international top tier is well structured, with incentives for teams that do well. It is a pity that the Test-playing nations does not take a leaf out of their books.
This competition was first organised in 2007, with six divisions, and played over a two-year period. In 2009 it was expanded to eight divisions and the cycle increased to four years. Each division, apart from Division Eight, contains six teams that play each other once over the course of a week, followed by playoffs for positions, including a final. In Division Eight, the teams are divided into two groups of four. The top teams from each division are promoted to the one above and the bottom two in each relegated, apart from Division Eight, where five teams drop out and are replaced by the next best five, chosen from regional events, that is the ICC Developmental Regions, which I have already mentioned it down before.
At the end of each four-year cycle, 12 teams(all six Division One teams, four from Division Two and two from Division Three) compete in a World Cup qualifier to determine who will participate in the 50-over showpiece. This is how Afghanistan rose through the ranks from Division Five in 2008 to secure a spot in the 2015 World Cup in the WCL 2014. After each qualifier the two lowest-ranked sides from Division One are relegated. The management of Associate cricket is not something Full Members want to spend time on, so they are happy to leave it to the ICC to handle. Their own calendar, on the other hand, Full Members want total control over, because Test-playing countries, particularly India, England and Australia, generate substantial revenue, especially when they play each other. Associate cricket does not.
Many Associates, including Ireland, Hong Kong, Afghanistan, Scotland and Papua New Guinea, Nepal and UAE bring in more money than the ICC gives them, either through sponsorships or government grants, but they do not deal in big bucks. As a result their schedules do not have to be dictated to by the bottom line, and so they have no qualms accepting the ICC’s structure.
In that light, Afghanistan’s story is less a fairy tale and more a case of securing funding through proper planning and sound domestic structures. “Often it is the countries with good domestic governance that end up being successful in the long run,” Anderson quoted – “Good administration often underpins good performance. A lot of successful performances are achieved because of excellent structures. Afghanistan are a beacon for good administration. Ireland are another example. They have one of the top administrations in the cricketing world.”
The ICC sees no reason why more fledgling cricket countries cannot emulate those examples. There is enough cricket activity taking place across the board, with the number of participants in Associate and Affiliate countries having doubled in the last four years to a million people – and enough guidance and support on offer from the game’s governing body if it is wanted. “We offer advice in terms of managing organisations and generally improving cricket. Members that alert us to their needs are more likely to get assistance,” Anderson said.
The ICC’s development arm believes it can declare the work it has done so far a success because of the performances the Associate teams have produced. Currently there are more competitive Associate teams against Full Members than ever before. The gap between the leading Associates and lower Test teams is becoming minimal. The feeling among cricket fans when an Associate beats a Full Member is that it is no longer a flash in the pan.
The Associates are making an ever-greater impact on the world cricket stage, and to build on that they want more fixtures against Full Members. It was their hope that in the ICC’s restructuring there would emerge a system to include Associates in more ODIs, and that that could form an element of World Cup qualification.
However in 2014, ICC CEO and former South African cricketer Dave Richardson had announced that the next edition of the World Cup, scheduled to be held in England and Wales in 2019, will feature only ten teams. The 10-team tournament has gained much criticism due to the lack of more associate teams participating in the tournament but as of March 2015, the ICC look to be keeping the competition at just 10 teams.
Ireland top-order batsman Ed Joyce has launched a strongly worded attack on the ICC for reducing the number of teams allowed to play at future World Cups. He said that cricket seem to be the only sport that has a World Cup which is contracting rather than expanding. The 10 teams for the 2019 World Cup will be made up of the top eight in the ICC rankings plus the two teams from the qualifying event, which is to be held in Bangladesh in 2018.
Joyce commented – “I hate to say it, but this could be our last World Cup because it is going to be very difficult to get into that top eight and, with the qualifying tournament in Bangladesh, they are going to have a home advantage. I wholeheartedly disagree with the reasons for that. I do not think it is the way a sport should be run, especially one that speaks about expanding and trying to get bigger. Opportunities are obviously dwindling for sides outside the elite and that’s obviously not ideal for trying to grab the game at home. There is an appetite, but we need an opportunity.”
Also, many former cricketers have criticised the format of the next edition of the competition, saying that there will not be much development of cricket in smaller countries and that the ICC is robbing the opportunities that the Associates are currently enjoying up till this World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar has called the ICC’s decision to reduce the number of teams in the 2019 World Cup ‘a backward step’ in the global expansion of cricket and described the lack of consistent matches available to Associate sides as unfair.
Tendulkar, the brand ambassador for the 2015 ICC World Cup, told the audience at an exclusive dinner in Sydney that the ICC should instead be exploring ways to expand the next World Cup to as many as 25 teams. He also suggested Full Member nations should regularly play their ‘A’ sides against Associates and strive to provide a fair platform for smaller cricketing countries. Tendulkar added that he believes cricket’s global fan base will only grow if the Associates improves constantly to the level where they can be consistently competitive and he believes the first step is to schedule regular matches against second-string sides from the Full Members nations.
While calling for an expansion of the World Cup, Tendulkar also spoke about his concerns for the 50-over format and said he had suggested to the ICC about splitting ODIs into two 25-over innings. He further said that Test cricket definitely will survive and T20 is definitely going to survive. There is a big question mark over one-day cricket as it is getting monotonous in the long run and has casually suggested the ICC to look into the matter.
Inspite of so many restrictions imposed in the next edition, the Associates continue to inspire many by putting up great performances and virtually challenging the ICC’s decision to revert back to the normal format. The associate nations have been long knocking on the ICC’s door to recognise their performances for sometime now, but in this World Cup, they are in a mood to blast the door open.
Back-to-back thrillers, not in a movie marathon, but in the 2015 World Cup. Plenty of nerve-racking games of cricket were played but interestingly, none of the big teams were involved. Firstly, Ireland scraped past the United Arab Emirates with a two wicket win. Afghanistan and Scotland produced another nail-biter. Both Afghanistan and Scotland were seeking their first win in the World Cup and the Afghans did that with a one wicket victory.
Ireland continued their giant killing acts, starting with their shocking win against Pakistan in the 2007 edition, won against England in a high scoring thriller in 2011 and gave other teams, including India a minor scare. Now in this World Cup, they defeated the West Indies by chasing their third successive 300 target in all World Cups. They even defeated Zimbabwe by a mere five runs after putting up a competitive 331 on the board. Against India, they played well for their 260 odd runs and they were pathetic against South Africa, where they conceded over 400 runs and lost by over 200 runs.
This team has already proved its worth and potential every time they were given an opportunity. However, with ICC’s plan on staging a 10-team competitive World Cup in 2019, it can be a huge dent to the hopes and confidence of a team that is apparently the next likely receiver of the test-status. Every Irish cricketer hates the word ‘minnow’. They hate it more than they hate England poaching their stars. Featuring four times in the top ten chases in the World Cup history, Ireland have earned a seat at the big table. They are not in the business of producing an odd scare for the big teams any more, they are certified giant killers.
They have lost their big names to England, yet have a batting order that chases down 250-plus scores with utmost ease. Their bowling looks a tad weak after the retirement of Trent Johnston and of Boyd Rankin, but their spirited efforts on the field have backed up the bowlers beautifully. The Irish, this time, are serious contenders for a top-eight spot. Most of their players appear in the English domestic circuit and as a result, they are continuously involved with the game. Impressive in the ODIs, Ireland is likely to make amends in the longer version as well.
Next up is the Afghan cricket team, whose story in World Cricket is a bit similar to what we see in movies nowadays. The team despite the shortage of proper facilities alongside their own country’s internal tensions and turmoils never gave up their passion for the game. Today they have become a team which has its ability to shake the opposition. The team received its ODI status in the year 2010, but were not able to qualify for the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
In the last four years, the team has faced test-playing nations such as Australia, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and have been able to defeat both Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, being their biggest achievement till date. Lead by the talented all-rounder Mohammad Nabi, the team boasts of a number of talented cricketers such as Samiullah Shenwari, Nowroz Mangal, Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran to name a few.
One cannot go beyond Afghanistan when one talks about ‘spirit’. The Afghan team is the darling of the cricketing world and rightly so. The 2015 World Cup is special to the Afghans as it is their maiden appearance in the biggest cricketing event. Although they lost badly to Bangladesh in their opening game and almost won against Sri Lanka in the next, this side can go on to win against a big team in its upcoming games. They got their maiden win against Scotland. Their start to international cricket has been a brisk one suggesting this team has a good future ahead.
The United Arab Emirates(UAE) too, have been quite a package. A team of amateurs professionally, the UAE house players from various walks of life such as bankers, teachers, airline and construction workers. The players in this team earn a living through basic jobs and are mostly into their thirties and forties. Led by the 43-year-old Khurram Khan, this team has already raised a few eyebrows with their show of determination. Although they have not been able to squeeze out a win yet, they have put up a brave front in each of them.
The UAE come back to the World Cup after 19 years with better players and improved facilities, the last being the 1996 event. Most of their players belong to different origins consisting of Indians, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans who are settled in the country. Although not as strong as Ireland or Afghanistan, the team has talented individuals. This team has a lot of potential to unsettle the oppositions in the upcoming games.
Scotland too, have held their own in this tournament. Except the game against England, where they lost the plot completely, the Scots have been pushed the other teams hard, just like their counterparts Ireland.They ran through the New Zealand middle-order, gave West Indies a serious scare and then against Afghanistan, they paid the price of inexperience. Though, they are searching their first win in the mega event, yet this team has raised its status of challenging and perhaps, overpowering the opposition and they are a treat to watch.
This is where the ICC needs to come in. The World Cup needs slimming down, true, but it should not be at the cost of the minnows. In fact, if the minnows are good enough, they should be given a chance to overpower a few struggling Test nations. The ICC needs to facilitate more international games throughout the year for these teams. They should be given a chance to participate in tri-series and four-nation tournaments, so they can gain the required experience to cause some serious damage to the Test playing teams in the World Cup instead of delivering a few upsets occasionally.
The ICC’s plan to do away with these emerging sides in the World Cup in order to have more ‘competitive’ games can hurt their progress in the future. There was a time when these associates were of no competition against the big teams. Things have changed, the teams are more determined to prove themselves and the big teams tend to take them more seriously today.
The deserving teams who have been good should be provided Test status, a process that has been delayed in the case of strong Ireland. Ireland, Afghanistan and Scotland’s performance in this World Cup have been far better than those of big ones such as Pakistan, Zimbabwe, West Indies and England. ICC will have to reconsider its decision of avoiding the Associates in the next edition of the World Cup.
The scene needs to change for the betterment of cricket and in Australia-New Zealand, the minnows have already shown their promise and their prowess. Removing minnows will completely destroy the gentleman’s game. They have sounded their arrival loudly but is the ICC listening? We should come across some turbulent times both by the Associates and the ICC, but let us just hope that positivity defeats the negativity.