Cricket hasn't taken its opportunities to become a global sport, but there may still be hope of a better tomorrow
The first cricket Test match took place in 1877. It's been over 140 years since then, yet only 10 teams will be playing the Cricket World Cup next year in England.
This is not only a travesty for the game but also for the viewers. You only have to look at other popular sports to see why more teams is a must. In football, there are 32 teams playing at the World Cup, giving a chance to players from different regions and therefore widening the fanbase.
Giving more teams a chance would no doubt widen interest leading to more viewership, but also increase the chances of an upset. We often undermine the value of an upset to sport. An upset proves the unpredictability of life, and that is what makes sports special. Such moments define sport and make for great moments.
In cricket, a few instances like this have been seen; for example, in the 2007 World Cup, India and Pakistan were beaten by Bangladesh and Ireland respectively. Such moments can spur the popularity of the sport.
In the 2016 WorldT20, Afghanistan were the find of the cricket world. Had the associate teams been shunned at that event, who knows if the phenom that is Rashid Khan might have ever been discovered.
Let us move to more recent times like the moment when Nepal, in extraordinary fashion, managed to qualify to play in the World Cup Qualifiers, sparking celebrations throughout the country. Nepal still face an uphill task to qualify for the World Cup but the astonishing fact is that the game in which they dramatically beat the UAE was not even televised.
Forget promoting the game; the ICC is not even taking all its chance to gain extra revenue. If the sport is to truly go global and make more money, the ICC has to take the initiative and promote these associate teams.
The ICC’s main source of concern remains the length of the World Cup, and how more teams could mean a loss in revenue, but the format of the 2019 World Cup is plainly unimaginative with each team playing each other in a single group. The top four go through to the semis and so on, which would make for a fairly boring event.
I am no expert in devising formats but I am confident in my abilities to devise a better one than this. I feel like the knockout rounds are what make an event like the World Cup special, as do upsets. Therefore, I propose a 16-team World Cup, one where qualification is necessary but the global nature of the game is maintained.
This is not rocket science. A simple method of dividing the teams into four groups of four makes more sense, with the top two through to the quarters.
The question does arise as to how the 16 must be chosen, and I would say the top 10 from the rankings should go directly and the other six must be selected through the qualifiers. However, instead of only two teams getting a chance, six should.
The qualifiers will be played between 15 teams forming three groups of five, with the two remaining teams from the ranking system being added to the 12 teams from divisions 2 and 3 and the winner of division 4. The top two from each group then make it to the World Cup.
This system may have its flaws but it gives all teams a fair chance and promotes cricket, which in turn gives an incentive to countries where cricket isn’t prioritized. Furthermore, the cricket World Cup would end up having 31 games, solving the ICC’s problem of an over-long tournament while also including associates.
The qualifying process if managed properly will also aid in spreading the popularity of cricket to places where it seems to be on the decline.
The ICC has made some positive moves by increasing their funding for Associate nations, but more of the same is required to transform the sport we adore for the better. Cricket has many opportunities but refuses to take them.
When will we see cricket become a global sport? The decision to make it a 10-team World Cup has been opposed by everybody in the cricketing community, yet the ICC has not budged.
Hopefully, better sense prevails and in the future we will see a fairer system. In no way am I suggesting that my model is perfect or even close to that. It's just a suggestion, but if cricket's best minds can apply themselves in tandem, this age-old problem can get a solution.