Ever since the ICC decided to reduce the next year's World Cup to a 10 team event, it has attracted strong criticism from all corners. The global governing body has been widely criticized by the fans as well as the critics, terming the decision as a step backward.
Taking a detailed look at this issue, it's very clear that this controversial move by the ICC is a move which safeguards itself from any financial losses. The move, which was first discussed in 2011, was in the aftermath of the 2007 World Cup, which was financially a flop event as arch-rivals India and Pakistan were eliminated in the group stages.
Both the countries have major fan bases, their exit resulted in low TRPs for the Super 8s and hence it was decided to change the format. The 2019 multi-nation event will be a financial hit, even if the big boys like India and Pakistan get eliminated in Round 1, as it will be played in a league (round robin) format where every team plays minimum 9 games.
The decision was debated once again, as the Associate countries performed strongly in the World Cup Qualifiers and in Bilateral series. They have a strong reason to revolt as they are in good form lately. Afghanistan and Ireland were given Test status in June last year, expanding the number of full members to 12. It means that 2 test playing nations, Ireland and Zimbabwe, will not be a part of the Marquee event. Nepal, UAE, Netherlands, and Scotland also performed strongly in the qualifiers but failed to win the ticket.
Cricket is slowly, but steadily globalizing. Qualifiers were so tightly contested that, at one point, even 2-time champions West Indies looked on the verge of going back home without the World Cup ticket, but the rain gods saved them.
If the ICC along with the fans want the tourney to be more exciting, a major step is to increase the number of teams and encourage the affiliate members to develop the sport in their respective countries. Underdog fairy-tales are the toast for any sporting event.
We can say that it was a major mistake by the ICC to reduce the number of teams, but it has rectified its mistake by taking a step in favor of the globalization of the game, giving T20I status to all its 104 member nations in April this year. Besides this, it is taking constant efforts to include the sport at 2024 Olympics in Paris or at the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
If the Associate nations continue to challenge the Test playing nations, the format of the qualification process is sure to change in the coming years. Sri Lanka and West Indies, which are not performing strongly, will have to take the qualification route if the ICC alters the rules.
Lastly, the Associate nations, along with the governing body, should make sure that playing the top 8 countries once in 4 years will not make them a better side, but playing them regularly surely will. With the support of the Full members, the so-called ‘Minnows’ are finally on the way forward, and there will be a day when Cricket is truly a global sport.