Why a 10-team World Cup is unfair to the Associate Nations
Every time there comes a period in a four-year cycle that tends to get the entire cricketing fraternity excited. And that tournament is the World Cup. The world gears up to watch a spectacle. It’s nothing less than a festival that goes on for about 40-45 days. Teams (or countries rather) battle tooth and nail to win the most prized trophy in cricket history – ICC Cricket World Cup Trophy.
There’s a lot at stake, teams start preparing well in advance to be ready for the mega-event. Plans, strategies, team combinations and opportunities – everything is an important part of each team that plays the World Cup.
However, there has been one debate that is circling around and that is the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) decision to bring down the number of teams playing the World Cup to 10. There have been several discussions, arguments and criticisms surrounding this matter ever since ICC made this decision to cut down the number of teams playing the World Cup. Hence, it meant that 8 teams would gain a direct qualification while two others will be the ones who play the final of the World Cup Qualifiers.
Only two teams from these Qualifiers deserved a place in the World Cup?
Looking at the World Cup Qualifiers, it certainly doesn’t look like only two teams deserved to qualify for the main event in 2019. The 10 teams that played the Qualifying event in Zimbabwe were brilliant. Yes, teams like Nepal, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea don’t really inspire confidence and nobody gave these three teams an iota of a chance to qualify. But if they don’t play at the big stage when will they get experience at the big stage.
Also, it would’ve been difficult to imagine a World Cup without West Indies. They had to play the Qualifiers to qualify for the main draw. And look how they had to fight it out and also depend on a little bit of luck to get through. They had it easy in the group stages but they had to battle hard in the Super Six. First, they lost to Afghanistan and then had to chase down 290 against Zimbabwe and in a must-win game against Scotland they got lucky with rain which brought Duckworth-Lewis into play.
Scotland were brilliant in this tournament. No one gave them a chance and they surprised everyone and lost out on a World Cup spot due to some poor umpiring and Duckworth-Lewis. The entire cricketing world felt bad for them. It was in their hands and luck decided to turn its back on them.
Hosts Zimbabwe were strong contenders and played like favourites as well. With just 1 win required from their last two games to qualify, they lost both and squandered the opportunity. They produced some thrilling games and played exciting cricket in this tournament.
UAE were good too. Just look at the last game they played against Zimbabwe. They had no chance of qualifying but they put in their 100%. They played like it was a final of a tournament and eventually did Afghanistan a favour by kicking the hosts out of the finals race.
Afghanistan and Ireland began with contrasting styles but the two of them battled it out for the 10th World Cup spot in the final Super Six game. And eventually, it was Afghanistan who fought well and won a close contest.
With the way teams fought for the two spots, it clearly showed that these teams are improving by the day and they need to be given a lot more opportunities. And it certainly didn’t look like only 2 teams deserved to take part in the World Cup.
The smaller teams carry the element of surprise
Looking at the history of the World Cup and the format it’s played in, one might argue that these teams don’t stand a chance and there might be an argument that these teams play just to fill in the numbers. Well, if we take a closer look, that is not just the case.
Think of the 2003 World Cup, which teams reached the semi-finals? It was Australia, India, Sri Lanka and surprise, surprise Kenya. They had a wonderful tournament. They won 4 games in the group stage before beating Zimbabwe in the Super Six and qualifying for the semi-finals. Yes, they lost to India in the semi-final but it was a tournament to remember for the African nation.
Remember 2007? Remember 2011? Ireland and Bangladesh knocked big power-house teams like Pakistan and India out in the group stage in 2007. Ireland chased a massive target of 327 against England in 2011.
Yes, there might be an argument about how the 10-team format might help the teams improve their cricket and take nothing easy. But the top-8 teams play the Champions Trophy anyway. What will be the big difference between the World Cup and Champions Trophy? (in terms of format).
Look at the FIFA World Cup, everyone knows that not all 32 teams have a chance. But it is the exposure which will help the low-profile teams get better. Hence, the ICC needs to have some way to give these associate teams more opportunities to prove themselves.
Nepal has just gained ODI status and it is a remarkable achievement for the entire nation. A 17-year old leg-spinner from Nepal will be sharing the dressing room with the likes of Gautam Gambhir, Glenn Maxwell and Kagiso Rabada. What a moment that would be not only for the youngster but for the entire nation.
Afghanistan’s rise in world cricket has been superb as well. They have beaten teams like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and West Indies and have proven themselves. They are producing exciting superstars. Rashid Khan is one of the most sought-after bowlers in limited-overs cricket. Mohammed Nabi and 17-year old Mujeeb Zadran have also created an impact. They will be playing red-ball cricket in India in June this year and what a moment that will be for Afghanistan.
When do these ‘minnows’ get to play the big teams?
These minnows have time and again shown that they deserve more opportunities, especially at the bigger stage against the bigger teams. And World Cup is the only stage where the ‘minnows’ can compete against the ‘big teams’. Otherwise, when will these low-profile teams get to play them? The international calendars are packed and the ‘big teams’ rarely get off days.
Meanwhile, these associate nations (or the minnows) battle it out in their own leagues to slowly emerge as the best among themselves. But what do they get out of this? Not much. They continue playing their leagues without getting any attention despite performing consistently.
And what about promoting the game? We often argue about how we need to promote the game and take it unknown places. If the biggest cricket tournament is played by just 10 teams how will the other nations get motivated?
Looking at the performances of the teams in the ICC qualifiers, the quality of cricket played and the heart-breaks in the tournament, the ICC certainly needs to look into the 10-team World Cup format and think whether it will produce the desired result. Next year’s World Cup will also be the first ever edition without an Associate nation.
When ICC proposed the 10-team format for World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar had termed it as “a backward step” and wanted a World Cup with 25 teams. So, is it the right decision that the ICC has taken by having only 10 teams in the upcoming World Cup? Nobody knows. But, there has to be a way to encourage the associate nations to play more and give them more opportunities.