Why the associates need the World Cup platform
Cricket has an image of being elitist. To make it a global sport, the associates need more exposure and restricting the world level tournaments to the elite without having a contingency play is a regressive idea.
It has been really refreshing seeing the Associate teams punch above their weight so consistently in the current edition of the World Cup. If they are able to keep up this level, it will surely spice up the round robin stage which was expected to be a mere formality up to a few weeks ago.
The performances have been especially refreshing considering the fact that these teams do not really get enough opportunities to play against quality oppositions often. That they are able to up their game to the best of their abilities when needed is a testament to their remarkable determination.
To put that into perspective with numbers, not accounting for matches at multi-national tournaments like the World Cup and the Asia cup, Afghanistan has played 25 ODIs since 2011, six of them against a Test playing team, and Ireland has also played 25 ODIs since 2011, with eight of them being against a Test team. Compared to that, Bangladesh has played 49 ODIs of which only one has been against an Associate tean.
The numbers for a team like India or Australia are even steeper (more than 100 ODIs since 2011).
The Associate nations need exposure
A couple of questions arise here: the Associates are putting their best foot forward, but wouldn’t they be able to perform and handle the pressure of the grand stage better if they were given more exposure? Also, if their performances taper off from here, who is to be blamed for that?
There are two important qualities required in any sport – skill and temperament. Skill can be taught and can be achieved via sheer weight of practice, but temperament comes only through real pressure situations. Throw someone into the cauldron once in a blue moon and you really cannot expect great achievements and results from them. For them to be able to become better skill-wise as well as temperament-wise, they need to play more against the elite and test themselves consistently.
I believe that a major reason for Ireland achieving some level of consistency is their proximity to England and the exposure they get while playing against county teams in certain tournaments. They have been able to gather exposure from seasoned internationals as well as domestic cricketers and understand what it takes to rise up to the occasion.
Afghanistan, lately, has been getting its fair share of opportunities to play against quality oppositions, and you can see that they too are improving steadily. If they keep playing more such matches, the cricketers from these countries would stick to the sport as well as the country they love so much.
One of the biggest losses for cricket as well as the Associates is that Ryan ten Doeschate doesn’t play for Netherlands anymore. More than for cricket, it was a loss for Netherlands because he was the lynchpin around whom other cricketers would have rallied and helped Netherlands grow and become a better team. Lack of opportunities and pay does that to any talented cricketer.
If Eoin Morgan and Boyd Rankin still played for Ireland, they would have been an even more formidable team. Not only would they have added their personal skills to the team, they would have helped further strengthen the temperament of others in the set-up, allowing them to cause more upsets in a single tournament.
Currently, the only thing that these Associates get are such world events to compete against the big boys. And how have they have fared vis-à-vis the Test nations, who are supposed to make the tournament more balanced and competitive, filled with nail-biting finishes? The only two really close matches that have been played in this edition of the World Cup have been played between Associate nations.
The Associates have performed admirably in this World Cup
If the Ireland vs UAE game was fabulous, where Ireland held on by a couple of wickets chasing a target of 279, the Afghanistan vs Scotland game took the level of competition a notch higher. Afghanistan refused to give up even after being almost down and out with 79 to get and only a couple of wickets to spare while chasing a paltry target of 211. Samiullah Shenwari did what Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel did together for the Aussies against the English team back in 2003.
The teams who have actually failed to compete the way they were expected to are the likes of England, Pakistan and South Africa, practically throwing the ICC’s idea of how to make a World Cup more competitive into the bin. Ireland comfortably trounced West Indies, Afghanistan fought tooth and nail against Sri Lanka and Scotland fought really well against the mighty Kiwis.
What has been evident from the way the Associates are playing is their will to win and a never-say-die attitude, which have been absent amongst a few of the Test playing nations. That may very well be because the Associates know this is the last time in a while that an opportunity to play a World Cup will present itself; their spirited performances may very well be a solid attempt to prove to the governing body how wrong they are about their notions.
Whatever the reason may be, it is undeniable that their performances have made this tournament very interesting and given the ICC many reasons to eat its hat.
If the elitist propaganda of the ICC is pushed forward for such world events, how can we expect any of the so-called non-elite teams to make it to the next level? If they do not get the opportunities to become better, how will they become better? If not the world stage, what provision has been planned to provide these teams the platform to gain the requisite exposure at the highest level?
If the powers that matter want to take such opportunities away, it is a must that a contingency plan is put forth so that the already diminished exposure doesn’t reduce any further. For cricket to gain any ground on the global level, how the best of the Associates shape up and how they are groomed to become better is extremely important.