World Cup victory for Ireland should get the ICC thinking
I’ve been meaning to get round to writing a blog related to the ICC Cricket World Cup for a number of weeks now. In fact, I’d already started two and in doing so wrote in the region of a thousand words of rambling directionless twaddle. I have a point but I didn’t quite know what it was until England were beaten by Ireland by 3 wickets yesterday. In cricketing terms it was a massive upset but due to the nature of the tournament it’s highly probable that at the end of the group stages it will be Ireland going home not England. And to me that doesn’t seem right.
I have a bit of a soft spot for what the ICC call the associate nations (minor countries – in cricketing terms – that do not play Test match cricket) so got a bit of perverse enjoyment out of England’s defeat. I like to see the smaller teams succeed as I’d love to see more countries around the world playing, and competing, at the top level on a regular basis. Although 4 of these associate sides are competing in this year’s World Cup (Kenya, Ireland, Canada & the Netherlands) the ICC seem set on reducing the next tournament to just 10 teams next time around meaning that these sides will inevitably miss out. Where this leaves the associate nations in the long run I do not know as currently qualifying for the World Cup is their ultimate goal. Take that away and where’s their incentive to succeed? And with the lack of an incentive what can the cricket world, especially the ICC, do to help improve the quality of these nations?
The current problem lies in the gap between the test playing nations and the associates. Despite Ireland’s performance yesterday, presently the gap is too great. The ICC want to see the game expand around the world but they don’t want the quality of their premier tournament to be diluted as, one of the reasons being that, the commercial revenue generated from the tournament relies on the World Cup being just that, the premier tournament. Should the quality reduce so will the public interest which will have a knock on affect to the commercial income. Hence the reason they’ve decided to reduce the number of competing teams as without that commercial income the ICC won’t be able to fund, amongst other things, associate cricket.
The ICC fund participation around the globe by providing 8 cricket leagues played by 91 nations. These ICC World Cricket leagues take place over a number of weeks in a designated location and allow promotion and relegation between the leagues. Ireland are the current division 1 winners with Gibraltar & Suriname bringing up the rear in Division 8. The most recent tournament, Division 3, was won by hosts Hong Kong at the end of January. As your local club team would, the countries soon find their level on merit and get either promoted or relegated depending on how they perform. The league structure – which has been ongoing since 2007 – has by all accounts been a great success. The top 5 nations at the top of Division 1 earn One Day International status at the end of the tournament, one of which is Afghanistan whose meteoric rise through the system I talked about on my blog yesterday.
What I struggle with though is the fact that with such a good structure in place why are the top associates not then integrated with the test playing nations on a more regular basis? Despite the fact they have ODI status, how many times have England (or any other test playing team for that matter) played an ODI series with Kenya or Afghanistan recently? They haven’t. So what’s the point in them having ODI status? It seems a bit of a token gesture. Until these associates are playing against test playing nations on a regular basis in their own countries, their standard will not improve which, in turn, will have little effect on the growth of the game within the country.
The solution? Greater and more regular interaction between the test playing nations and the top 5 associates is a must. I’m not talking long ODI and test series but instead of meaningless never ending series between test playing nations each summer, how about triangular tournaments including an associate? Instead of a 7 match ODI series between England and Australia say, how about having a round robin between England, Ireland and Australia? Each team play each other twice, the top 2 teams then play in the final. Associate cricket gets the exposure it needs and the national boards get the 7 ODI’s they need to sell to the TV men. Once the associate nations begin to improve then the ICC can then look at expanding and changing the format of the world cup. It wouldn’t be a major change but it would be a start to improving the standard of associate cricket, help them move towards becoming test match status and also be a deterrent for players defecting to test match nations.
The system is in place for every nation to play competitive cricket. However, the traditional test playing nations are a world apart from the associates. It’s now time for the ICC to put a structure in place to close that gap.