When Ireland was playing England in the Cricket World Cup 2011, little did anybody know – until Ireland started batting – that we were in for a surprise. England had put up mammoth total of 325 and Ireland was considered too small a team to overhaul the target. Led by Kevin O’Brien – who scored 113 off 67 balls – Ireland chased down the target, with 5 balls to spare, causing one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Cup. Yes, Ireland were minnows, an associate member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), not fitting the bill of top flight teams that a World Cup boasts of. At the same time, England were one of the pre-tournament favorites. Yet, the miracle happened, and as records tumbled the match stayed as one of the highlights of the richest cricket world cup yet (in terms of money generated for ICC). As teams prepare for the next World Cup (2015), especially countries like Nepal – who have to go through grueling schedule of getting through the World Cricket Leagues and World Cup Qualifiers – the proposed system of qualification for the teams to play in the 2019 Cricket World Cup, to be held in England, has come to the fore. Apparently through a leaked ICC document. And the number of teams to play the World Cup has been limited at 10, with top 8 countries getting a direct entry while two seats are to be contested among the teams having ODI status and from World Cricket Leagues. It was already announced that the 2019 edition would be a 10-team affair. Nothing new in that. But associate nations would have hoped that the decision is reviewed, at least with reference to what they’ve done at the highest level so far. Consider a few results from past world cups: Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983; Kenya beating West Indies in 1996; Bangladesh beating Pakistan in 1999; and Ireland beating Pakistan in 2007. All in their debut World Cups. Repeat stories of David Vs Goliath. Instances shown by minnows that they could contest at the top level, with teams touted as the best in the world. In fact, ICC had previously said that the CWC 2015 would be a ten-team affair too, but eventually decided to add four more teams at the ICC meeting post 2011 World Cup. The idea to keep the 2019 to a ten-team tournament beats logic. It has been said that the lesser number of teams would increase the level of competition. A recent example of warm-up game for ICC Champions Trophy between India and Australia would be enough to quell that notion. In reply to India’s 308, Australia were folded for 65. Yes, it was unofficial match, but the players were not unofficial. Ask Australians if they wanted to lose like that, yours truly doubts if anybody would say ‘Yes’. A minnow beating a stronger team shows that the level of competition has increased and not diminished. Sri Lanka, before winning the World Cup in 1996, had won as many as 4 matches in its previous 5 World Cups. Nepal coach Pubudu Dassanayake, who hails from Sri Lanka and has taken Canada to World Cup says, “Countries like Nepal can only become a cricket giant if we get the opportunity to play at the highest level regularly. When there is a target to play for a World Cup teams train hard and try to achieve a spot, so level keeps improving.” Once teams qualify for World Cup, the ICC preparation funding keeps teams improving. In absence of World Cup goal, it is difficult to see how associate nations would keep their spirits high. Recently added ICC funding of $ 175,000 to Nepal and $350,000 to higher associate teams would go in vain, if the World Cup goals are removed. ICC, before becoming International Cricket Council in 1989 and International Cricket Conference in 1965, was called Imperial Cricket Conference ever since it was established in 1909, for obvious reasons. A lot has changed since then and cricket power has shifted to South Asia. Probably that was the reason why talks of limiting the number of teams started making rounds following 2007 World Cup. In that World Cup, India and Pakistan had lost to Bangladesh and Ireland respectively, and were eliminated from the first round. Due to that, ICC had lost a lot of money. Doesn’t need a genius to tell you, limiting the number of teams at the World Cup is for reasons other than development of cricket.
Ed: This write-up appeared in The Kathmandu Post, on 8 June, 2013