Home > Cricket > Is the ICC right to exclude Associate teams from the next World Cup?

Is the ICC right to exclude Associate teams from the next World Cup?

Since the ICC Cricket World Cup began on the 19th February, nine matches have taken place in which a test playing nation has faced a so-called Associate team. For the most part, the matches have resulted in one-sided drubbings: Sri Lanka defeated Canada by 210 wins, New Zealand bowled Kenya all out for just 69 en route to a ten wicket victory, England defeated the Netherlands by six wickets with eight balls to spare, Pakistan hammered Kenya by 205 runs, the West Indies crushed the Netherlands by 215 runs, Zimbabwe put Canada to the sword in a 175 run victory and Sri Lanka beat Kenya by nine wickets.

Looking at these results, it easy to jump to the conclusion that the likes of Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands, are simply not fit to share the same field as the Tendulkars, Sangakkaras and Afridis of the world, and that they should be left to their own devices away from cricket’s biggest spectacle. In the abovementioned games, it was apparent that most of the batsmen were simply not good enough to deal with the devilish yorkers of Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga, or the searing pace of West Indian Kemar Roach and their bowlers were taken to the proverbial cleaners, most noticeably by West Indies man mountain Kieron Pollard.

Prior to the World Cup, there was much talk (and it is very much ongoing) as to whether the Associates should be allowed to play in the World Cup, or whether they should at least have their number reduced to two, as this would avoid such uncompetitive thrashings. The ICC has taken the decision to reduce the number of participating teams to ten for the 2015 edition of the tournament, effectively ruling out the Associates. It is unclear why this decision has been taken, although many have complained about the duration of the tournament (6 weeks), most noticeably England captain Andrew Strauss. Reducing the number of teams would allow for a shorter format. Another possibility is a pure business decision following the commercial disaster that was the elimination of both Pakistan and India in the group stage four years ago, the sport’s two largest TV markets.

Whilst it is true that the Associates’ record against test playing nations is, well, poor, it is not as straight forward as their detractors would have us believe. At the last tournament in 2007, Pakistan lost to Ireland in a remarkable upset and just last week, the Netherlands made England look very poor as they pushed Andrew Strauss’s men close. Then today, Ireland shocked the world for the second World Cup in a row as they chased down a World Cup record total of 328 to defeat the model of inconsistency that is England. Furthermore, Ireland’s incredible chase provided us with one of the all-time great one day innings as all-rounder Kevin O’Brien smashed 113 from just 63 balls, setting a World Cup record for the fastest century in the process (50 balls). There have been other moments too, who can forget Dwayne Leverock’s athletic diving catch to dismiss India’s Robin Uthappa in 2007? Who did not enjoy seeing Kenya reach the semi-finals in 2003? If the ICC’s main aim in holding a World Cup is to entertain, then what is more entertaining than a good old-fashioned cupset?

How can the Associate teams be expected to improve if they are not given the opportunity to test themselves against the best? Sri Lanka is a case in point. The Sri Lankan team was not granted test status until 1982, just 14 years later, they were world champions and they are now frequently amongst the favourites for all major tournaments. Moreover, if the likes of Kenya and Ireland are to progress, there surely needs to be a revision of the rules that allow players who have played for an associate side to switch to a test side if the test side comes knocking. This is particularly pertinent in the case of Ireland who have lost several players to England in the recent past, most noticeably star man Eoin Morgan.

However, the real issue was addressed by Pakistani bowling legend Wasim Akram as he spoke of the need for a quality first-class cricket structure in these countries, starting with getting the game in to schools. Akram has pressed this issue in his native Pakistan and is spot on in his observations regarding the Associates. This may not be possible however in countries in which cricket is a minor sport so the key is to get Associate players playing in English county cricket, Sheffield Shield matches in Australia and first class games in South Africa. This will allow associate players to test their mettle against genuine world class operators in a highly competitive environment.

The ICC has long stated that its mission is to make cricket a worldwide game and to involve more than just the traditional test nations. To Haroon Lorgat I ask: ‘how does excluding the Associates achieve this goal?’

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