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By Chetan Narula
The thing about big tournaments is that at any given time, there is a particular topic buzzing in the minds of the people – both playing and watching. It has been five days (almost) since the World Cup began and the debate has been the participation of the minnows, or indeed their prospective non-participation from 2015 onwards. It is quite logical that it has all stirred up right now, for the first round sees quite a few matches featuring them associates’ teams and despite all being potential upsets, not many go the distance. So, whether in the wait for an upset to come along, is it worth to have so many inconsequential matches?
The answer is both yes and no. Let us begin with the yes, for there aren’t many such voices being heard at the moment. The first point in support of the associate teams is that they don’t really participate in ICC’s other fifty-over event. A World Cup without the minnows is like a glorified Champions Trophy, one that runs for months and ends up irritating people to no end. The second point being that there is no other international platform as big as this for the associate teams to be playing ODI matches. Of course they have their own tournaments that take place somewhere in South-East Asia or the Middle-East all year round, but sincerely how many of us take out time regularly to even ponder over those scorecards?
Third is that the ICC believes the biennial T20 World Cup to be opportunity enough for these minnows to showcase their wares. Although that is indeed the format which will help the game grow in untested territories around the world, the inherent problem with that being T20 is not the kind of platform you would want for cricket to grow. Smacking the ball without actually spotting it or bowling just to contain runs and not take wickets isn’t the ideal way to find the next superstars from countries where cricket isn’t entrenched as yet.
The idea was indeed to get new nations to absorb cricket through the T20 mode, move on and gain experience in the ODI arena, before eventually garnering Test status. Anything else and we are just seeing the death of this game, for how long can nine Test nations (only five really competitive out of these) sustain it? Teams like Ireland, Netherlands, Canada, Zimbabwe, and to an extent Canada are halfway through to that stage, with others like Afghanistan, USA and China knocking on the door next. Therefore unless and until these aforementioned nations get to play steady ODI cricket, there is no solution but to let them have a minimum participation in the World Cup.
So how do you do that, afford them regular fifty-over action that is? One has believed for long now that the way ahead for the cricket world is to split itself into two, based on respective ICC rankings. Two leagues each formed of the elite teams and the rest will lay enough emphasis on playing the game hard as well as afford opportunities to these associate teams who can play in a mini-league of their own. It can be another formula based on the famous football leagues where promotion and relegation happens every season. The ICC rankings are reloaded each year on 1st April and targets being revised consistently for all of the teams can only be added incentive to perform. The main drawback one sees from this is the teams in the lower half of the table not getting to play the top ones more often and hence not earning from television revenues. But then again Ireland or even Bangladesh should earn the right to play against India rather than just some administrator planning out a calendar on their behest!
The no-part to the question asked foremost pertains to the World Cup buzz that is supposed to have surrounded the sub-continent. Interestingly it is in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (in that order) you see and hear reports of more people excited than in India alone, despite there being more number of cricket fans born here per hour than the other two nations combined. It is an odd thing to state here but this conclusion comes forth from the first of many journeys that one has embarked upon for covering the World Cup. And the general mood (barring the India matches of course) is of biding time - waiting for the minnows to play their six matches each and rush off home, so that come the knock-out stage and the tournament can start in earnest. Money matters aside for once, for a country supposedly crazy about cricket, it is indeed sad!
(Chetan Narula is a sportswriter based in New Delhi, India. His Twitter feed is here.)