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By Partab Ramchand
The associates have every right to feel aggrieved about the ICC decision to restrict the 2015 World Cup to the ten Test playing nations. Opening the door for them to qualify for the 2019 event and extending the team list to 16 for the Twenty20 World Cup is inadequate compensation.
Let’s face facts. In the just concluded World Cup Ireland were the most talked about upcoming team in the competition. Their sensational win over England suddenly had fans talking of a possible quarterfinal berth for them. It was not the first time that Ireland was holding centre stage. They had attracted enough attention four years ago when they knocked out Pakistan at the preliminary stage and then for good measure upset Bangladesh in the Super Eight. However in a tough group they were given little chance of pulling off similar heroics. And even if they fell off a little following the shock win over England their players - particularly Kevin O’Brien - suddenly became household names and their games invited a lot of attention.
This issue should be seen in a larger perspective – that of making the game truly global. This is ICC’s sworn objective and that is why over the years we have had the teams raised for the World Cup to 12, 14 and 16. We have had the USA taking part in the Champions Trophy, Holland, Scotland, Bermuda and Namibia have figured in the World Cup and other associate members have participated in the World Twenty20.
Yes, there is every need to keep the playing standards in a mega event like the World Cup high and in defence of the ICC’s decision it must be said that over the years the minnows have dished out insipid fare many times. They seem uncomfortable while being placed in elite company and are frequently overawed by the opposition. In fact at the knockout stage the men are separated from the boys. The pretenders do threaten to upstage the big boys but when it comes to the crunch situation it is the Goliaths who have survived while the Davids have fallen by the wayside.
Kenya’s entry into the semifinals in 2003 can be taken as a one-off. The associate members have been capable of pulling off the odd upset or two as they have done repeatedly over the years. After all in limited overs cricket it is a question of one team having a good day and another having a bad day at the office. Sustained campaigns however can only be carried out by experienced teams with the skill and class and the self belief to take such ups and downs in their strides.
But by restricting the field to the ten Test playing nations the ICC has opened a can of worms. If a case can be made against the participation of associate members a case can also be made against the automatic inclusion of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. At the start of the World Cup Bangladesh were reckoned to be the tricky banana skins. Their achievement four years ago when they defeated both India and South Africa, their steady improvement over the years and the fact that they were playing all their group matches at home marked them out as a side not to be taken lightly.
Whatever their limitations at Test level Bangladesh are a handy side in limited overs cricket and have at least one victory over every senior Test playing nation. In the just concluded World Cup too there were sunny moments that shone through a rather inconsistent campaign notably when they came from nowhere to defeat England – a result that kept them in the hunt for a quarterfinal berth despite the strong competition in the group. But abject surrenders to South Africa and West Indies showed that Bangladesh still did not have the firepower to make it to the big league.
Zimbabwe does not play Test matches these days but they are still considered a handy one day side. But other than getting the better of Canada and Kenya they did not even threaten the four big boys – Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka – in their pool. Indeed Group A was always going to be clear cut. The presence of three minnows in the true sense of the word meant that the four big fish were assured of a quarterfinal berth without being extended. Only the final placings had to be determined.
Under the circumstances the wiser and more balanced decision would have been to have automatic entries for eight quarterfinalists of the just concluded World Cup and have a qualifying tournament from where the top two could make it to the main event four years from now. That way Ireland who currently stand at No 10 in the ICC ODI rankings - one place ahead of Zimbabwe - as well as other hopefuls will have an avenue to figure in the main draw of the World Cup in 2015.