Around the time the Indian fans were celebrating the 2011 World Cup win, the ICC had thrown a bombshell, one that did not concern the Indians. Or the English. Or any of the Test-playing nations. In a bid to cut out on the meaningless matches involving the rather derogatorily termed minnow nations, they had decided to reduce the number of sides participating in the 2015 World Cup to 10.
That was not all. The ICC also hammered a nail in the chances of these non-Test playing nations’ growth by ruling that this 2015 edition of the tournament will be contested by only the Test-playing countries. So, irrespective of what they did in the ensuing four years, there was to be no Ireland, no Afghanistan and no Netherlands participating in the 2015 World Cup.
The irrationality of the decision probably dawned upon those in the higher echelons soon enough and they reverted back to the original format consisting of 14 sides.
Looking back, it was never a bad idea to reduce the number of teams. Having 10 teams, who would all play against every other team in a round-robin format, would have made the competition way more exciting than it was in either of the previous two editions. ODI cricket lacks context in more ways than one and the longevity of World Cup is an issue worth appraising.
The execution, however, left a lot to be desired. Chopping the Associates and Affiliates off without affording them a chance made no sense. Not in too many sports do pre-decided teams enter a World Cup and by doing so, cricket was only going to give in to the thought that it was an elitist’s sport.
So why am I barking up this tree when the issue has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction? It is Zimbabwe’s performance in the ongoing World T20 that makes me wonder whether they deserve a direct entry into any World Cup just on the basis of the fact that they are a Full Member of the ICC.
T20 cricket is a format expected to plug the gap between the top notch sides and the slightly lesser ones. For Zimbabwe in this World T20, it has been quite the opposite.
While never expected to make it past the opening round, they have been a major let-down in the tournament. In their opening game against Sri Lanka, they barely scratched through to 100. South Africa then bowled them out for 93 in the second.
Both losses were crushing with no positives to take from the tournament. One almost felt for the hapless Zimbabweans.
And yet it raises a question on whether the ICC should reconsider its stance on the qualification process. For now the full members qualify directly while two spots are kept for the qualifiers.
Unfortunately this meant that in the current format, Zimbabwe, despite being a spot below Ireland in the official T20 rankings, were allowed a direct entry into the competition while the Irish had to go through a qualification process.
The last time Zimbabwe won an international T20 was 14 games ago. Ireland have a better record than that but one may argue that they have played most of their games against the lesser teams.
Take the case of the 2011 World Cup. Ireland and Zimbabwe finished with four points apiece in their respective groups. While Zimbabwe’s wins came against Canada and Kenya, Ireland defeated England and Bangladesh – both teams ranked higher than them.
Ireland came close to beating Bangladesh and made India and West Indies sweat for their wins. Zimbabwe were bull-dozed over in each of their losses.
It’s not about Zimbabwe alone. Some years ago, Bangladesh cricket had slipped on a banana skin too. So did West Indies, especially in their lowest ebb during the player strike. Ireland, and others like Afghanistan, could have got the better of these Full Members at those times.
Which is why, the ICC must think of a system different from the current one. One that probably allows direct qualifiers, but based on their rankings at the cut-off date. Beyond that, have a qualifier which includes the bottom ranked sides, whether it includes Zimbabwe or an Australia.
Is anyone listening though?
Suneer Chowdhary is a Mumbai-based sports writer and can be contacted at email@example.com