The ICC’s plans to downsize the Cricket World Cup in 2019 to ten teams from the current quota of 14 have been met with widespread outrage and general condemnation from all corners of the cricketing world.
Both representatives of the associate nations who face exclusion and experienced commentators have decried the ICC’s plan as short-sighted and liable to lead to stagnation in the growth of cricket in associate countries.
It is difficult to argue with the logic of their objections. Recent years have seen exponential growth in the levels of interest in cricket in countries outside of the true powerhouses of world cricket alongside a steady increase in the quality of cricket being played by the various associate nations. As the generally accepted wisdom goes, by playing against the best that cricket has to offer, the minnows might one day become real contenders in the global game.
We need look no further than the progression Ireland have made since their astonishing run chase against England in the 2011 iteration of the Cricket World Cup to see just how much impact World Cup participation can have for associate nations.
Following Kevin O’Brien’s record-breaking hundred and the giant-killing it inspired, the level of interest in cricket across Ireland has skyrocketed and in turn this has led to some phenomenal results for the Irish team, including a stunning victory against the West Indies in this year’s tournament.
When faced with this evidence of just how much value top-level cricketing experience can have for the associate nations, it seems madness that the ICC, supposedly the body tasked with developing and improving the game of cricket throughout the world, are genuinely considering removing the opportunity for four less powerful cricketing nations to test themselves and gain vital experience against the big names in world cricket.
Even if we choose to ignore the development value participation holds for the associates, it would be a great loss for fans of cricket were the associate nations to be removed from the World Cup.
Throughout this and previous tournaments, the associate nations have provided some of the most thrilling and memorable games the World Cup has witnessed.
No true cricket fan could deny the thrill of watching Ireland overcome England in Bangalore, however painful a memory it might be for those of the English persuasion. Who could claim that Scotland’s last gasp defeat at the hands of Afghanistan was anything other than utterly compelling? It is undoubtedly games like these which truly light up the World Cup.
The minnows defying the odds to overcome one of the titans of the game, the evenly matched clashes which come down to an unbearably tense final over, the thrill of watching a virtual unknown smashing the world’s finest bowling attacks to all corners of the ground. These are the moments that truly make the World Cup the spectacle that it is and to remove them would be nothing short of negligence on the part of the ICC.
If we learn just one thing from this year’s World Cup, it should be that the associate nations have earned their place at the tournament and deserve their chance to mix it with the biggest and best in cricket.
If the ICC chooses to downsize the World Cup after the show the associates have put on this year, then it will be perhaps the greatest mistake they have made in recent history.