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The 10-team World Cup is a disgrace to cricket

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Money_Meritocracy_ICC_cricket_expansion_global_associate_nationNo amount of condemnation can ever be enough for the International Cricket Council’s travesty of a decision to reduce the number of teams in the 2019 World Cup to ten. At a time when other sports are expanding their horizons and truly celebrating their global reach at their respective World Cups, the myopic ICC has frustratingly chosen to take a retrograde step, thus further solidifying their elitist, closed-shop mentality that has stifled the international game for years.

Later this year, the Hockey World Cup will see an increase in the number of teams from 12 to 16. Come 2026, the number of teams at the Football World Cup is likely to jump from 32 to 48. The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be hosted entirely by Japan, an emerging force that made waves in the 2015 edition, and there is talk of expansion to 24 teams in the near future. Even the World Cup of kabaddi, a sport overwhelmingly dominated by India, featured 12 teams in 2016.

Cricket too had a massive opportunity to embrace inclusiveness after the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, which consisted of an unprecedented 16 teams, divided into four groups of four teams each. A record six Associate nations took part, up from four in the previous edition. Bangladesh and first-timers Ireland turned the tournament upside down with shock victories over India and Pakistan on the same day, thereby ensuring a first-round knockout for both the fancied teams.

India’s premature and unexpected exit prompted the powers-that-be to do away with the 16-team format for good. The absence of the world’s most bankable cricketing nation from the super eight round severely affected television ratings and interest in the tournament. The marquee clash between India and Pakistan in Bridgetown on April 15, 2007, as was taken for granted when the schedule was set, never happened. Instead, Ireland faced - and defeated - Bangladesh on that day.

Little did Ireland know that they would be made to pay the price for their success. Nauseating as it may sound, the fact remains that the decision to curtail the number of teams at the World Cup was stemmed from the 2007 edition, which was considered a financial failure primarily due to India’s early ouster. Though the forthcoming two editions, in 2011 and 2015, featured 14 teams, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the marginalized ‘have-nots’ of international cricket.

 

In late 2014, the ICC, with the roguish N. Srinivasan as its chairman, entered into a blockbuster deal with Star India for the broadcasting rights of all ICC events in the 2015-2023 cycle. In accordance with the same, it was mutually decided that India would play a minimum of nine games in each of the two editions of the World Cup in the said cycle (2019 in England and 2023 in India), thereby paving the way for the abomination called the ten-team World Cup.

 

 

This goes to show that the decision to have a ten-team World Cup was taken purely out of insecurity and to satiate the vested interests of the BCCI and the ECB, with complete disregard for the development of the global game. Ironically, the ICC website lists the following among the governing body’s values: ‘fairness, integrity and commitment to the global game and its great spirit.’ Who are they kidding? Their hypocrisy is disturbing and laughable in equal measure.  

But then, such hypocrisy has been par for the course for the money-grubbing mandarins at the ICC. Their oft-repeated claim of ‘meritocracy’ has fallen flat on its face. Their stance that a curtailed World Cup can only enhance the competition holds no water. History is witness to the fact that the Associates have provided the most memorable moments at the World Cup. A World Cup without the Associates is nothing short of a glorified Champions Trophy, which is a shame.

One must look no further than the 2015 World Cup in the Antipodes to gauge the value and the novelty that the Associates bring to the quadrennial tournament. Three of the five most exciting matches involved at least one Associate nation, while on the other hand, there was lopsidedness galore - exactly the sort that the ICC apparently aim to reduce by ‘weeding out’ the underdogs from the 2019 and 2023 editions - in most of the matches involving two heavyweight sides. 

With Afghanistan becoming a full member in June 2017, the 2019 World Cup will be the first edition without a single Associate participating. Today, when the gap between the Test nations and the Associates has reduced as never before, the need of the hour is to maximize opportunities for teams that are not privileged to have a regular diet of international fixtures. Instead, they have been callously shut out of the one big tournament they look forward to play in every four years.

 

For most Associates and their supporters, merely being a part of the World Cup is a dream come true. As an Associate, Sri Lanka upstaged India in 1979. Just 17 years later, they were lifting the World Cup. In 2007, a bunch of spirited Irishmen managed to win over a legion of new fans. Zimbabwe ambushing Australia in 1983. Kenya stunning the West Indies in 1996, and reaching the semifinals in 2003. These are the moments that have defined the World Cup over the years.

 

Scotland, who missed out on a World Cup berth after agonizingly losing to the West Indies in their last super six game at the recently-concluded World Cup Qualifier, made their World Cup debut in 1999. When Calum MacLeod tweeted that Scotland’s presence at the 1999 edition inspired him to play cricket, he was simply pointing at the serious damage that a ten-team World Cup could cause to the aspirations of hundreds of budding cricketers from the emerging nations.

It is almost as if the ICC is making a mockery of the millions of cricket lovers who want their game to spread to far-flung corners. The people who are directly involved with the ICC in developing cricket at the grassroots might be having the greater good of the game at heart, but all they can do is look on as their bosses, with their greed-driven agendas, continue to take the game’s biggest stakeholders for a ride. Being a cricket fan has never been more embarrassing.

The Qualifier was a testament to the quickly narrowing gap between the lower-ranked full members and the Associates. Every team that made it to the super six ought to have ideally been a part of the World Cup. Sadly, in the same year that rugby showcases its progress with a World Cup hosted by a nation from beyond the traditional ‘top eight’, cricket will serve as a pathetic endorsement of how the lure of the greenback ended up consuming the vibrancy of the game.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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