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Upset by the competition

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Associate nations_cricket_expansion_ICCWe are not even a week into this World Cup and we have already got the big story. It is all about the planned reduction of the size of the next World Cup. It was being discussed before the event, but it became a mainstream news story when Ireland beat the West Indies in their opening match. Many called this an upset, those that watch cricket above and below the full/associate member divide did not see it that way. Ireland were driven and motivated, the West Indies dejected and without unity. Ireland won, and they did it easily.

Competitiveness. This has been the buzz word for Dave Richardson, the ICC Chief Executive, when he has been talking about future World Cup formats. He has been quoted as saying that “major events are defined by the quality and competitiveness of cricket.” He has spoken about how there is a need to make sure that the product isn’t diluted by one sided games.

This sentiment has won some supporters with many former professionals, including Ian Chappell and VVS Laxman, saying that it is important to have the best teams at the World Cup. However, this argument is disingenuous at best and outright dishonest at worst. The World Cup isn’t being reduced in size in 2019 because the ICC are worried about smaller sides not competing. They are doing it because they don’t want upsets.

The 2007 World Cup saw both India and Pakistan going out early and that cost the ICC a lot of money. The response was to change the format to the current two groups of seven structure that began in 2011. This gives the top eight teams the best possible chance of reaching the quarter finals and also guarantees that Pakistan and India will meet at least once in the group stage. That game alone accounts for more than half of the TV rights money that the World Cup brings in.

As far back as 2011 the plan was to change the format again to see just 10 teams, the full ICC members of course, taking part in this edition of the tournament. That didn’t happen for a number of reasons, but the 2019 event is going to be a ten team affair, with the chances of Ireland or any other associate making the cut incredibly remote.

Richardson’s words on competitiveness are made all the more hollow by the fact that this event has been strewn with one sided contests between the teams that he is so desperate to ensure have the World Cup to themselves. New Zealand hammered Sri Lanka, Australia destroyed England, South Africa brushed aside Zimbabwe, India easily dealt with Pakistan.

England, one of cricket’s “big three” boards, put in the least competitive performance you are ever likely to see in international cricket as they managed the lowest innings total of the tournament so far, reaching just 123 against New Zealand. The Blackcaps chased it down with almost 40 overs to spare. It was shambolic, embarrassing and above all else, uncompetitive.

If competitiveness was the true motivation behind the reduction of the World Cup then the ICC would be asking some serious question about these games. Instead Richardson told the press; “There is a little bit of pressure on the likes of Afghanistan, Scotland, UAE in particular to perform well.” No mention of pressure on Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, West Indies or Pakistan who have all had questionable results in this format in recent times.

That is the issue writ large. There is no pressure on full members to perform. Their status is ensured in perpetuity. The West Indies' current shambolic state on and off the field is no cause for concern, but a side like Afghanistan that have come a remarkable distance despite a troubled homeland and restricted funding are under fire.

There have been various comments from the Irish camp on the lead up to this event and during it from all that have spoken to the press. They express their bitter frustration at how the sport is handling expansion. The Irish have beaten full member opposition at the 2007, 2011 and 2015 World Cups and they are being told that they are not welcome because they are uncompetitive.

Ed Joyce, Ireland’s most experienced batsman, has said;

 

We seem to be the only sport that has a World Cup that is contracting rather than expanding. I hate to say it, but this could be our last World Cup because it is going to be very difficult to get into that top eight and, with the qualifying tournament in Bangladesh, they are going to have a home advantage. I do not think it is the way a sport should be run, especially one that speaks about expanding and trying to get bigger.

These comments have been so strong and so regular from within the Irish camp that you have to think it is a deliberate attempt to further their cause. Every public pronouncement from the ICC makes their talk of “competitiveness” sound even more ridiculous, and the Irish have done a brilliant job at exposing that.

It is easy to paint the ICC as the bad guy, but they are working within the reality of how cricket is run. They are not a governing body, they are a club that is run by the 10 full member boards. When you speak to ICC officials off the record they tell you that they have similar frustrations. There are many wonderfully passionate people that work in ICC Development programmes that love cricket and want to see it grow. Those that make the decisions at the highest level do not have the same motivation.

It is not too late for plans for 2019 to change, just as they did with 2015 World Cup and the World Test Championships. But that only happens if those that run the game are put under pressure to do the right thing. Win or lose, competitive or uncompetitive, associate cricket nations add far more to a World Cup than they take away. As cricket fans we have a responsibility to make it clear that this reduced World Cup is not what we want. Over to you…

Peter Miller is the co-author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts published by Pitch Publishing.



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