September 20, 2013

World Cup qualification could give ODIs context

Bilaterals tacked on to the end of a Test series, or hastily arranged triangulars, could gather meaning if teams had something bigger to fight for. But will cricket's major teams ever agree to such a proposition?
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Bad weather and poor scheduling were just two reasons why the England-Australia ODIs lacked excitement © Getty Images

A couple of my recent sports viewing experiences offer an interesting contrast.

On September 10, USA played Mexico in a football World Cup qualifier at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The game was telecast live, the stadium was packed with noisy, exultant spectators. I watched with great interest for a great deal rode on the result of this game. A win for USA along with a loss or draw for Panama would send USA to the 2014 World Cup. USA won 2-0 on the back of goals by Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan.

Between September 6 and September 16, England and Australia played five one-day internationals. I watched approximately five overs of the fifth; my baby daughter was in a slightly cranky mood, and she needed the distraction. Two of the scheduled games had already been washed out. The spectators didn't seem too excited. They were bundled up in autumn and winter gear. It all felt a little unseasonal. The Ashes and the summer had ended a while ago.

I am a cricket fan first and foremost, so an England-Australia encounter should be on top of my watching list. But it wasn't. I enjoy soccer too, but I'm not as devoted a fan. I pay the most attention to the Champions League, the World Cup and the occasional EPL game. But in this pair of encounters, cricket didn't stand a chance.

However, I suspect if the England-Australia one-day internationals had the status of qualifiers for the next World Cup, I would have paid much more attention. And I wonder yet again why such a commonsensical approach to cricket's World Cup is not taken. (I'm leaving aside for now the wisdom of staging such a long series of games after the Ashes had ended.)

A qualification system, of course, requires a four-year calendar featuring home-and-away series between the ICC Full Members. The bottom two, or perhaps three, Full Members at the end of this period could then play in a qualification tournament featuring the top-ranked Associates, who would have made it thus far from their own qualifying system. This process would make individual one-day internationals more meaningful, as every game played anywhere in the world would contribute points for the World Cup; no one-day international, between any pair of countries, would be lacking in context. Even games in so-called dead rubbers would be important as far as the final points tally was concerned.

If triangular tournaments were to be persisted with, they could have their games count toward qualification as well; the sponsors of such cups would be delighted, I'm sure, to have the constituent games regarded as so important. The holders of television rights would be quite enthusiastic about such a proposal. For instance, it would ensure that the strongest squads would always be picked. (Of course, in cases where a country had already qualified, some team adjustments would be expected.)

Such a qualifying tournament, one that pitched the best Associates against the worst Full Members would not only ensure that the "right" teams were in the World Cup, it would also ensure that cricket's one-day championship was really a genuine "World" Cup and not a glorified invitational tournament. (I am often reminded of this by my American and European friends.) This qualification system seems like such an exciting prospect, promising at one stroke to clean up the scheduling calendar, make "meaningless" matches meaningful, and even, I think, boost television ratings and crowd attendance. Why isn't it already in place?

The problem, unsurprisingly, lies in the financial and political realities of the ICC. Why would its Full Members ever agree to a structure that could result in any of them missing out on the cup and its associated revenues? These have, thus far, landed in their laps all too easily, given their one-way qualification for Full Member status. In a qualifying competition Full Members could be beaten by leading Associates and miss out on the World Cup. Ireland did, after all, beat England in the 2011 World Cup, and could also have beaten Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and West Indies. Back in 1979, Sri Lanka beat India.

And then, of course, there is the 800-pound gorilla in the room: a World Cup without India. This is extremely unlikely given an extended qualification process but it will still worry the ICC mightily. It is hard to imagine it organising a qualification that risks the massive Indian market. Furthermore, Full Members, especially the big four - England, South Africa, India, Australia - are likely to be more interested in organising one-day games against each other than in playing qualifying games.

This strikes me as a rather depressing state of affairs, especially because I know that I am not the first one to suggest a qualifying tournament and have these objections raised. But neither does it seem to me that the world of cricket possesses the means by which to rectify this situation. It seems destined to let matters proceed to a point of no return: diminishing interest in one-dayers, declining television ratings and rights monies, smaller crowds in attendance, an enrichment of the haves and an impoverishment of the have-nots.

Could things really get that bad in cricket? I don't know. I'm not a prophet even though I sometimes pretend to be one. But the game's recent history - including the ongoing spat between the BCCI and Cricket South Africa - seems to provide some evidence in favour of this outcome.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ashish_514 on September 22, 2013, 7:21 GMT

    Unlike football cricket viewership is not so distributed, it's lopsided towards the subcontinent. A weak Bangladeshi team generates more viewers than a stronger New Zealand. So if Bangladesh sits out and some new country plays, there's a significant loss of revenue. And here I'm talking only about Bangladesh, imagine that 800 pound gorilla sits out. Apart from this, the idea looks quite brilliant to me.

  • SyedAreYouDumb on September 21, 2013, 20:52 GMT

    Brilliant idea and article. Cricket would grow if it had qualifiers and the potential of seeing a top team vs associates etc. However the skill level will become obvious if for example Zimbabwe were to play Uganda etc. World cup in football has different continental tables but this would not work in cricket...

  • on September 21, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    Brilliant idea -maybe have the ten test teams and to associate play, so 11 teams, 10 match ups, and so 30 points per match up, 10 points allocated for home games, 10 for away and 10 for neutral. All pro-rate, so if India play Australia 20 times at home over the 10 years, each result would - .5 of a point. No results discounted, ties equal half a win/lose.

    Say every team must host the other side for a minimum of 3 games.

    UAE counts as home turf for Pakistan and Afghanistan

    And Pakistan and Afghanistam nmatces

  • on September 21, 2013, 17:28 GMT

    In addition, to ensure balance & eliminate avoidable bullying by various boards - all teams should be allowed to score points for wins. Restrictions being - If there is a mismatch in the # of matches they have played against other sides, they should be allowed to score only in the # of games equal to the minimum games they have played against any side. That way - if BCCI tries to bully SA by reducing matches against SA, keeping the # down to say 4, India can score points in only the first 4 games they play against all other full members. ...But will SL, Pak, NS, Australia & England back such a proposal when it means they get less money for trying to ensure fairplay ?

  • MmpRubel on September 21, 2013, 16:52 GMT

    mr.writer, you talked about crowed attendance is lessened gradually in cricket. Is it true entirely? have you ever been to sub-continent? you mentioned about revenues. just imagine what happenned in 2007 WC when 2 mighty team INDIA and PAKISTAN exited in group stage? And cricket is not played all around the world, to remind you, 204 member countries are included by FIFA, and in cricket? so I dont think it makes sense to play qualifying game by the full members. And most of all, cricket has its own dignity and glory, it should follow its own footprint. why be a copycat?

  • on September 21, 2013, 6:27 GMT

    I think it will be a good system. Like We can have each country to tour all others once in a four year cycle for like four tests and five ODIs. This will in a way make all games interesting and limit the number of matches. Fow now we are having too many matches and the interest for the game is diminishing among the public.

  • I_am_nobody on September 20, 2013, 18:53 GMT

    I completely agree with @blogossip - Just because football is doing something doesn't mean cricket should follow it. Case closed!

  • ThatsJustCricket on September 20, 2013, 14:13 GMT

    @py0alb : "If you're going to take this seriously, all countries have to qualify from scratch for both world cups", yes, that exactly is the idea with may be providing the last WC champion and runners up the direct entry (somewhat like Football WC). Don't see what is so wrong with that. This will reward the teams that are consistently doing well over a four year period and that can only be good for the game.

  • yoogi on September 20, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    The qualification process will be needed only when there are more than 12 full members. I dont think India will be intrested in developing Ireland or Afgan, the most likely nations for 11th and 12th spots to be granted full member status or at the least Test status without full membership. Once it is 12, may be we will have four Associates and two members fight out for four berths for the world cup.

  • on September 20, 2013, 13:12 GMT

    qualifier for each region in the world is a better idea.. Recently, England missed out on Euro.. so what if India misses out? That would mean India need to improve their structure which in return means tougher competition.. qualifiers is a step which has long term rewards.. in short term, it will be one sided, and boring. but if cricket is to be preserved for longer period, you would have to bring in minnows..

  • Ashish_514 on September 22, 2013, 7:21 GMT

    Unlike football cricket viewership is not so distributed, it's lopsided towards the subcontinent. A weak Bangladeshi team generates more viewers than a stronger New Zealand. So if Bangladesh sits out and some new country plays, there's a significant loss of revenue. And here I'm talking only about Bangladesh, imagine that 800 pound gorilla sits out. Apart from this, the idea looks quite brilliant to me.

  • SyedAreYouDumb on September 21, 2013, 20:52 GMT

    Brilliant idea and article. Cricket would grow if it had qualifiers and the potential of seeing a top team vs associates etc. However the skill level will become obvious if for example Zimbabwe were to play Uganda etc. World cup in football has different continental tables but this would not work in cricket...

  • on September 21, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    Brilliant idea -maybe have the ten test teams and to associate play, so 11 teams, 10 match ups, and so 30 points per match up, 10 points allocated for home games, 10 for away and 10 for neutral. All pro-rate, so if India play Australia 20 times at home over the 10 years, each result would - .5 of a point. No results discounted, ties equal half a win/lose.

    Say every team must host the other side for a minimum of 3 games.

    UAE counts as home turf for Pakistan and Afghanistan

    And Pakistan and Afghanistam nmatces

  • on September 21, 2013, 17:28 GMT

    In addition, to ensure balance & eliminate avoidable bullying by various boards - all teams should be allowed to score points for wins. Restrictions being - If there is a mismatch in the # of matches they have played against other sides, they should be allowed to score only in the # of games equal to the minimum games they have played against any side. That way - if BCCI tries to bully SA by reducing matches against SA, keeping the # down to say 4, India can score points in only the first 4 games they play against all other full members. ...But will SL, Pak, NS, Australia & England back such a proposal when it means they get less money for trying to ensure fairplay ?

  • MmpRubel on September 21, 2013, 16:52 GMT

    mr.writer, you talked about crowed attendance is lessened gradually in cricket. Is it true entirely? have you ever been to sub-continent? you mentioned about revenues. just imagine what happenned in 2007 WC when 2 mighty team INDIA and PAKISTAN exited in group stage? And cricket is not played all around the world, to remind you, 204 member countries are included by FIFA, and in cricket? so I dont think it makes sense to play qualifying game by the full members. And most of all, cricket has its own dignity and glory, it should follow its own footprint. why be a copycat?

  • on September 21, 2013, 6:27 GMT

    I think it will be a good system. Like We can have each country to tour all others once in a four year cycle for like four tests and five ODIs. This will in a way make all games interesting and limit the number of matches. Fow now we are having too many matches and the interest for the game is diminishing among the public.

  • I_am_nobody on September 20, 2013, 18:53 GMT

    I completely agree with @blogossip - Just because football is doing something doesn't mean cricket should follow it. Case closed!

  • ThatsJustCricket on September 20, 2013, 14:13 GMT

    @py0alb : "If you're going to take this seriously, all countries have to qualify from scratch for both world cups", yes, that exactly is the idea with may be providing the last WC champion and runners up the direct entry (somewhat like Football WC). Don't see what is so wrong with that. This will reward the teams that are consistently doing well over a four year period and that can only be good for the game.

  • yoogi on September 20, 2013, 13:59 GMT

    The qualification process will be needed only when there are more than 12 full members. I dont think India will be intrested in developing Ireland or Afgan, the most likely nations for 11th and 12th spots to be granted full member status or at the least Test status without full membership. Once it is 12, may be we will have four Associates and two members fight out for four berths for the world cup.

  • on September 20, 2013, 13:12 GMT

    qualifier for each region in the world is a better idea.. Recently, England missed out on Euro.. so what if India misses out? That would mean India need to improve their structure which in return means tougher competition.. qualifiers is a step which has long term rewards.. in short term, it will be one sided, and boring. but if cricket is to be preserved for longer period, you would have to bring in minnows..

  • Sameer-hbk on September 20, 2013, 10:46 GMT

    This might not be the popular opinion here, but I would have to disagree with the idea. I think we should expand WC to nations like Ireland and make then regulars. But the problem with this system is that the game is 50-overs long. Now the writer seems to be equating football with cricket. Not that simple. In football a team ranked 85 could produce 0-0 or 1-0 scoreline against a top side on its day. This keeps things interesting. Cricket is much more of a skill game. Longer the format and more games in a tournament/qualifying system and lesser teams will quickly fall away.

    Maybe this approach will work for T20s better. The shorter version means the gap between quality sides is reduced. Again, I would love to see associates teams get more ODI matches in between WC events. Better system would be to limit International ODIs to only matches between full members and associates during non-WC times. Should help many nations with the practice they need regularly .

  • blogossip on September 20, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    Mr Chopra, let me remind you that in 2007 WC , india and Pk got eliminated before super eight and world cup lost its considerable viewership. first and foremost cricket has a limited audience which is highly concentrated in subcontinent (plus srilanka and bangladesh). if you take out these four and hold a tournament, it would be a financial disaster. secondly even WC football qualification isnt bias free. Europe has highest number of slots than rest of the world simply due to huge viewership and major sponsors. i dont see cricket radically changing much in this context plus odis take a whole day which also effects viewership. maybe T20 will be the most globalised version of cricket in about two decades from now and may even become an olympic event.. lets see!

  • on September 20, 2013, 10:01 GMT

    @Deuce03, actually i don't think that road is very long at all, really, it is just around the next corner. Have a look at the World Cricket League page;

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/wcl-championship-2011-13/content/current/series/518430.html

    There is eight associate teams already playing off for WC places and other teams such as Nepal, Uganda and Bermuda who are really not far off the same standard of cricket at all. All of these teams already travel around the world playing cricket. But perhaps this competition would be more exciting and better for cricket overall if the test nations were involved and it was played out on more of a regional basis like the football WC qualifiers. I see what the ICC are trying to do here, which is to avoid a bunch of lopsided contests, but are Canada fans really that interested when Namibia comes to play? Probably not as exciting as it would be if the West Indies or the Americans were there.

  • on September 20, 2013, 9:35 GMT

    This is a fine idea and one I have long supported, but, as @py0alb says, you need to make it more inclusive and also geographically feasible for lesser nations.

    You could have an americas zone with two qualifiers from the WestIndies, The US, Canada and Bermuda

    Europe with two qualifiers from England, Ireland, Scotland,Holland etc

    Pacific east asia with three qualifiers form Aus, NZ, PNG, Hong Kong etc

    Africa with three qualifiers from SA, Zim, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda etc

    And finally Asia with five or six qualifiers from the likes of the test nations plus Afghanistan, Nepal, UAE etc

    You simply have to cast the net wide enough so that none of the test playing nations miss out. It probably means a 15-16 team WC but so be it, it is great for the game.

    This is the only way it can be done fairly and it will not result in packed stadiums to watch a match between Australia 'c' and Hong Kong but match ups between the likes of Bangladesh and Afghanistan would be fantastic.

  • py0alb on September 20, 2013, 9:06 GMT

    "A qualification system, of course, requires a four-year calendar featuring home-and-away series between the ICC Full Members. The bottom two, or perhaps three, Full Members at the end of this period could then play in a qualification tournament featuring the top-ranked Associates, who would have made it thus far from their own qualifying system."

    Absolutely NOT. If you're going to take this seriously, all countries have to qualify from scratch for both world cups. Scrap the associate/affiliate system altogether. No more old boys club, no more closed shop.

  • Deuce03 on September 20, 2013, 8:23 GMT

    Samir, I think you're right to suggest that the Full Members are unlikely to go for such a system at present, although if the BCCI becomes increasingly dictatorial there's always the chance that some of the other boards could push to expand the top table to dilute Indian influence.

    When it comes to the risk of a World Cup without India, this seems terrifying but perhaps it doesn't need to be. Assuming a decent qualification system, if enough Associate nations can outperform India over a long enough period to qualify, it would suggest that cricket had finally attained new audiences in the rest of the world, which would compensate for the loss of Indian money. It would also help to make the event something that neutrals might watch regardless of whether their team was playing - as you say, a genuine World Cup. Unfortunately, the road from here to there is far from clear and it's going to be very difficult to take the first step, which is why cricket will remain a closed shop for a while

  • on September 20, 2013, 8:18 GMT

    I'm with you Samir. @tanstell87, and for anyone else who is against this idea, if the top 8 sides are sooo much better than the rest, why shouldn't they be prepared to put their money where their mouth is? Soccer only became what it did because their leading countries were prepared to make it so. If cricket doesn't want to expand, fine, stop talking about this type of thing. If it does..... It needs to widen its horizons, and giving associates an actual chance is a great first step.

  • tanstell87 on September 20, 2013, 5:57 GMT

    dont think its a right idea...as Football have more than 100 teams competing on more or less same level unlike Cricket which has only 8 competitive teams(India, Australia, South Africa, England, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka & New Zealand) who can beat each other any given day....so a qualification process for them is a big no..

  • on September 20, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Samir, I was visiting the USA at the time and for a passing Football fan, there was hardly anything in the papers or the networks which would get me to follow the match.As a resident of the cricket following world, I was aware of the ODIs in England and followed it live on BBC Sports extra as much as possible.And for the first time since Alan Bond and his Australia II, I followed Americas Cup.

  • on September 20, 2013, 5:49 GMT

    This idea would work if ICC were fair in making the FTP. When the FTP is made, the matches of Australia, England and India get the preference. Spare a though for team like Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand. FTP is not fair. How can a team improve its Rankings by not playing against other best teams. For example, Pakistan beat England 3-0 and the next Test series (vs Sri Lanka) they played was after six months, and the next again (vs South Africa) after six months, and then again (vs Zimbabwe) after six months.

  • on September 20, 2013, 4:57 GMT

    if the standards were well enough to play the full members it will be good but right not so,there will be no viewers to see if a side is getting thrashed by huge margin,i dont knw why foot ball qualifiers are present as the top teams will thrash the bottoms by huge margins

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  • on September 20, 2013, 4:57 GMT

    if the standards were well enough to play the full members it will be good but right not so,there will be no viewers to see if a side is getting thrashed by huge margin,i dont knw why foot ball qualifiers are present as the top teams will thrash the bottoms by huge margins

  • on September 20, 2013, 5:49 GMT

    This idea would work if ICC were fair in making the FTP. When the FTP is made, the matches of Australia, England and India get the preference. Spare a though for team like Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand. FTP is not fair. How can a team improve its Rankings by not playing against other best teams. For example, Pakistan beat England 3-0 and the next Test series (vs Sri Lanka) they played was after six months, and the next again (vs South Africa) after six months, and then again (vs Zimbabwe) after six months.

  • on September 20, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Samir, I was visiting the USA at the time and for a passing Football fan, there was hardly anything in the papers or the networks which would get me to follow the match.As a resident of the cricket following world, I was aware of the ODIs in England and followed it live on BBC Sports extra as much as possible.And for the first time since Alan Bond and his Australia II, I followed Americas Cup.

  • tanstell87 on September 20, 2013, 5:57 GMT

    dont think its a right idea...as Football have more than 100 teams competing on more or less same level unlike Cricket which has only 8 competitive teams(India, Australia, South Africa, England, Pakistan, West Indies, Sri Lanka & New Zealand) who can beat each other any given day....so a qualification process for them is a big no..

  • on September 20, 2013, 8:18 GMT

    I'm with you Samir. @tanstell87, and for anyone else who is against this idea, if the top 8 sides are sooo much better than the rest, why shouldn't they be prepared to put their money where their mouth is? Soccer only became what it did because their leading countries were prepared to make it so. If cricket doesn't want to expand, fine, stop talking about this type of thing. If it does..... It needs to widen its horizons, and giving associates an actual chance is a great first step.

  • Deuce03 on September 20, 2013, 8:23 GMT

    Samir, I think you're right to suggest that the Full Members are unlikely to go for such a system at present, although if the BCCI becomes increasingly dictatorial there's always the chance that some of the other boards could push to expand the top table to dilute Indian influence.

    When it comes to the risk of a World Cup without India, this seems terrifying but perhaps it doesn't need to be. Assuming a decent qualification system, if enough Associate nations can outperform India over a long enough period to qualify, it would suggest that cricket had finally attained new audiences in the rest of the world, which would compensate for the loss of Indian money. It would also help to make the event something that neutrals might watch regardless of whether their team was playing - as you say, a genuine World Cup. Unfortunately, the road from here to there is far from clear and it's going to be very difficult to take the first step, which is why cricket will remain a closed shop for a while

  • py0alb on September 20, 2013, 9:06 GMT

    "A qualification system, of course, requires a four-year calendar featuring home-and-away series between the ICC Full Members. The bottom two, or perhaps three, Full Members at the end of this period could then play in a qualification tournament featuring the top-ranked Associates, who would have made it thus far from their own qualifying system."

    Absolutely NOT. If you're going to take this seriously, all countries have to qualify from scratch for both world cups. Scrap the associate/affiliate system altogether. No more old boys club, no more closed shop.

  • on September 20, 2013, 9:35 GMT

    This is a fine idea and one I have long supported, but, as @py0alb says, you need to make it more inclusive and also geographically feasible for lesser nations.

    You could have an americas zone with two qualifiers from the WestIndies, The US, Canada and Bermuda

    Europe with two qualifiers from England, Ireland, Scotland,Holland etc

    Pacific east asia with three qualifiers form Aus, NZ, PNG, Hong Kong etc

    Africa with three qualifiers from SA, Zim, Kenya, Namibia, Uganda etc

    And finally Asia with five or six qualifiers from the likes of the test nations plus Afghanistan, Nepal, UAE etc

    You simply have to cast the net wide enough so that none of the test playing nations miss out. It probably means a 15-16 team WC but so be it, it is great for the game.

    This is the only way it can be done fairly and it will not result in packed stadiums to watch a match between Australia 'c' and Hong Kong but match ups between the likes of Bangladesh and Afghanistan would be fantastic.

  • on September 20, 2013, 10:01 GMT

    @Deuce03, actually i don't think that road is very long at all, really, it is just around the next corner. Have a look at the World Cricket League page;

    http://www.espncricinfo.com/wcl-championship-2011-13/content/current/series/518430.html

    There is eight associate teams already playing off for WC places and other teams such as Nepal, Uganda and Bermuda who are really not far off the same standard of cricket at all. All of these teams already travel around the world playing cricket. But perhaps this competition would be more exciting and better for cricket overall if the test nations were involved and it was played out on more of a regional basis like the football WC qualifiers. I see what the ICC are trying to do here, which is to avoid a bunch of lopsided contests, but are Canada fans really that interested when Namibia comes to play? Probably not as exciting as it would be if the West Indies or the Americans were there.

  • blogossip on September 20, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    Mr Chopra, let me remind you that in 2007 WC , india and Pk got eliminated before super eight and world cup lost its considerable viewership. first and foremost cricket has a limited audience which is highly concentrated in subcontinent (plus srilanka and bangladesh). if you take out these four and hold a tournament, it would be a financial disaster. secondly even WC football qualification isnt bias free. Europe has highest number of slots than rest of the world simply due to huge viewership and major sponsors. i dont see cricket radically changing much in this context plus odis take a whole day which also effects viewership. maybe T20 will be the most globalised version of cricket in about two decades from now and may even become an olympic event.. lets see!