'Associates future must be decided in June'
Warren Deutrom, the chief executive of Cricket Ireland, believes that the right of Associate nations to compete at the 2015 World Cup will be established at the ICC's annual conference in Hong Kong at the end of June. His comments came after ICC president, Sharad Pawar, requested that the tournament's composition be reassessed in response to strong and widespread criticism of the decision to limit participation to the ten Test-playing nations.
Following two weeks of silence in the wake of the decision reached in Mumbai on April 4, the ICC confirmed in a press release on Tuesday that a reassessment was on the cards. "I have given this matter further serious thought and will request the board to consider this topic once more," Pawar said. "I can understand the views of the Associates and Affiliates and the ICC will seek to deal with this issue in the best way possible."
Deutrom interpreted the ICC's silence until now as a sign that they knew they could not justify their decision. "The lack of response in those two weeks probably meant they realised they were defending the indefensible," Deutrom told ESPNcricinfo. "The ICC management are a very careful and expert bunch, and they will have done their homework. I know a lot of people have been telling us over the two weeks how strong our position would be if external remedies were necessary, although we don't want to get to that stage, we want it to be the last resort.
"I think the issue would have to be resolved in June," he added. "If there was to be any fudge, it would be completely unacceptable unless the conclusion was that we need a qualifier but we don't know what that qualifier should be. If the principle was established that a qualification tournament was to be reinstated I don't think the Associates could have too much of an argument with that, and we wouldn't necessarily need to be involved in that ongoing discussion. Our argument is purely that there needs to be opportunity for the world to be involved in the World Cup."
Over the past few days, the Associate members had met and discussed among themselves how best to handle the decision; those discussions resulted in a letter being sent to the ICC.
"We've done a great deal of research over the last week, particularly Warren Deutrom of Ireland; we've had a lot of letters of support, we've also had some experienced sports lawyers contacting us offering us help," Richard Cox, chief executive of the Netherlands board, told ESPNcricinfo. "On that basis we felt we were at least able to contest the decision around qualification and the opportunity to qualify which is what we've done."
At its meeting on April 4, two days after the World Cup final, the ICC board decided to allow only the ten full members in the 2015 edition to be hosted in Australia and New Zealand. The board also agreed that the ten-team format would be in place for the 2019 World Cup in England as well, though there would be a qualification process involving the Associates.
Despite the encouraging signs of a rethink, Deutrom was determined not to lose sight of the bigger picture. "We are not regarding it as anything other than a short step in a longer journey," he added. "The fact it is back on the [ICC] board's agenda is a good thing, but it's still the same ten people having the same discussion on the same issue, so there clearly has to be a catalyst. We have to help them reach a different decision.
"Part of that process we would hope would be a face-to-face meeting, which is what we asked for in the letter we wrote to Sharad Pawar," Deutrom added. "That wasn't addressed in his response to us this morning, so we sincerely hope that it will be addressed in the coming days. We would seek a meeting with the president, vice-president and senior ICC management, so that everyone is fully aware of the depth of our resolve on this matter. All of our members are very much as one on this. They completely, unreservedly and wholly condemn the decision, and our elected representatives are mandated on behalf of the 95 non-Test nations to go ahead and seek redress with the ICC."
The recently concluded World Cup, which has been largely hailed as a success, featured 14 teams, and the league stage was played in two groups of seven each, with the top eight teams playing the quarter-finals. The proposal to trim the event meant that a team such as Ireland, which has had two successful World Cups, would not be a part of the next tournament. To compensate, the World Twenty20 was expanded to 16 teams, giving six Associate or Affiliate members a chance to play in a premier world event every two years, but no matter how well they perform there, they did not have a chance to make the cut for the 2015 50-over World Cup. Pawar's intervention could yet change that.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo