Ten-team World Cup a concern for Associates
The Associate nations have expressed "pressing concern" over the 2019 World Cup being a 10-team event. According to their officials, it has potential to disrupt the radical plan devised by the ICC recently to help the top Associate nation qualify to play Test cricket in 2018. It is a "major strategic issue" for the Associates to discuss at their meeting on Tuesday, which kicks off the ICC's annual conference in Melbourne.
According to the ICC's existing qualification process for the 2019 World Cup, the two lowest-ranked Full Members will have to play a qualifying tournament along with the Associates. Still, an Associate official said there was a "genuine risk" of those countries "abandoning" ODI cricket because there was such a "small chance" to qualify for the World Cup. Consequently, they might turn towards T20. The official feared how many Associates would actually be in a position to play Test cricket thereafter.
Effectively, the official pointed out, the Associates would play 50-over cricket only in tournaments such as the World Cricket League to just "go through the motions" since the opportunity to play in a global competition such as the World Cup would be limited. "Does not mean that we are not going to try, but there is risk (and if that were to happen) the game would be poorer for that," the Associate official told ESPNcricinfo. "Everyone has talked about context for Test cricket and context for T20 cricket. But there is a growing issue, a major one, about context for ODI cricket (among the Associates)."
The Associates ESPNcricinfo spoke to acknowledged the ICC's role in uplifting the game in their countries. They agreed that the ICC has been trying to close the gap between the top-ranked Full Members and the lowest-ranked Full Members/the top Associates for a while now, and had put in place a talent acceleration programme for that. But to exclude the top Associates from the World Cup and not provide them competitive opportunities against Full Members would never lessen that divide, officials pointed out.
According to a director of cricket with an Associate nation, the ICC may have now created a pathway to Test cricket but it was not going to have a lot of competitive teams vying for that spot if "all we are going to be doing is restrict them to the diet of T20 cricket."
The Associates believed that if the incentive to play in the World Cup - which they felt was a sort of bridge they needed to cross to get to Test cricket - was cut down they would be forced to figure whether it was indeed worth investing in ODIs. The dilemma was to financially prioritise parts of the game which "you are going to have the best opportunity to be successful in," an Associate official said. For that to happen it was important to take tough decisions, he added. Most of these decisions would be "driven by those forms of game which are going to help improve your ranking, help generate revenue and profile for the sport and therefore help generate government funding," the director said.
A solution, Associate officials said, was possibly in their own hands. If, for example, more than one top-ranked Associate did well at next year's World Cup then it could open an avenue for debate about whether the ICC needed to revisit the number of the teams for the 2019 edition.
But a realistic goal, the official said, was to provide more structured opportunities where top-performing Associates such as Afghanistan and Ireland get more opportunities frequently against the lowest-ranked Full Members who have large gaps in their schedules. Such bilateral tournaments would need to be accommodated into the FTP considering that match officials would have to be appointed, and is something the Associates would be interested in deliberating on with the ICC.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo