Associates vital to make the World Cup a 'celebration'
Rahul Dravid and Martin Crowe reiterated their opposition to the planned trimming of the World Cup to ten teams in 2019, as both advocated for the participation of Associates, so as to make the tournament a "celebration" of cricket. Dravid and Crowe were part of a discussion on World Cup and ODI cricket at ESPNcricinfo's Lunch with Legends function in Sydney.
Though Ian Chappell and Michael Holding agreed that Associates deserve a pathway to participation in the World Cup, they supported the proposed contraction to ten teams, arguing that a tournament played between fewer teams would produce a greater frequency of high-quality encounters.
Dravid, who played for Scotland in 2003, said precluding Associates from the World Cup could "kill the game" in those countries.
"In my three or four months in Scotland, one thing you realise is the passion for the game that so many of those players have, and the amount of sacrifices they make to play the game," Dravid said. "Most of them are amateur cricketers who only play during the weekend - they have to work right through the week.
"I think the sacrifices they make are done with the opportunity to play for Scotland in the World Cup in mind. It boils down to that big event. A lot of the funding that comes from cricket Scotland for a lot of these Associate nations depends on their participation for a lot of these events. If you take away these world events from a lot of these nations, I'm afraid you actually kill the game.
"They're not going to get the participation, they're not going to get the funding and they're not going to be able to encourage the young kids to play the game. Does cricket want to say that the Associates don't matter and all we want to do is play with the eight or ten best teams? I personally don't think that's what cricket should be."
Holding agreed with the sentiment that Associates should be given the chance to play in the World Cup and to develop their cricket, citing the example of Ireland, who do not have the resources to prevent their top players from pursuing more lucrative careers playing for England. However, he suggested a model where Associates could qualify for the World Cup within the ten-team structure.
"If you're going to have a ten-team tournament, perhaps you could have five or six teams that qualify automatically via the ICC rankings or international 50-over cricket. Whoever makes up the rest have to compete for those last four positions. Whether you are a Test nation or not, if you cannot compete against the Associates and beat them to make that four, tough luck. I don't think that you should qualify automatically if you're a Test playing nation. We have seen what the Associate teams have done in this World Cup. You have to encourage them to get to the big stage."
Chappell supported a World Cup between the "ten best teams", largely because he felt the current length of the tournament was "ridiculous", and needed curtailing. He said Twenty20, not ODIs, should be the format that expands the sport.
"It might suit television and it might be financially worthwhile, but I just think the World Cup goes way too long," Chappell said. "I think the game's got to globalise in T20 - a format that's likely to improve the game in areas like North America, Japan, Malaysia, where I think it could be accepted.
"What I would like, as an encouragement for those Associate nations, is that you have a second tier that's giving the administrators a clue as to which teams are on the improve, and which teams are getting ready to play the bigger nations on a regular basis. I would include in their programmes every four years, visits from the stronger A sides, so that the global administrators and the local administrators get an idea of the type of players you need to succeed at that level."
Crowe, who has already laid out his support for an 18-team event in his column, said that tweaks to the current playing conditions would increase the number of competitive matches, and hence allow for viewer interest to be sustained over a much longer tournament that would feature more teams.
"When you have something every four years, surely you have to celebrate it in the best possible way," Crowe said. "I'd like to see at least 16, possibly 18 teams at the World Cup, depending on if the 17th and 18th teams are up for it.
"I'd like to build on the 14 we have now and see at least 16 teams split into two conferences, so all teams are getting seven games each. Then the top four teams from each conference take their points, and you start to have a proper world series of the best of the best. The smaller nations will be blistered out of the park with the rules that are in place at the moment, but they'll have a chance if the rules allow for a balance between bat and ball, and they have a chance to compete as a team.
"That's what I feel has been lacking in this particular tournament. What we're seeing is six weeks of a one-sided contest where bat dominates ball. That to me is missing the point of cricket. Cricket needs to always look for that balance. We've probably seen only three out of 48 games that have been really intense and have taken you on a journey. If we can sort that out, then I think we can play for ten weeks, 12 weeks, so we can really celebrate the game."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando