ICC's minnows experiment needs as much depth as it has breadth March 17, 2007

Big picture, blurred vision

More important than the symbolism of minor teams at the World Cup is the question of what's being done for them in between tournaments



Ian Chappell: 'Never once has a minor cricketing nation defeated a major side, nor have they ever come closer than being on the same field in these lopsided contests' © AFP

In the same way that not everybody accepts a global economy as a good idea, a number of people [including Michael Holding] have expressed reservations about globalising the cricket World Cup.

The current tournament is the ninth World Cup. In a span of thirty two years, nineteen teams have competed in the World Cup, including sixteen currently in the Caribbean, two of whom [Bermuda and Ireland] are appearing for the first time. Of the approximately 250 victories so far in World Cup play there have been some major upsets, ranging from Australia's loss to Zimbabwe in 1983 [before they were a Test nation] to Sri Lanka's defeat by Kenya in 2003. However, never once has a minor cricketing nation defeated a major side, nor have they ever come closer than being on the same field in these lopsided contests.

I don't completely agree with Holding's recent assessment that only one Associate country should play in the World Cup but I would query the level of their involvement in the tournament.

I'd like to see ten teams play in the World Cup proper with two qualifiers joining the eight major teams. The teams who miss out on qualifying could then play practice matches against the major sides as they warm up for the World Cup. This way the tournament proper could be shortened, with all matches being meaningful, while the minnows would still get to play against top internationals in order to gain experience and see how far they are from competing with the big boys.

More important than the symbolism of minor teams competing at the World Cup, is the question; "What is being done to boost the playing standards and cricketing culture of the minnows in between tournaments?"

For instance, what are the long term plans for teams likes the Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland? It was fine to encourage Sri Lanka [in 1975] and later on Kenya and Bangladesh, as they had a cricket structure and culture already in place, which provided hope for their long-term future.

What are the long term plans for teams likes the Netherlands, Scotland and Ireland?

That is not the case with the European nations and unless the players are able to improve their skills by playing regularly in a tough competition there will continue to be a merry-go-round of minnows appearing at the World Cup. The appearance or not of most of the minnows at the World Cup often depends on their ability to unearth decent players from cricket playing countries who have some association by birth. That might help a minnow get to the World Cup but it does little for their long term cricket culture.

It's time to work out which teams have a long-term future; countries that can support a group of professional cricketers. There is no way any of the European teams or Canada or Bermuda can support enough full time players to run their own first-class competition. Their associations couldn't afford it, there wouldn't be the crowd support and it would be too great a drain on the ICC's resources. However, with help from the ICC, those nations could probably afford to have a squad of fifteen players who are full time cricketers competing in a regular tournament. With the distance between European countries reasonably short and bus travel a viable proposition, regular tournaments could be held there to keep expenses under control.



'It's time to work out which teams have a long-term future; countries that can support a group of professional cricketers' © AFP

From that tournament, major matches such as the semi-finals and finals could be played on a home and away basis so that countries like Canada and Bermuda would have the opportunity to perform in front of a home crowd.

This is the type of planning needed to enhance the playing ability and cricket culture of the minnows. It is this type of long-term planning that could propel the World Cup to a point where there are eventually 16 competitive sides playing in a truly elite tournament.

I would rather hear about these types of plans than air-filling boasts that "we have more than one hundred associate countries affiliated with the ICC" and "we have coaching structures set up in many regions of the world".

Coaching young players from non-cricket playing countries is fine but if they don't then have a competitive structure from which to graduate, the globalisation experiment will continue to resemble a medieval army fighting a futile battle against modern artillery.