The leading Associate members of the ICC have described the plans for a smaller 50-over World Cup as a glass ceiling that will restrict the growth of the game in their countries, while simultaneously protecting the interests of the full members.
"The challenge will be [to see] how we break through," Chandra Gocool, Cricket Canada's chief executive told ESPNcricinfo.
The ICC's chief executives committee, which includes three representatives from the associate countries (Ireland, Namibia and Hong Kong) in addition to those from the ten full members, has suggested reducing the 50-over tournament to 10 teams from 2015 onwards, while increasing the Twenty20 tournament to 16 teams. The 2011 World Cup in India has 14 teams, including four Associates; a 10-team event would effectively make it much harder for any of them to qualify the next time around.
The ICC has stressed that it has not yet decided how those ten teams will be decided and the proposals do not explicitly state that Associates will be excluded from the tournament. That seems unlikely, though, to ease the concerns in cricket's second tier of nations, with the national boards of Kenya, Canada and Ireland - who have all qualified for the 2011 World Cup - leading the criticism.
Cricket must be the only sport where you can't qualify for the World Cup on merit," Cricket Kenya's chief executive Tom Sears said. "In football and rugby, if you are good enough, you can compete. Unfortunately, the ICC seems to want to pull up the drawbridge and not allow the Associate countries in."
According to Gocool, the Associate members had, as a group, submitted a paper to the ICC on how cricket in their countries could best grow and thrive They were hoping for a promotion/relegation system that would encourage them to develop and challenge some of the full members. The ICC's proposed system, however, would force them to focus on Twenty20 cricket, potentially to the detriment of other forms of the game.
"Especially worrisome is the lessened opportunity to play in the cricket world cup in 2015," he said. "This opportunity was a significant incentive for us to continue to focus on our development. We are now faced with a glass ceiling."
Ireland are among the most successful of the Associates with a strong track record in the 50-over game - they famously beat Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. Warren Deutrom, CEO of the national board, said the Twenty20 format was a good way to spread to the game, but the not the way to improve a team's performance.
He also thought the ICC would be better served by waiting until after the 2011 World Cup to determine whether such a "radical step" is necessary. "To say there are only 10 countries worthy of ODI status flies in the face of several indicators such as Ireland's position above a Full Member [Zimbabwe] in the ranks and Bangladesh's recent defeats against Netherlands and Ireland.
Roddy Smith, the chief executive of Cricket Scotland, welcomed the expansion of the World Twenty20 but cautioned that it should not be a trade-off for a shorter 50-over tournament. "Twenty20 is a great development tool for the lower-ranked Associates, but the bread and butter for the top eight or 10 teams is 50-over ODI matches."
Accepting such changes would hinge on what kind of qualification tournament would be created, Smith said. "If there was no qualification tournament it would be a huge issue for Associate cricket. It is vital to have a qualification event,"
Kenya memorably beat the West Indies in the 1996 World Cup, bowling them out for 93. Seven years later they beat Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe on their way to the semi-finals. Ireland first qualified for the World Cup in 2007; Canada has played in the 1979, 2003 and 2007 tournaments and Scotland has featured in the 1999 and 2007 editions.
Sears agreed it is easier for the associate teams to compete in the shortest version of the game, but said all three formats were integral to the development of cricket. "Test cricket is important; one-day cricket is important and Twenty20 cricket is important. If we are not allowed to compete in all formats, I don't see how the game can grow."