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A new era for the second tier

The ICC's changes to associate countries will have far-reaching effects

Canada are one of the countries likely to benefit from the ICC changes © Getty Images
The announcement that, from now on, the top six associate countries will be able to play full one-day internationals against each other, or any of the Full Members, is a massive and timely boost to world cricket's second-tier nations.
Until now, the gulf between the Full Members - the Test-playing countries - and the rest has been wide and seemingly unbridgeable. In the one-day game, the only real chance for the minnows to shine has come in the four-yearly World Cup.
But the ICC's announcement that one-day member status - the sole preserve of Kenya - was being scrapped has been accompanied by something much more significant and far-reaching. Not only will the six leading associates be granted ODI status, they will also benefit from considerable additional grants of US$500,000 over four years, which should enable them to build a sound cricketing infrastructure to underpin their national sides. That will help to ensure that any future aspirants to Test status have built their success on a solid foundation.
As a result, the ICC Trophy, which starts later this week in Ireland, takes on far more importance than ever before. Until now it has been a qualification tournament for the World Cup, with a one-off opportunity to appear alongside cricket's big boys. That aside, there has been little tangible reward.
Now the lure is the four-year investment from the ICC and one-day status, on top of the World Cup place. Five places are up for grabs in Ireland - the sixth slot is already guaranteed to Kenya as part of the sweetener for them losing their one-day membership - and those six will get all the benefits until the 2009 ICC Trophy when they will all have to qualify again.
What could be a fearsome struggle is likely to come down to five from Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands, Scotland, UAE and the USA, although outsiders such as Uganda have the potential to grab one of the places. The downside is that the price for failure is considerable.
And while a final decision has yet to be reached, it is likely that the one-day world rankings will be expanded to include the newcomers, meaning that matches at the bottom end take on much more significance. Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and even West Indies have had the safety net removed from under them, and might well find the likes of Scotland and Namibia snapping at their heels.
At last, global cricket is genuinely democratic. Any associate or affiliate is eligible to enter the qualifying stages of the ICC Trophy, and so in theory any one of them can land the jackpot. Rather than relying on politicking and schmoozing, finally the international stage is now a meritocracy.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo