Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna
Despite the prospect of a 10-team World Cup being confirmed at the end of this week's ICC Annual Conference, Tim Anderson, the ICC head of global development, says Associate cricket overall is "in a much better place now than say it was six or 12 months ago".
In a recent interview with ESPNcricinfo, Anderson said Associates had gained increased respect from Full Members after what he characterised as the best ever performance by Associates in a World Cup. The ICC administrator said that even though there was no guarantee that Associates would be part of a 10-team World Cup for 2019, it would be unfair to criticise the decision to downsize the tournament without considering moves that he felt had opened up other opportunities for Associates.
"One of the things that I think is a bit unfair in the analysis of all of this is that the World Cup is only one of a number of ICC events that take place over a four-year cycle," Anderson told ESPNcricinfo. "Within the same period of time that the World Cup was decided to be smaller, which happened in 2013, the World Cup Qualifier will now include Full Members. That's a significant shift in the structure of the ICC, that a Full Member has to qualify for the World Cup.
"There are more teams in the World Twenty20, going from 12 to 16 which is great. The pathway to Test cricket through the Intercontinental Cup, so that's great. The last decision which was quite recent was having Ireland and Afghanistan on the ODI rankings table for the purposes of qualifying for the World Cup. So effectively they are now part of the ODI FTP. Now I understand the counter-arguments to some of those, that they are not guaranteed games and yes we understand that but the fact that they are part of that family of 12 countries now, I think that's a really important step in the right direction. So I guess the bottom line for me is that even though the World Cup and the reduction of teams is a very emotive issue, there are some other good things that have happened at the same time that may have been slipped over."
Despite his admission that Ireland and Afghanistan's inclusion in the ODI rankings table was no guarantee for securing additional matches against Full Members, Anderson said he had observed more communication between the two Associates and Full Member boards since the conclusion of the World Cup. He attributed an increased interest in Associate cricket in general from Full Members due to greater Full Member representation on the ICC development committee.
"We have four Full Member directors including the chairman and the CEO on the development committee of the ICC," Anderson said. "That has never happened before. If you look at it from region to region, Cricket Australia and Papua New Guinea have links. Cricket Australia have just been to Nepal. India [hosted a training camp for] Nepal since the earthquake. These sort of things haven't happened before. Afghanistan played in the Asia Cup and now they are talking about having a qualification event into the Asia Cup moving forward.
"England obviously continue to be supportive. I think [ECB chief executive] Tom Harrison has a very global perspective about developing the game and I think therefore that he will look at things maybe a little bit differently. In Africa, we've just had an announcement that Cricket South Africa is playing an African T20 competition with Kenya and Namibia. The West Indies have great interest obviously in the USA and by extension Canada and the ICC Americas Region and they're doing a lot of stuff. So there's a lot of things that are happening here."
Anderson said the World Cricket League Championship had been a tremendous success for the ICC and envisioned more exposure, either through video webcasts or full-fledged TV productions, similar to what occurred during the first edition from 2011 to 2013. He said the World Cricket League promotion and relegation structure, which has seen teams like Afghanistan and Nepal rise from Division Five all the way to World Cup and World T20 qualification, highlighted the strength of meritocratic structures in Associate cricket. When asked why Full Members don't apply the same standard to themselves, Anderson said it comes down to "membership benefits".
"I think there's a lot of respect in the Full Member world, at least at our board table, of the merit-based systems that happen in the Associate world," Anderson said. "I think there's a desire to try to… you can't necessarily replicate them directly but at least take that philosophy and try to put it into more Full Member activities that the ICC is involved in, be it funding or events or whatever. But changes don't just happen like that. It's a fair question and my view is that the ball is turning, maybe not as fast as some people would want but it is turning.
"The controversial aspect of that is that 'You're just telling us that you're doing all these things at this level - events, competition and all of that - well what about the Full Members?' I think that's relevant. But I suppose what do I concentrate on? I concentrate on the stuff that I can control and that is creating the very best systems that we can have at a development level for our countries to get better. We are very proud of those, be it our events, be it our funding models, we think that because those are in place, the standard of our members is getting better which is what we're about."