Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale
ICC chief executive David Richardson has conceded that it is hard to guarantee large numbers of games for leading Associate teams Ireland and Afghanistan in their attempts to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in England. However, he believes the ten Test-playing nations will show greater willingness to arrange fixtures with the Associates, who can theoretically qualify by breaking into the top eight rankings.
The 2019 World Cup will be trimmed from 14 teams to 10, with the top eight sides in the ODI rankings as at September 30, 2017, qualifying automatically, and the remaining two positions to be filled via the World Cup qualifying tournament in Bangladesh in 2018. It is therefore very feasible that the 2019 World Cup will not feature any Associate sides.
Of the Associates, only Ireland and Afghanistan have been allowed the theoretical path of qualifying via reaching the top eight, although Ireland have expressed their concerns that they will not be given enough ODIs in the next two years to achieve that. Ireland currently sit 12th on the ODI rankings and Afghanistan 11th, but the gap to West Indies in eighth spot is significant.
"It's difficult to guarantee matches for them," Richardson said of Ireland. "I think it's important that we provide the top Associate members the opportunity, and certainly the indications are that the Full Members will support Ireland in that objective.
"They not only will be playing matches against Full Members like England in particular, and teams visiting England, but they'll also be playing amongst themselves quite frequently. We're working on them having at least 10 ODIs per season leading up to qualification for that next World Cup, so I think the opportunity will be there."
Since the 2011 World Cup, Ireland have played only 11 ODIs against Full Members and Afghanistan have played only 10 in total. But Richardson believes the bigger teams will be more inclined to schedule games against Afghanistan as well as Ireland in the coming years, under the new system.
"Australia have been talking about tours involving Afghanistan," Richardson said. "I don't think we'd have gone down this route if we weren't confident that we'd make sure that Ireland and Afghanistan both are playing in the region of eight to ten ODIs per year."
Other Associates such as Scotland and the UAE, who are playing at the World Cup this year, would have to qualify for the next World Cup by finishing in the top two of the qualifiers in Bangladesh in 2018, where their opponents will likely include two Full Members. UAE coach Aaqib Javed took a pragmatic view of the ICC's decision to shrink the number of teams at future World Cups.
"I can't comment on this but I think if they're sticking to 10 teams, our next goal is to get into the top 10," Aaqib said.
Richardson also said he believed the new system would increase the importance of bilateral series between Full Members, which otherwise can be fairly meaningless. At the moment, Pakistan and West Indies are ranked Nos.7 and 8, and neither would want to consider the possibility of dropping out of the top eight and having to play at the World Cup qualifiers.
"Context is important. To try and make the bilateral series that take place between the countries mean something is important," Richardson said. "In that regard we have the rankings, and going forward we have qualification for the CT and the World Cup, which will hopefully make bilateral series much more important than they have been before.
"In the past Full Members could almost guarantee places at those tournaments. I don't think that will necessarily be the case going forward."