ICC chairman Barclay hints that ODI Super League may not be dead just yet

Greg Barclay has acknowledged that exposure gained from playing top teams regularly has made Associate teams more competitive

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Netherlands rejoice after qualifying for the Men's ODI World Cup, Netherlands vs Scotland, ODI World Cup Qualifier, Super Six, Bulawayo, July 6, 2023

Facing Full Member teams regularly in the Super League contributed significantly to Netherlands' magical run at the World Cup Qualifier  •  ICC/Getty Images

Following Netherlands' stunning run to the 2023 Men's World Cup, there are calls from both the Dutch and the ICC for a continuance of the World Cup Super League (WCSL) in some form. The world's top 13 ODI sides featured in the first edition of the WCSL, which gave Associate teams such as Netherlands the chance to pit themselves against top opposition regularly. Netherlands' performance in the World Cup Qualifier, as also those of other Associate teams, notably Scotland, has been seen as proof of the WCSL having made these sides more battle-hardened.
"I don't think there is any doubt that the Super League was hugely helpful in terms of a pathway to Associate countries," Greg Barclay, the ICC chairman, said at a press conference in Harare on Friday. "The fact that you are seeing some of the performances from the Associate members over here, in large part, was due to the fact that they have had the experience of playing teams ranked above where they are.
"It's a work on. It's no secret that T20 is in a pretty good place, Test cricket has had a shot in the arm [with the World Test Championship] but maybe we've lost our way a little bit in the 50-over format. We need to address both context and relevance and the experience around that. Is that a re-creation of the Super League or something equivalent? I don't know but I suspect that the answer to that will be yes. We need to do something."
As things stand, the WCSL will not be played during the 2023-2027 ODI cycle, with the participants for the 2027 World Cup to be decided based on rankings. This means there is no imperative for teams to play a set number of ODIs in the next four years (the World Cup Super League made provision for 24 ODIs, in eight series of three matches each), Associate teams are not guaranteed 50-overs cricket against Full Members, which has increased the volume of questions surrounding the relevance of bilateral ODI cricket, which the ICC acknowledges.
"We need to make sure one-day cricket continues to have a following," Barclay said. "It's running the risk at the moment of having a lot of irrelevancy in terms of the bilateral arrangements that are made."
But how this will be fixed remains unclear. From the information ESPNcricinfo has to date, the Super League is not on the agenda at the ICC's AGM, which will take place next week, even though the Associate boards will be present and eager to discuss the way forward. Barclay, too, believes that they have a case, especially after the Netherlands' Qualifier success. "If we accept that we are keeping all three forms of the game then we have got to give the next tier of countries, mainly those high-performing Associates, the opportunity to make sure that they then perform at the top table when they are performing at world events," he said. "We've got 14 teams [qualifying for the World Cup] in the next cycle, so we've got to make sure they are competitive and prepared when they get to those events."
A case in point are the Dutch themselves, who, had they not qualified for the World Cup, would have had no fixtures scheduled from the end of the Qualifier until the start of the new World Cup Cricket League 2 next February. Their success at last year's T20 World Cup, where they advanced to the Super 12s and finished fourth in their six-team group, means they do not have to play in the European Qualifiers for the 2024 T20 World Cup. That means that in peak European summer, Netherlands have an empty calendar and no indication of when they play competitively before or after the ODI World Cup.
Opening batter Max O'Dowd described Netherlands as "gutted" at the discontinuance of the WCSL. "It's just the tough reality that we live in as Associate teams," he said. "I don't like the word Associate but us, in that boat, we just don't get the same cricket. We're all extremely gutted that the Super League is gone because you can see where we've come from to where we are now."
Netherlands won only three of their 24 Super League matches (two against Ireland, who finished 11th, and one over Zimbabwe, who were 12th) and ended the WCSL in last place. But the value they took from playing against Full Members informed how they went about this Qualifier - particularly their approach against spin - and taught them how to build winning habits.
"The playing experience was massive. If we didn't play that Super League, we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are," O'Dowd said. "We were in situations so many times where we actually should have won games and then, we created a culture where we gave ourselves permission to win these games. In the past, we were quite happy just getting close against big sides. And now, we know that if we are in a winning position, we should be winning. It doesn't matter who you're playing against. That's been massive for us. The Super League has boosted so many guys' confidence."
The game against West Indies in June 2022 is one example. Netherlands were 164 for 1 in the 30th over, chasing 309, and lost 9 for 124 to fall short by 20 runs. They were particularly conservative against Akeal Hosein and Hayden Walsh in that game; they rethought their strategy against spin shortly afterwards. Since then, they have developed confidence in their sweep shots, and memorably beat West Indies in this Qualifier.
Now, Netherlands will have the opportunity to play against nine other Full Members at the World Cup albeit without knowing when their next chance to play against them will be. Asked what they hope their journey to India will offer other Associates, O'Dowd hoped it could serve as an example that the game should continue growing.
"It shows the strength of Associate cricket. The gap between Associate cricket and Full Member nations is dwindling. Three Full Members have missed out on the World Cup," he said. "I don't want to sit here and say to other Associates to work harder and all that kind of stuff because I feel that's a bit degrading. These guys are quality and they know what they need to do to win games. I just hope they can take a bit of inspiration from what we've been able to achieve and hopefully going forward, they can do the same."

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent for South Africa and women's cricket