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Where do the minnows go from here?

Watching Associates get hammered in World Cups is dispiriting, but there must be a way of ensuring they play against big teams more than once every four years

Such days make for a dispiriting - and complicated - spectacle. The two matches in Chennai and Hambantota on Sunday are precisely what the format and the World Cup don't need, yet it is the very existence of such matches that allows cricket to think of itself as a global game.
Much has been said on the issue of the Associates in the run-up to this tournament. Probably the most thoughtful and reasoned assessment of their plight came from Ricky Ponting, who in his sporting old age, appears to have found a wisened balance.
The World Cup needs to be more competitive, he said, and that can't be argued with. The first two days have seen individual and collective quality, but no competitiveness. But Associates also need to be given a platform to develop. They only get to play big teams once every four years. There, they get duly battered, go away, come back four years later and go through it again. Here is the real plight.
Occasionally there is hope: Kenya's run in 2003, Ireland's performances in 2007. But where do they go from there? Into the glass ceiling Ireland spoke of a few years ago? Mostly, there is what happened to Kenya and Canada on Sunday. What, Ponting asked, do they learn from such batterings?
Canada showed some spirit and bite in Hambantota. For 25 overs in the field they can say they had things under control. But it was always a precarious kind of hold, prisoner to the gulf in quality of superior opponents and their own lack of exposure to it. Once Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara decided to take the game away, they simply went on and did so. As Canada's Sri Lankan coach Pubudu Dassanayake later acknowledged, they knew what to do; the plans were in place; presumably some kind of SWOT analysis coaches love doing was carried out as well. They just didn't have the tools to do it.
In four World Cups since 1979, Canada has won one game, against Bangladesh. Yet there is something to build on with this side. There are young players coming through. They have coaches with international experience. The ICC facilitates their preparation for such tournaments.
But without playing any top-flight cricket outside the World Cup, how do they grow as players, as a team, how do they build? Not by playing top sides every four years.
Dassanayake seems a cheery man, so he insisted that his players would have learnt something from the 210-run defeat to Sri Lanka. "Mainly this is a great experience for my youngsters," he said. "Playing against great bowlers like [Muttiah] Muralitharan and [Ajantha] Mendis, it gives them a lot of confidence. If you talk about talent they are all talented but just not exposed at this level. We can coach certain things but it's all about them going and experiencing this and getting the belief they can compete against top players."
They might very well take something from this, but where do they take it? These sides want to become full Test members. Ultimately, that must be the aim of everyone involved in cricket. By not playing regular top-level cricket, or not, as may be the case, playing in future World Cups, that will not happen.
Ponting's suggestion - taken up by Mahela Jayawardene as well - that there should be another way of getting them to play constant top-flight cricket offers a solution if there is seriousness about finding one.
"You need to give them opportunities to play more regular cricket with top nations," Jayawardene said. "Maybe on and off they need to organise certain things for them because their cricket can be improved. Cricket is a global game and we need to try and make sure everyone plays and comes to that standard one day."
Until - and if - that day comes, associates, as Dassanayake put it, are in the dark about where they go next. He is not alone.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo