The distinction between ODIs and other games makes Associate clashes harder to market: when Scotland played Netherlands this year, there was uncertainty over whether the games could even be called internationals
September 18 dawned as a historic date for cricket in Papua New Guinea. It was to be the date of their first one-day international. Yes, it was only against the UAE but it was still a symbol of the progress made by PNG.
Well, so much for that. Two one-day international sides, PNG and the UAE, played an international game according to ODI rules. But the plans to make the game an ODI were abandoned, through no fault of the two sides. The ground that the game was played on has not received the ICC's approval to be an ODI venue.
The incident embodies the ICC's obsession with the concept of status. When two national teams, no matter how weak, meet in any other sport, the game has full international status. Andorra against Luxembourg is a football international, in the same way that Germany against Brazil is.
Cricket takes a very different view. As one person who has been involved in cricket administration put it to me, there is a belief that extending Test status to Associate members would be "like dancing on the grave of Donald Bradman". Such a belief dictates much of cricket's thinking today: Afghanistan can play Ireland in a five-day game, in accordance with Test match rules, but it does not count as a Test.
There are other cases that are more absurd. When Kenya faced Netherlands in the World Cup qualifiers in January, they did so in an official ODI, the result of both sides having qualified for the World Cup four years earlier. But if either side played an ODI today, it would lack ODI status, because both finished outside of the top four in this year's qualifiers. Those top four, along with Afghanistan and Ireland, now have ODI status until 2018.
The situation is more than just cack-handed and ridiculously complex. It also undermines the ICC's mantra to create "a bigger, better global game".
Kenya and Netherlands have been hangers-on on the international scene since 1996, when both qualified for their first World Cups. During this period each has recorded significant highs. Kenya reached the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, while Netherlands have beaten England in both matches the two sides have played in the World T20. For all of this period the two teams have enjoyed ODI status, and thus the ability to organise bilateral ODIs against Test nations. Kenya played 18 ODIs in 18 months against Full Members between August 2001 and the 2003 World Cup. While Full Members do not even permit Ireland a similar diet of fixtures now, Kenya and Netherlands have still been able to organise ODIs occasionally: South Africa played a game in Amstelveen before the Champions Trophy last year. As rare as such occasions are, they provide Associates with a cash windfall, allow players to test themselves against superior opposition and - most importantly - help them to gain new fans.
Ridding sides of their ODI status has more deleterious effects than depriving them of occasional plump ODIs against Test sides. It also fundamentally impedes cricket's ability to grow.
One-day international status is hard won but easily lost. And when it is lost, people notice: countries become second-rate in the eyes of players, fans and sponsors. There is little attraction for them in being associated with a side seen to be failing, especially without ODIs against Test teams to entice them. And the distinction between ODIs and other games makes Associate clashes harder to market: when Scotland played Netherlands this year, there was uncertainty over whether the games could be called internationals. They did not even qualify as List A matches. All of this exacerbates the damage already done to countries from losing the extra funds from the ICC that comes with being one of the top six Associates.
"When we play matches against countries they're no longer considered ODI matches," Jackie Janmohammed, the chairperson of Cricket Kenya, says. "Who would want to play a game that doesn't have ODI status - because it no longer goes into the record books?"
Janmohammed is adamant that if games between Kenya and similarly ranked sides had official ODI status, it would help to promote cricket in Kenya. "It would have been easier because people can see, yes, it's going to be an ODI match," she says. "It would help us get sponsorship."
The rationale for taking ODI status away from sides is to preserve the quality of ODIs. But the decision that there should be 16 ODI nations is arbitrary, and pays no attention to the divisions in quality that exist in cricket today. After Afghanistan and Ireland, comfortably the two leading Associates, there is a group of around eight sides of similar quality. Netherlands, who lost their ODI status after finishing seventh in the World Cup qualifiers - making them, by implication, the 19th best one-day country in the world - came ninth in the World T20 a couple of months later, beating Ireland and England and almost beating Zimbabwe. Because of two defeats in the World Cup qualifiers, Netherlands are now no longer allowed to play ODIs. "To have all of that fall apart from under us in one afternoon, I see that as a poor investment from the ICC, with Netherlands being a high-performance country," captain Peter Borren says.
Beyond the technicalities the underlying truth is that the ICC's decision to restrict the number of ODI nations is self-defeating: it hampers Associates' ability to generate funding, since internationals that aren't ODIs are harder to market than those that are; and sponsors are more inclined to stump up cash for teams that have the prospect of occasional games against Test teams - even if only on paper.
Cynics might claim that this is exactly the point: in making Associates more dependent upon the ICC for their revenue, it makes them less inclined to speak out against decisions taken in boardrooms in Dubai.
No other sport is equally wedded to distinguishing between different types of internationals. When the modest decision was made by the ICC to award temporary ODI status to all six qualifiers for the 2007 World Cup, even that was deemed a slur on the game. Matthew Engel used the Editor's Notes in Wisden 2006 to rail against "the expansion menace", largely on the grounds that it would "add another layer of distortion to cricket's poor old statistics". The spurious notion of the sanctity of statistics is not shared by other sports. Ali Daei of Iran is far from being the best striker in the history of the game. But he is the top goalscorer in international football. Statisticians, fans and the memory of Pelé have all survived.
After the power grab by Australia, England and India this year, world cricket is reducing the proportion of revenue it gives to expanding the game. In the circumstances the least that could be done would be to loosen the requirements needed to gain ODI status. Scrapping the distinction between ODIs and international 50-over cricket would be a utopian solution. A more modest proposal would be that ODI status could be gained by qualifying Associates, allowing the number of countries with it to incrementally increase. It would result in more money and prestige for Associate cricket - and the ICC and the Big Three would not even need to foot any of the bill.