Sunday, 22 March 2015

In defence of the associates

Sunday, 22 March 2015
We're at the business end of the World Cup now, with only the semi finals and the final left to be played. So this post might seem a little late - the associates are out and only four teams left, after all. But it's still something I want to say. The associate teams have helped to light up this tournament, with their matches, their players, and their stories. It's disgraceful that their presence should be limited in the future.

I'm not sure if it was even a surprise when the ICC announced the plan for a ten team cup, giving some nonsense about making it more competitive. There's so many holes you can pick in that it's ridiculous. You can point to the example of Ireland, who beat test nations more regularly than England do in World Cups (four wins for England across 2007, 2011, and 2015; five for Ireland). You can point to the example of other sports - look at football, with 32 teams and just a handful with a serious chance of winning. You can point to the massive victory margins in games between test sides here: a lot of the games England have played; West Indies/Pakistan; India/South Africa; South Africa/West Indies being examples.

It's a flawed argument, one that just looks like an excuse. Does the ICC care about the growth of the game, or about protecting the interests of the 'big three' who provide it with the money? But then, what do we expect? I don't know, it just seems obvious to me - we have a great sport, one that's loved by millions and millions across the globe - why would you not want to expand? To have more people playing the sport, watching and enjoying it. What can be so bad about that?

But that's not how the ICC works. India were knocked out of the 2007 World Cup in the group stages, and rather than the achievement of Bangladesh being celebrated, there was the disappointment that India's exit would mean less spectators, less television viewers. Rather than the upset being applauded, the commercial impact was commiserated. And the format duly changed - bigger groups so you can pump more money out of the big guns, try and guarantee the top eight a knockout space (which also, obviously, hasn't worked out well for them).

And even if they still haven't found a format that works for the competition, it doesn't mean it should be restricted further to just ten teams. The associates have provided some of the best thrills of this tournament. Look at Ireland, beating West Indies fairly comfortably in their first game, then Zimbabwe in a thriller before ultimately falling short of a knockout place. UAE vs Ireland, one of the best matches of the cup, and the cult status of UAE's 43 year old captain Khurram Khan. The story of Afghanistan - who would have thought fifteen years ago that they'd be playing in a global tournament, making a name for themselves on a world stage? And their fast bowlers - Hamid Hassan's warpaint and celebrations, Shapoor Zadran's run up, long enough to probably make a cup of tea before he reaches you; and both just bowling fast. Kyle Coetzer's 156 for Scotland, the highest individual score from a current non-test nation in the World Cup. Yes, there have been bad shows in between - there have been from all nations really - but who couldn't be charmed by these moments?

I meant to write this to celebrate the part of the associates in the cup, it looks like my rage at the ICC took over. But then again it's justified. The full members - the 'big three' and 'top eight' especially - are being protected at all costs, whilst the others are barely being given a chance. Even though in theory teams like Ireland and Afghanistan could qualify directly if they had a really good four years in between - would they ever be given the chance to play regular ODI cricket against the full members? So much more can be done to raise the associate game - more ODI or Twenty20 cricket against full members; first class 'test' matches against 'A' teams; more international tours to experience new conditions - pitches in Asia being a world away from those in Ireland and Scotland, Australia a world away from the experiences of Afghanistan and UAE, for example.

But how likely is that to happen? The response at the top to associate success seems to be to do everything to stop any more, to stop it from happening again. Through no fault of their own, their chances are being taken away. This is not a good thing for the game.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Two Short Legs © 2014