The latest myopic decision by the International Cricket Council (ICC) has it cutting the number of teams in the next World Cup to 10. So no more Associate countries, just an elite clique of 10 Full Members. The map below shows the countries that are members of the ICC. The patches of brown are the countries that shall play the World Cup for the next 8 years.
It seems a financially sound decision. Only let those teams play which actually bring along with them a stadium full of spectators or truckloads of sponsors. But it certainly defeats the purpose of a World Cup (i.e. bringing in teams from all around the world to one tournament to play for the ultimate honour a sport can bestow).
A minnow such as the Netherlands or Canada may never hope to win the World Cup in the near future, but for most of their players, the opportunity to play in such a tournament is sufficient motivation to improve and better themselves.
How a country can even hope to fill a stadium with fans or get sponsors if it doesn’t have any opportunities to show off its talent completes the vicious circles that will be the demise of international cricket. Since Ireland exceeded expectations in the World Cup four years back, they have managed to put in place a good administrative and youth system, backed by sponsors who saw potential in the team. But now without the lucrative viewership of the World Cup, why would the sponsors care to stand by this team?
This is already a game that struggles to find fans outside the subcontinent, and is facing stiff competition from football, tennis and many American imports such as basketball and baseball. The Twenty20 form of cricket had been introduced as a means to counter this competition, and to target the more fickle and parts of the population stricken by bouts of ADHD.
But for true admirers of the game, there is no substitute for playing actual One Day internationals, and Test matches. These are the holy grail by which a player or a team judges itself. A Keiren Pollard may be a great Twenty20 player, but he can never hope to reach the cult status Brian Lara reached as a great Test player. The Twenty20 may be money, but it certainly isn’t respect.
So the Twenty20 carrot the ICC hangs in front of the Associate countries may work for those looking for money, but not for those who wish to actually make an impact on the sport itself.
The decision is equivalent to FIFA reducing the World Cup to just teams from West Europe and South America. It is a financially sound decision, but one that takes the “World” out of the “World Cup.” It is one that reeks of lack of thought and foresight, and more importantly gives no incentives to any team or players. What are they playing for anymore?
The cricket World Cups so far have been long and have dragged on for weeks, with the primary objective of somehow ensuring that no “weak” team gets through to the final rounds by accident. So the dice is already heavily loaded against the weaker teams in terms of how far they reach based on just luck. But spare a thought for a team like Ireland, which nearly made it through on the basis of just its talent this time around.
The hue and cry that we see about this decision is not on the basis on what we hope to see, but on what we have already seen. And, the injustice we see here is being meted on those who deserve opportunities and exposure.
There is a proposal of a qualifier system between the low ranking countries, which makes perfect sense to most cricket fans and players, but might not occur to those who govern the sports. These are officials with little knowledge of the game and its impact. It is something that plagues almost all sports: politicians and businessmen, men with power and money, with little stake in the game but in its financial aspects. These are the men who orchestrate the rise and fall of nations based on their whims and fancies.
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