The recently concluded International Cricket Council (ICC) ODI World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe was a damning indictment of cricket’s status quo, during which the wider sport continues to face unprecedented pressure. On one hand, you had the two-time champion West Indies, who are going to be absent from an ODI World Cup for the first time ever, following their seven-wicket loss to Scotland; and on the other, Bas de Leede produced a dazzling first-ever ODI hundred to fire the Netherlands to the World Cup with a dramatic four-wicket victory over Scotland.
West Indies skipper Shai Hope summed up his team’s interminable decline, saying, “We can’t just expect to wake up one morning and be a great team,” while Ryan Cook, Netherlands coach, made an impassioned appeal: “This is a call-out to anyone who wants to play us. We’d love to have a fixture or two. Our guys have not been to the subcontinent many times before, so it would be good to have some fixtures somewhere in the subcontinent as well.”
The 90-plus Associate Members of the ICC have spoken against a 10-team World Cup for a long time with some grouse and for good reason. The Associates effectively have limited opportunities to play in global competitions such as the World Cup. And while the World Cup Super League (WCSL) may have imparted relevance to ODI cricket, ensuring teams like the Netherlands play more bilateral ODIs than they’ve played to date, they still won’t take on the big guns India, Australia, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. To make things worse, the WCSL will not be played during the 2023–2027 ODI cycle, with the teams for the 2027 World Cup to be decided based on rankings.
Coming back to the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, the fact that there was no DRS and no reserve days during the monsoon season in Zimbabwe meant less financial investment and more cash for ICC members. The earlier statements of Hope and Cook best exemplify two sides of the cricket coin.
The moment West Indians think their cricket has, at last, bottomed out, it plummets deeper, while the Netherlands’ qualification is yet another reaffirmation of the rapid upward curve in the performance of Associate Nations in white-ball cricket. However, they have no fixtures scheduled before the World Cup in India in October and are reduced to seeking sponsors.
The Netherlands’ entire first-choice bowling attack was unavailable for the World Cup qualifier as the players prioritised their county contracts over international commitments, looking to keep their livelihood intact, hamstrung mainly by the shrinking share of Associates in ICC revenue. The revamped revenue-distribution model will see the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) earning close to US$ 230 million a year (2023-2027) while the Associate Members will share approximately US$ 67.5 million per year!
As for the West Indies, their decline predates the current setup. Recent years have been marred by player strikes and board disputes. The first signs surfaced in 2009, when 13 leading players, including then captain Chris Gayle, boycotted a two-Test series at home against Bangladesh in a dispute with their governing body over pay. Five years later, the West Indies withdrew early from the India tour over a similar dispute, and the BCCI then claimed that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) owed it $42 million. Then, ahead of the 2016 T20 World Cup in India, which the West Indies went on to win, then captain, Darren Sammy, revealed that the team was facing an 80 per cent pay cut compared to previous World Twenty20 events. But restricting the West Indies’ ambivalence towards winning to merely poor tenets of governance would be a touch unfair and oversimplifying matters.
The mushrooming growth of T20 leagues, especially the cash-rich Indian Premier League (IPL), has made the West Indies vulnerable to losing its star power-hitters to greener pastures.
Some also believe that the lack of robust domestic competition has robbed the players of an organic learning process. Yes, the development of the Caribbean Premier League, a Twenty20 league started in 2013, has demonstrated a depth of talent, but there seems scant immediate hope that fortunes will change.
The retirements of Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Sammy, and Kieron Pollard in a short period and the absence of Sunil Narine and Andre Russell due to political reasons have also left West Indies cricket rudderless.
Between 1980 and 1995, the West Indies went unbeaten in 29 straight Test series. Clive Lloyd, the captain during those halcyon days, had referred to the sport as “the instrument of Caribbean cohesion.” That does not seem to be the case anymore for a once-great sporting tradition.
Meanwhile, the Dutch are elated after reaching the Men’s World Cup for the first time since 2011. “It is massive for the guys, for our supporters back home, and for Dutch cricket in general. The opportunity to play in a 10-team World Cup is massive for us. We will lap it up and hopefully put in some good performances there,” said Netherlands all-rounder Logan Van Beek, who smashed records in a sensational win over the West Indies during the World Cup qualifier. The Netherlands (Q1) are the only Associate side to qualify for the World Cup since the tournament became a 10-team event. Sri Lanka, the 1996 champion, remained unbeaten through the World Cup Qualifier and will travel to India as Q2.
But in the end, the dwindling state of West Indies cricket and the Netherlands’ inspired journey have once again highlighted the failings of the global sport, even though a lot went right.
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