ICC's decision is not right

Ireland celebrates its win over England in the League phase. Ireland employs a lot of overseas professionals to improve its standard of cricket.-PTI

There is some merit in the argument that the quality and the pace of this World Cup was stunted a wee bit by the inclusion of the associates, but they cannot be totally blamed for the league stage getting tepid.

The 2011 World Cup has reached the business end and as expected the full member nations of the ICC have qualified for the knock-out stage. On the other hand, the minnows go back home carrying good memories with them but yet wondering if they have played their last World Cup.

The ICC had indicated that the tournament will not feature the minnows come 2015 but the apex body needs to rethink in this regard. Right from the first edition, one or two associate members have been accommodated and after 10 editions, the decision to do away with the associate countries is strange.

It is a bit of a paradox that the ICC has taken the decision in principle at a time when it is also looking to bring more countries into the fold. The term “globalisation” used by the ICC thus far has been conveniently forgotten and with cricket likely to figure in the Olympics sometime towards the end of this decade, the ICC's decision could not have been more ill timed.

The main question that the ICC needs to answer is: why it was considered so important to announce the decision within the first fortnight of the tournament? Compare this with the tournament director's statement which clearly conveyed that the format of the World Cup was designed to ensure that the regular Test-playing nations qualified for the second stage.

While the associate countries have not yet reacted except to express their disappointment, the ICC needs to explain on what basis the decision was made. If it was on the basis of performance, then teams like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe need to be shunted out as well. Both the teams have failed to make the quarterfinals in the ongoing World Cup.

Ironically, the “minnows” like Ireland and the Netherlands did not fare badly and in fact, they made the stronger teams earn their victories. Ireland, apart from beating England competed hard and ensured that their presence was felt in this World Cup.

The Netherlands were not bad either even though they had failed to pull off an upset. Hence, when it comes to assessing these teams, the sole criterion should not be their percentage of victories, but the manner in which they had competed. One has to bear in mind that these nations play against tough international sides once in four years.

The ICC needs to realise that the associate members were given an opportunity to play in the earlier editions of the World Cup more on an ad hoc basis and not on the strength of any guideline or policy. If that was a mistake and now if the ICC is trying to rectify that, it is doing so with another mistake.

Agreed that the ICC came into being later and that it had nothing to do with decisions taken in the 70s and 80s, but it needs to ensure a process that will make it a level playing field for the minnows.

It will be better if the ICC gives the minnows an opportunity to play one-day internationals against the lowly placed teams for a year leading up to either the Champions Trophy or the World Cup. It is rather strange that a Bangladesh victory against another full member even today is deemed as an upset even though they were accorded full status a decade ago. Similarly, Zimbabwe is set to return to Test cricket by the end of this year despite not really setting the cricket fields on fire.

There is some merit in the argument that the quality and the pace of this World Cup was stunted a wee bit by the inclusion of the associates, but they cannot be totally blamed for the league stage getting tepid. Besides, Ireland and the Netherlands have a lot of cricketing history and the main point is that a lot of local talent represents their national sides unlike Canada where the game is highly dependant on the expatriates from the Sub-continent and the Caribbean islands.

In addition, Ireland and the Netherlands employ a lot of overseas professionals to improve their standard of cricket in their local leagues which is an indication that they are serious about raising the bar to match up to international standards.

Given the competitiveness and the enthusiasm displayed by these two Nations and that coupled with the below par performances of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the ICC should get a system in place to not only provide equal opportunities for the minnows but also keep the underperforming full members on their toes. Otherwise, the upcoming associate members will lose their enthusiasm owing to lack of motivation and the ICC cannot afford to lose the support and enthusiasm of the associate nations who are making a sincere effort to get into the fold.

It is worth mentioning here that the ICC accepted the fact that Bangladesh will be beaten badly in their early days but still upgraded them on the argument that they can only get better. Now it is only fair that the associate countries that have shown some pluck and flair should be encouraged. Otherwise the ICC will be seen as an organisation that functions more on whim than fair play.