The International Cricket Council’s decision to cut the 2015 World Cup from 14 to 10 nations – effectively culling the minnows – has split opinions but the move is the right one.>
The decision, which has come during the 2011 World Cup, is a wise one as the current edition shows the format needs tweaking.
Of course, the decision has been met with criticism from the smaller nations who aren’t appeased by the ICC’s move to increase the Twenty20 World Cup from 12 to 16 nations.
But the performances of the minnows such as Kenya, Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands at the 2011 World Cup has hardly strengthened the stance of the smaller nations.
Indeed, Kenya’s 10-wicket humiliation by New Zealand, where the Black Caps chased down Kenya’s mediocre total of 63 in eight overs, suggests the presence of the minnows at the World Cup isn’t helping anyone.
Of course, the smaller nations will argue they need to be exposed to ICC member teams as regularly as possible to improve, but does it need to be at a World Cup, which is supposed to be cricket’s showcase event?
In fact, with more at stake for ICC member nations, the reality is smaller nations are more likely to receive a hiding, ala Kenya against New Zealand, or Canada against Sri Lanka.
Okay, occasionally a minnow can cause an upset such as Ireland in 2007 when they tied with Zimbabwe and beat Pakistan, but it is an all too rare event.
And yes, the Netherlands pushed England pretty hard last week, but we shouldn’t get carried away, as the English appeared in control at all times in the contest.
The smaller nations will point to the example of former associate members such as Sri Lanka in the 1970s or Zimbabwe in the 1980s and maybe even the current Bangladesh side, but there are differences between those competitors and the current smaller nations who don’t see cricket as a top sport domestically.
The reality is the performances of the smaller nations is tarnishing the World Cup as an event, as matches are one-sided, meaning they simply aren’t interesting. At a time when the future of 50-over cricket is being questioned, it’s hardly what the ICC needs.
As well, the presence of an additional four nations means the World Cup runs longer. Okay that probably means more revenue with more matches for the ICC, but it’s to the detriment of the actual tournament.
Again, the level of interest isn’t there, particularly in the early stages. For many viewers, the real World Cup doesn’t begin until the knockout stage, which suggests the tournament runs too long.
Of course, the length of the tournament was questioned four years in the West Indies, but that had plenty to do with the format. The move to get rid of the Super 8 Stage and replace it with knockout quarter-finals is a good move.
That format will provide more exciting and entertaining cricket for the viewers, and it will increase the stakes and offer the possibility of upsets.
Several well-known cricket names have had their say on the issue of minnows at the World Cup.
Australia captain Ricky Ponting agreed with the ICC’s decision. He said: ‘‘You need to be bringing some of these smaller nations on in the world of cricket. We all want to see the game develop and blossom in different countries around the world.
“I’ve always been a bit unsure if World Cups and Champions Trophies are the right place to do that. The major reason for that is I’m not sure how much the [smaller] teams actually learn when they’re getting hammered like they tend to do in some of those contests.’’
The captains of two of the minnows at the 2011 World Cup, Dutch skipper Peter Borren and Irish skipper Trent Johnston, said they needed the opportunity to face ICC member teams more often in order to imprve, and that the World Cup represented that chance.
“The move by the ICC has put a bit of pressure on us to perform [in 2011],” Borren said. “We played a full member team just once in the last three to four years before this World Cup. So we need to play them more.”
Johnston added: “We know that we’re not suddenly going to go and play Test series against Australia and South Africa but we need to get ourselves into a position – the political position notwithstanding – where we can play teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.”
Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardena agreed he felt the minnows needed to face ICC member nations more often.
“I think associate members should be around as well. Sri Lanka was an associate member not that long ago in 1975 and 1979,” he said. “We need to give them that opportunity”
But Jayawardena wasn’t sure the World Cup was the ideal place to do that. “They need to play a lot more regular cricket probably with the top nations,” he said. “They need to organise certain things so that their cricket can be improved.”
But BBC cricket commentator Jonathon Agnew argued at cricket’s showcase event, one-sided matches in front of empty stadiums would tarnish the product.
“When [cricket] is beamed around the world into someone’s living room, it should let them say, yes, that’s a great sport, let’s go out and play it, as happened in the Ashes 18 months ago,” Agnew said.
ICC chief executive Haroon Lagoot said giving smaller nations more qualifying positions at the Twenty20 World Cup could provide new opportunities to improve.
“There will be more opportunities for the Associate countries in the World Twenty20 Cup which will be held every two years and involve sixteen teams, including six Associates,” Lorgat said.
You can understand the ICC’s switch to decrease competitors in the 50-over format which has had its existence questioned, with Twenty20 on the rise.
Keeping the 50-over game’s showcase event interesting is a key. As well, generating money from these events is a key, so boosting the Twenty20 World Cup to include 16 nations could be the right move.