World Cup Qualifier ends with a plea to the ICC
For the first time in its history the ICC World Cup will be without a representative from the Associate world as West Indies and Afghanistan advanced to the final stages of the competition via the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
It brought an end to a magnificent tournament of twists, turns and high drama – everything, one would imagine, that the ICC will hope for in their ‘main event’–as the highest ranked of the four Full Members competing in southern Africa confirmed their passage to England and Wales 2019.
The biggest talking point to come out of Zimbabwe has not been around who has progressed but who has not, however. The decision to reduce cricket’s World Cup from fourteen teams to ten in order to guarantee nine televised matches for India has led to questions being asked of the decision-makers as to their true commitment to growing the game beyond the established elite, and with Scotland, Hong Kong and UAE all registering wins over Full Member opposition, two of those against eventual tournament victors Afghanistan, the assertion that the event was necessary in order to keep the final stages fully competitive has been demonstrated to be a misguided one.
That the fine work of the ICC Regional bodies in supporting the development of the game is being let down by those at the top was further reflected in a series of heartfelt reactions from across the cricketing community. The universal message was one of opportunity missed, of damage to growth, of the chance to inspire lost.
Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer, speaking after his side had been denied their chance to eliminate double world champions West Indies by the Harare rain, laid bare his feelings about the situation into which the Associates had been placed.
“In a big competition like this it comes down to a big game like that,” he said. “We had the full backing of every Associate nation behind us today. Everyone wanted us to turn over the West Indies.
“It wasn’t to be and it’s hard to comprehend that there’s only going to be a ten team World Cup. After all the work we’ve done it’s a rough one to take just now.”
Coetzer’s disappointment was compounded by the circumstances of Scotland’s exit. The team had been on the receiving end of two poor LBW decisions in two games, both of which had proved central to the final result. After the match against Ireland had been turned by a not out decision in favour of Andrew Balbirnie at the beginning of what turned out to be a match-winning hundred, the call to send Richie Berrington on his way after being struck by a delivery that appeared to be going well down the leg side was critical in putting Scotland behind DRS when the weather intervened against West Indies.
The lack of extended television coverage through the tournament meant that DRS was not available at all grounds, leading the ICC to declare that it would not be in use at all in order to ensure similar playing conditions for each game. The question widely asked, of course, was about why the decision not to televise was taken in the first place. Putting aside the irony of a qualifier for a competition remodelled for television not being properly broadcast, the lack of DRS let down not only the ten teams competing but the match officials also. As the standing umpire on both occasions Paul Wilson has taken a good deal of flak, but with no mechanism in place to put them right the Australian and his colleagues had been given the equivalent of a hospital pass by their employers.
Even worse than the absence of a technological feature which has become a standard of international cricket, however, was the way in which West Indies’ qualification, and Scotland’s elimination, was confirmed. For a tournament with so much at stake, and scheduled to be played during the Zimbabwean rainy season, it was the lack of provision for reserve days that ended up playing the decisive hand in the match. Regardless of the Berrington wicket, the fact that the two teams were unable to settle what was a winner-take-all situation on the field was as painful as it was inexcusable.
That the decision-makers have form in this sort of thing cannot go by without comment, too. As Yogi Berra might have put it, it was like déjà vu all over again.
The first round of the World T20 in 2016, a qualifier for the ‘main’ tournament in all but name, was characterised by a lack of care and thought in comparison to the Super Tens which followed. No opening ceremony, supporters locked out as they were unable to buy tickets on the gate and several Super Ten teams playing warm-up matches on different continents as the tournament had, supposedly, already got underway gave the impression that for the organisers the round was an afterthought rather than an intrinsic part of the competition.
But, again,it was the lack of reserve days in India which provided the biggest controversy as both Ireland and the Netherlands were eliminated after second game wash-outs denied them the opportunity to bounce back from first game losses. For two Associate teams that had already jumped through hoops to reach that stage it was a bitter pill, and with Scotland now adding their name to the sad list of those to miss out through factors that should have been anticipated and properly allowed for it is clear that the powers-that-be did not learn from the experience.
The ten-team decision has meant that two Full Members have missed out too, of course. William Porterfield had spoken eloquently after his side’s elimination in 2016, and after the painful defeat to Afghanistan ensured that the country with the best of all World Cup pedigrees as an Associate would not be at the tournament this time around the Ireland captain was quick to point to the injustice of the situation once again.
“There are a lot of things on the horizon [for Ireland],” he said. “In a couple of weeks’ time we’ll regroup and start preparing for the Test match [against Pakistan]. And we’ve got a few other fixtures over the summer.
“To some extent we’re lucky. I feel sorry for Scotland, how it ended for them. For them to progress it’s going to be harder.
“All I hear is how good this competition has been and how everyone has beaten everyone. [Money] has to be put back into the game for the countries that don’t have a World Cup to look forward to or the possibility of getting to the World Cup.
“I’m not just saying this because we didn’t get there this time, but I feel sorry for a lot of countries that are leaving here and they don’t know what’s going to happen next week.”
Zimbabwe’s Sikander Raza was even more direct.
“When I started playing cricket I thought it was to unite the country, players of different backgrounds, everyone who comes together to play this beautiful sport,” he said as he accepted the Player of the Tournament trophy at the end of the competition. “Unfortunately that’s not going to happen [and] it’s a tough pill to swallow.
“This trophy will also serve as a reminder for Peter Borren and the Dutch players, for Kyle Coetzer and his Scottish players, for Mustafa and his UAE players and all the countries who couldn’t make it to the World Cup.
“Congrats to Nepal on the ODI status. This trophy will also serve as a painful reminder for the two of our brother countries who lost their ODI status. I wish them luck.
“Not much to say. Going through a lot of emotions.”
The ICC can look back on a fantastic tournament that, it can only be hoped, has provided some serious food for thought, too. The challenge to those making the decisions at the top of the organisation is clear. If they are truly serious about developing the global game, truly serious about building on the excellent work of their own organisation, things have to change.
“We all know [the ten team World Cup] decision was made four years ago, and we can only trust that the ICC will reflect on this event, assess and adjust these key decisions for the good of the global game,” said Scotland coach Grant Bradburn.
“Whatever the reasons for shrinking the World Cup next year, we just hope the ICC do one thing for Associate nations. Continue to provide the support to our players to play cricket.
“Our Associate coaches are all experienced and skilled at improving our players but what our players need most is to play. Scotland currently play on average thirty days of meaningful cricket per year. Even if that could be lifted to forty-five, that would make an enormous difference. That will still be half of what a Full Member will play, but the current outstanding rate of improvement in Associate performance will only rise.
“We have a growing global game with more teams rapidly improving. The players here in Zimbabwe have showcased the game brilliantly which we know from the incredible support received has continued to inspire cricket-lovers around the globe.”
As supporters of this great game, we can only hope that the right people are listening.
Jake Perry is a cricket writer based in Scotland.
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