The worst fears of the associate nations has been realised with the International Cricket Council confirming that the 2015 and 2019 World Cups will have only 10 teams. While the 2015 World Cup will be contested only by the 10 full member countries, there will be a qualification process in place for the 2019 edition.
With this decision, the ICC has effectively made a point saying the 50-over World Cup is the domain of full members by right – which, in my opinion, has got to be one of the most controversial decisions ever made by cricket’s governing body.
A country like Ireland, for example, despite being an associate nation upset England in a high-scoring thriller and also gave West Indies and Bangladesh a scare before going down in the 2011 World Cup. Ireland also held their own against eventual champions India and South Africa in the group stage. The Netherlands team also gave a decent account of themselves; and though Kenya and Canada disappointed for the most part, they did give former champions Australia a run for their money. And, who can forget Ireland all-rounder Kevin O'Brien's century - the fastest ever in World Cups - that helped his team upset England and Netherlands's star Ryan ten Doeschate's two centuries in the 2011 World Cup.
Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are two of the full members who have benefited from the ICC's decision, which again is being unfair especially on Ireland, as they put in a far superior performance in the 2011 World Cup as opposed to the two aforementioned teams. Ireland, which also upset Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 2007 edition, have worked hard to get the right infrastructure in place and restructure their cricket; and that apart are currently ranked number 10 in one-day internationals, one place above Zimbabwe despite playing fewer matches. Ireland captain William Porterfield hit the nail when he had this to say about the ICC's decision: "We have done everything they asked of us over the last few years in terms of restructuring Irish cricket and I can't come to terms with how they can just shut us out, do away with the qualification period and then try and call this a World Cup."
Similar sentiments were echoed by other Irish players on the microblogging service site Twitter. Former Ireland captain Trent Johnston tweeted: "The ICC have certainly made my decision to retire after the 2012 T/20 World Cup very easy, thanks for the memories"; while pace bowler Boyd Rankin said this in his tweet, "Thanks ICC!! What does Irish cricket got to do?? Shambles!!" The most damning indictment of the ICC's decision though came from Cricket Ireland's media manager Barry Chambers who tweeted: "ICC - no morals - no sense of fair play or natural justice. They are a disgrace and unfit to govern."
It is really quite easy to understand this sense of being let down and anger in the Irish cricket fraternity. Had they been given the opportunity to play enough ODIs until the 2015 World Cup, Ireland could have risen at least a spot if not two from their current ranking. Even if this happens now, Ireland is still going to be shafted out of the 2015 edition; as are the other associate nations. This then leads to the issue of the incentive left for the players of these countries to continue pursuing cricket if they can't compete in a 50-over World Cup till at least 2019. Yes, the ICC has increased the number of countries competing in Twenty20 World Cups to 16, but is that the right platform for the associate nations to display their skills and talent? I would think not.
Then, there is the issue of running the risk of cricket taking a backward step in associate nations, and an exodus of players from those teams to the full members. For instance, the Irish pair of Rankin and George Dockrell, Netherlands's Alexei Kervezee and Canada's 16-year-old Nitish Kumar have all made their intentions clear to play for England, if the chance arises in the future. They can now choose to exercise that option now thanks to the ICC's decision, and should this happen, it would be most unfair on the countries concerned, who work hard to compete with the full members despite challenges; and should the cream of their talent leave for greener pastures, the governing body would have to take most of the blame.
The ICC should ideally have encouraged the full members to at least send their 'A' teams to the top associate nations to ensure these countries continue to play against top-class opposition, but the question now is will they. There is also a charm the associates add to the World Cup in terms of springing an upset every now and then, which in turn encourages the full member countries to be on full guard while playing these countries.
There is no doubting the scheduling of the 2011 World Cup wasn't the best, and if that was a reason for keeping the associate nations out of the mega event, it could have been addressed with some effort and thought. For example, even if the 2015 World Cup was to be a 12-team event, the ICC could have made the schedule a lot tighter and still include at least a couple of associate nations in the mix.
It is unfortunate the associate nations have been dumped out of at least the 2015 World Cup, and one can only hope the ICC revisits this decision and gives the non-full members an opportunity to be part of the tournament to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.