Have you ever experienced that eerie sinking feeling? Have you ever felt that whatever you do, it still won't be enough? Have you ever felt inadequate? We all may have gone
through these emotions at some point in time, but have perhaps been lucky enough to avert dealing with them in full public glare. But, the 'minnows' in this World Cup aren't as lucky enough. They must have practiced long and hard before the tournament, they still spend many hours on the field between the matches when most teams are going through the motions, just to justify their presence, yet mostly, it isn't enough. They, as expected, finish on the losing side. They constantly try to punch above their weight and push the bigger nations but the lack of experience and talent lets them down. The humiliation of a loss is invariably followed by intense media scrutiny which, quite callously, announce their verdict— 'the minnows don't belong here'. While the verdict has some merit, (you don't want lopsided matches in the World Cup) it may be worth putting ourselves in their shoes. This is their only chance to rub shoulders with the best in the World and the only incentive to keep playing cricket between the two editions of the Cup.
Their predicament reminds me of my time in the Dutch league. Ours was the weakest club in the group and despite out best efforts, we couldn't cross the finishing line. We took the first few losses on the chin and increased the number of hours in every practice session. But when the chain of losing matches didn't break for another few weeks, the spirit within the team shattered. The numbers at practice sessions started to dwindle and the matches became a drag. There's nothing worst in sport than the knowledge that you're the second best even before the encounter. Yet, there would be certain individuals in every team who would take it upon themselves to stand up and get counted, but even their efforts go in vain. Cricket is a team game, individuals can provide the spark but it takes the entire team to light a bonfire. Doeschate, Kevin O'Brian etc are these sparks but, unfortunately, lack the support.
So, should we just dump these teams and leave them to their own devices? Or we invest energy, money and time to develop cricket in these countries and make cricket a truly global game? Former is the easier option but latter is the way forward. We must remember that teams like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were the 'minnows' and everyone's punching bag a few decades ago. But now are serious contenders with a World Cup trophy already in their cabinet.
Yes, Netherlands and Ireland, at the moment, may not have the talent and the technique to compete with the stronger nations but they do have a lot of courage, drive, hunger and desire to compete. These attributes, if given proper opportunities, can make up for the lack of talent. Rajasthan and Jharkand were the Ireland and Netherlands of the Ranji Trophy this year, and if the door was shut on these teams, they wouldn't have created history by winning the Ranji Trophy and the Vijay Hazare trophy (Ranji Trophy's 50 over version).
ICC must do what BCCI has done at domestic level i.e. provide financial support and present opportunities to compete against bigger nations more often. Pruning down the number of teams for the World Cup might make the tournament interesting but it will also take us a step away from making cricket a global game.
Aakash Chopra can be contacted on Twitter at cricketaakash.
These are the views of the author and not the ICC.