The group stages have ended at the Cricket World Cup being held in Australia and New Zealand.
If you did not know, you must have been hibernating in a cave. Even the Americans know about it because it has taken over a month to spot the eight quarter-finalists.
Which doesn’t say much if you just compare that bit with the football World Cup which gets its eight teams down from 32 over roughly the same amount of time. Except in cricket’s case, it is 8 out of 14.
No wonder the world body, the ICC, is facing flak. To assuage criticism and not sully the image of the world’s showpiece event, they promptly said it will be down to 10 teams from the next staging.
That brought brickbats from those at the receiving ..err, wrong … side or who got the raw deal. The lesser-known nations, known as Affiliate and Associate members in the cricketing order will be denied their motivation if they have nothing to play for.
While the senior nation members have batted for them, the end result of none of them making it to the quarter-finals might look like vindication for the ICC’s stand. Damned if they do, damned if they do not.
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It is important to note here, though, vitally is that the ICC’s call to cut down teams is not because of any pressing demands and compulsions arising out of diminishing TV viewerships, genuine concern that the tournament is long or any funding issues rising out of lack of sponsorships. Not much of a pressing example or indication and especially given the fact that the Indian Premier League, approaching in its eighth season, is an example to the opposite.
The real reason in the 10-team theory is that the biggies, who are the decision-makers within the ICC, are understandably reluctant to spread the pie and damage their own chances at winning titles and prize money until it is unavoidable.
It is the same logic that the Indian board, and by extension president N Srinivasan, are having a dominant say in the decision-making process.
In the survival of the biggest, where do the Associates & Affiliates (A&A) go from here?
Let’s first rule out that there will be a change of heart even though there has been a change of guard at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with Jagmohan Dalmiya replacing Srinivasan following a court directive.
Srinivasan, who is now the ICC chairman in a post created mostly for the Indian representative at the world body, has got the nod from Dalmiya as a quid pro quo arrangement for getting him back from the wilderness. Enemies turned into friends.
It is unlikely though that Dalmiya will be a complete rubber stamp while it is also given that Srinivasan got the ICC seat before things went ugly for him in his backyard. Which means Srinivasan remains the ICC chairman till end of 2016.
The best way for a David to fend for himself from Goliath is to know when the giant will be showing signs of weakness and working well in advance to plan his strikes.
In the board rooms, when political manouevres rely on voting in a democratic process, the A&As should gather their pound of flesh by asking matches against the elite and also amongst themselves; enough on the calendar – called the Futures Tour Programme and is still a work-in-progress for games unitl 2013 – so that they get a chance to grow with enough matches to sustain interest and improve.
That would be a long-term holistic approach but the initiative is for the A&As to take.
What the ICC could do is continue a 10-team tournament – only if it reduces the length of the tournament. Of which at most eight are expected to be competitive; it is a struggle currently. The bottom two, based on world rankings or performances from the 2015 World Cup should be ‘relegated’ and made to play with six others to prove their merit in a funneling process.
That means eight teams get a chance to break into the elite and that will only be possible if they continue to get chances to play with each other and an occasional big team once in a while just like international friendlies in football can be.
The two-tier policy is being considered by the ICC, but for Tests. Right way but wrong line of thinking.
ODI and Twenty20s are the stepping stones but then again they are also the moneybags for the ICC. It is time they compromise a wee bit for this second level of feeder nations.