Dinouk Columbage, courtesy of the Sunday Leader, 20 March 2011
The 2011 World Cup has reached the knockout stages; the next fortnight will see the top 8 teams dwindle down to the final two squaring off against one another on April 2 in Mumbai. This World Cup, unlike the previous two editions, has been void of any major upsets. The associate nations have played their matches and barring the odd upset, have failed to progress past the group stage. On Sunday March 20, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands and Kenya will bow out of the tournament.
Kevin O’Brien has scorred the astest century thus far this World Cup -Pic from Leader
The International Cricket Council has announced that the next edition of the World Cup will see the top 8 test playing nations automatically qualify, whilst the numbers 9 and 10 will be forced to take part in a play off with the top 4 associate nations. The ICC claimed that the participants in the tournament are being reduced to ensure fewer mismatches. They also believe that for cricket to grow amongst the associate nations they should not be thrown in this sporting event, where they play and lose to the top nations constantly.
Many current and former players have criticised this move as being a step backwards in increasing the popularity of the sport – especially among associate member countries. ICC president, Sharad Pawar, announced that the associate nations will continue to play in the World 20/20 championships. He reasoned that this format is more beneficial to those teams as it would suit their style of play. Whether this is an insult on the associate nations, or an insight into the ICC’s belief that 20/20 cricket is the future; it is considered to be the wrong move. The 2007 World Cup was criticised by many as being too long, and full of mismatches. The 2011 edition has been praised as being one of the most openly contested tournaments since 1996 and this can be directly attributed to the performance of one associate member.
Ireland, the surprise package of the 2007 World Cup, continued their good form in this year’s tournament. Following their early loss to Bangladesh, the Irish regrouped to pull off a major upset by beating England by three wickets. This result not only saw Ireland record a win against a test playing nation, it also saw Kevin O’Brien score the fastest world cup century, 100 off 50 balls.
The Irish have shown the world that they are ready to compete on the big stage, yet require a greater exposure to the top teams if they hope to continue to compete. In between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, Ireland has played a total of 9 games against test playing nations. These games have been one off matches and sparsely contributed to the growth of the game.
Ireland showed in this World Cup that they have improved in areas of the game that they cane, whilst they need to exposure to the test playing nations to continue their growth. Ian Chappell described William Porterfieldas ‘the captain of the tournament thus far’. Porterfield earned this accolade by the manner in which he has led the team in the field and at times with the bat. During the matches against India and South Africa, his field placement was spot on. He cut off the boundaries and at times forced the batsmen to take risks when rotating the strike. Given the lack of depth in the bowling department he used his bowlers wisely, whilst giving them fields he recognised that they could bowl to. His expectations of his bowlers were not too high, while he also ensured that they did perform. The performance of George Dockrell has shown that there is talent amongst the youth, and proper management would see the production of class cricketers.
However, the performance of Ireland alone is not enough to argue for the inclusion of the associate nations in the next World Cup. Teams such as Kenya and Canada have been found wanting in each of their games in the World Cup. Surprise semi-finalists from the 2003 World Cup, Kenya, have ended the tournament winless. Apart from the match against Australia, Kenya failed to bat out their 50 overs in any of their other 4 games. In 2003 Kenya had a squad full of young talented players, led by the exuberant Collins Obuya. They finished the tournament on a high, and for many it looked like they had a team for the future. Unfortunately in the following eight years the Kenyan cricket structure has fallen away. Pat Symcox in an interview explained that Kenya no longer takes part in the South African domestic tournament preventing them from developing.
Zimbabwe enforced a self-imposed suspension from the test arena following a mass exodus of white players from their team. This World Cup was expected to be Zimbabwe’s curtain raiser to their re-entry to the test stage. However, they too have failed to live up to the hype. Their bowling was over-reliant on spin, while the batsmen appear to have the technique but lack temperament.
What are the options the ICC has in regard to the associate nations? They believe that including more associate teams in the 20/20 competition will help continue the spread of the game. However, if they wish to continue the growth of test cricket they would require further exposure to the longer formats of the game. Sri Lanka vice-captain, Mahela Jayawardene in a press conference at the beginning of the tournament expressed his disappointment that the associate nations would not be competing next year. He went on to stress that in between World Cups these teams would have to play more matches with the test playing nations. For the established test playing teams, they would have to take it upon themselves to help the development of the game around the world.
In terms of Ireland the ICC must be careful in not rushing to award test status to the country. Irish war horse, Trent Johnson, expressed his delight at the notion of becoming a test playing nation. He did however; warn against rushing into the decision as he believed the domestic structure was not in place to produce test players.
The ICC must realise that withdrawing associate nations from the World Cup will not solve the issue. Teams such as Ireland have the talent to perform but lack the exposure, a problem easily solved.