Sri Lanka was the first Associate nation to beat a Full Member of the ICC in World Cups when they overcame India in 1979. Duleep Mendis was their hero with a stunning 64 off 57 balls. He laments the lack of opportunities for Associate nations in the upcoming World Cup. ICC Cricket World Cups over the years have sprung quite a few surprises. There have been several instances of David overcoming Goliath at the sport’s showpiece event.
Sri Lanka overcame a star studded Indian side comprising Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar in 1979 and two years later they were granted Test status. Zimbabwe argued their case well in the 1992 edition when chicken farmer Eddo Brandes ran through England’s strong batting unit. A few months later they were granted Test status too. Bangladesh put up a grand show to beat eventual runners-up Pakistan in 1999 tournament and that was good enough reason for then ICC boss Jagmohan Dalmiya to grant them Test status.
Since the dawn of the new millennium as well Associate Nations have made former champions eat humble pie. Sri Lanka got a taste of their own medicine in 2003, when 20-year-old leggie Collins Obuya claimed a five wicket haul to help Kenya hand Sanath Jayasuriya’s team a shock defeat. Ireland overcame Pakistan in 2007 and four years later beat England in Bangalore. Good performances in World Cups expedited these nations’ cause for full membership of the ICC.
However, since the inaugural World Cup was played 44 years ago, for the first time in this edition, an Associate nation will not feature in the tournament.
Sri Lanka’s victory over India in 1979 in Manchester was the first time an Associate nation beat a Full Member. Duleep Mendis was Sri Lanka’s hero, smashing 64 in typical style having faced only 57 balls. There were three sixes in Mendis’ innings as Sri Lanka went onto defend 238 to secure a 47 run win. They became a Test nation two years later.
Now 66, Mendis is a grandfather. But his passion for the game simply wouldn’t allow him to retire. He now resides in Muscat coaching the Oman national team. The Omanis made quite an impact in cricket recently going onto achieve ODI status.
Mendis believes that the World Cup should be an occasion where Associate nations are also part of the event. “The format looks good although it is a long tournament. I feel an event like the World Cup should not be restricted to ten teams,” Mendis told Sunday Island. “The idea should be to encourage Associate members. The World Cup is coming once in four years and there should be at least two Associate nations taking part in the tournament.”
“They may not do well at the start but they will catch up. I remember our first World Cup game was against the West Indies and we were bowled out for 86. Yet, 20 years later we went onto become World Champions. Those in the second tier should be given exposure against stronger teams to show their capability. The current system I am afraid is not doing that,” opined Mendis.
“You take a look at football. They are trying to increase the teams to 48 for the World Cup whereas cricket has limited the number of teams to ten,” said Mendis.
Mendis has a unique record that is unlikely to be overtaken by anyone. He took part in the first eight World Cups from 1975 to 2003 in some capacity or the others. In 1975 and 1979, he was Sri Lanka’s premier batsman. In 1983 and 1987 he was captain. In 1992, he was coach. In 1996 and 1999, he was Manager. In 2003, he was Batting Coach.
Others have argued that by shrinking the event to ten teams the organizers will make more money and in turn this could be used to development programmes world over. The current format ensures that India plays at least nine games and that’s going to bring in more revenue for the ICC. More Indian games mean more television money.
In fairness to the organizers, the Associate nations were given an opportunity as a qualifying tournament took place last year. Only the top ranked eight teams automatically qualified for the World Cup while West Indies and Afghanistan played the qualifying round and made it to England. However an expanded tournament of 14 teams or like the one in the Caribbean in 2007 where 16 teams took part, will provide Associate nations more opportunities.
Ireland are no long an Associate team but even they failed to qualify due to the restriction of numbers to ten teams. Spare a thought to them. They almost made it to the quarter-finals of the 2015 event. Kevin O’ Brian came up with a stunning assault in the 2011 tournament to help his side beat England. He is 35 at the moment and it is unlikely that he will be still playing the next World Cup in four years.