Neil Pickup | 9:01pm gmt 08 Apr 2011
When someone mentions the Cricket World Cup, what do you remember? Viv's run outs, Kapil's hundred, Aravinda's final, Gilchrist's century and Wasim's yorkers? Sure, but what else? Apart from England finding a new and hilarious way to get themselves eliminated, of course.
Who remembers Eddo Brandes, Tariq Iqbal, Dwayne Leverock, Sultan Zarawani, Collins Obuya or Kevin O'Brien? There will be no more pages from this storybook, however: the character, the colour and the charm of the Associate members' part in the World Cup is under threat. A tournament that has never failed to see an upset since 1987 will be castrated under the excuse of scheduling.
For some reason, I find it pretty difficult to swallow this. Why have the last few World Cups been such drawn-out affairs? Maybe it's the insistence in only playing one game a day throughout the group phases? In ferrying teams across continents between their fixtures? In wringing every last second of media exposure from the players, the game ends up suffering. Bill Shankly, fifteen years Liverpool manager, once said, "the main thing is always to make sure that the main thing is the main thing." If we look more closely at the ICC's explanations, perhaps we can see the main thing - the Associates make it harder to maximise TV revenue: because that's what the World Cup's all about.
Irish cricket has been on a consistent upswing since they first qualified for the World Cup, defeating Pakistan on St. Patrick's Day in 2007. Without the pool of ICC money directed towards full member nations like Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, Ireland have kept on terms - and even outperformed - their supposed betters. They remain above Zimbabwe in the ICC's own world rankings. This tournament saw them record arguably the greatest shock in the tournament's history as Kevin O'Brien and friends stunned England in Bangalore, but not once were they outclassed. Not once did they stumble in a sub-100 heap, unlike their hosts. Not once did they capitulate to a ten-wicket reverse, like two of the quarter-finalists. As for Zimbabwe - well, did it ever look like their opponents were treating them as much more than a warm-up?
A World Cup is not worthy of its name without the right to compete - and the right to defeat - for all nations. Football's World Cup starts well before the final tournament. We have eight divisions of the World Cricket League, through which Afghanistan have risen spectacularly as their country emerged from the shadow of the Taliban, but now the ultimate prize has been snatched from their grasp. Promotion and relegation is good enough for the little sides, but heaven forbid it should impinge on the established hierarchy. No great tournament is a closed shop - England's FA Cup kicks off with 850 teams midway through August before culminating at Wembley, and I've seen both sides of the upset coin - yet even now the authorities are unable to resist tinkering with the format, threatening replays, and considering seedings, trying to manufacture something that occurred naturally anyway.
It makes me ashamed to be associated with ECB if their signatures helped bind this proposal: but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised having watched the C&G Trophy ignore its Minor County roots - coincidentally shortly after Devon, my then home, had overturned Leicestershire by losing fewer wickets. Casting the net of precedent wider, it's reminiscent of the Beeching Axe that closed the Branch Line railways: weaken the roots and the plant itself will wither and die.
Perhaps, though, the ECB are just keen to harvest the fruits of Cricket Ireland's development programme, now yielding its rewards: Joyce, Morgan, Rankin, Dockrell. It's not a production line that will last without the prize of International cricket to lure children - and sponsors - into the game.
I suppose we have one hope: the history of incompetence and indecision that runs deep into the ICC's past gives us hope for a reversal: there was, after all, no possible way that South Africa would be allowed to play in the 1992 tournament. This must be the hope that we cling to: the hope that the outcry from true supporters of cricket, not blinded by nationalistic self-interest, will prove loud enough to be heard.