The ICC Gentlemen’s Club Cup: non-members need not apply

Written by  //  April 6, 2011  //  Sport  //  1 Comment

To the manner born: ICC CEO, Haroon Lorgat

 

Update (April 19): Sharad Pawar requested the ICC to reconsider the World Cup format in end-June. There is hope yet for some more dynamism in the top tier of world cricket. 

I landed in South Africa 36 hours after Mahendra Singh Dhoni deposited Nuwan Kulasekara several rows over the long on boundary at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. The mad frenzy that ensued after that sweet, sweet shot was struck swept up millions of people, irrespective of whether they were Indian or even fans of cricket. I received messages from the unlikeliest friends – French, Belgian and American. Newspapers and channels around the world were carrying scenes of revelry at Marine Drive in Mumbai and India Gate in Delhi. The ICC had transformed its flagship tournament from that swamp of a wash-out in the Caribbean to the colourful carnivale it was always intended to be. In doing so, they rescued the fifty-over format of cricket from what some considered a near-certain death. After struggling with hard criticism over all sorts of issues – poor governance structures, shocking event management, rampant cronyism, and soulless capitalism – the ICC could now bask in the glory of a hard-fought success, where cricket was the greatest winner. 

Instead, the first news story that whacked me in the face as I settled down to some obligatory cricket-surfing and time-wasting at the office on Monday was this: ‘An Absolute Black Day for the Sport’. The evening after the World Cup final, the ICC sat down to decide that the 2015 format of the game would comprise 10 teams only, and that all these teams would be the full members of the body. The Associates would be shut out of the tournament entirely, at least until 2019. 

The responses from the Associates have varied from rage to bitter cynicism and deep disappointment. Most of the anger has emerged, unsurprisingly, from Ireland – the plucky giant-killers, who managed to test quite a few of the full members and completed an unforgettable victory over England. Irish captain, William Porterfield, called the decision a joke. Their coach, former West Indies all-rounder, Phil Simmons, described the ICC as despicable. It’s argued that the new format will effectively destroy support for the fifty-over version of the game in the Associate members, and end the careers (for Ireland, at any rate) of many of the outstanding performers for the team in this World Cup. Not for the first time, the ICC stands accused of unbridled greed and cronyism as well as actively moving to destroy the future of the sport we all love so much. 

My first response to the article was one of some shock: surely the ICC didn’t have to make this announcement just hours after the great success of the 2011 edition? Are they entirely staffed with miserable masochists who love to be flogged by an ever-obliging media? The only open support for ten-team format has come from Ricky Ponting, which gives you an inkling of the majoritarian response to the decision. There had also been some talk in the press that the ICC would shift to the 12-team format of 1996, in recognition of the contribution of countries like Ireland. Clearly that was never a serious option. 

This World Cup ended up being a lot more entertaining in the league stages than most people, including this author, had expected. Group B, in particular, went right down to the wire after inspiring defeats of England by Bangladesh and Ireland. Yet, what the viewers saw as inspiration clearly struck fear into the hearts of the Big Money Interests that dominate cricket – primarily the broadcasters and key tournament sponsors. If even this sheltered format of the tournament couldn’t protect the big guns till at least the quarterfinals, then another format would be necessary – one that guarantees that India and co play at least 9 games before facing elimination. A 12-team format – with two groups of 6 teams each – would only guarantee 6 games (assuming the top guns qualify for the quarters). 

Even as this kind of blatant commercialism sickens the average cricket fan, let’s create no illusions about the cricketing might of the Associates. This World Cup featured only ten teams that stood up to be counted. Kenya, Canada, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe only managed to generate three wins between them, and all of them were in matches featuring each other. The closest margins of defeat in games between Associates and non-Associates were 46 runs (Pakistan v Canada) and 6 wickets (England v Netherlands). 

The ICC has also countered criticism of creating a dull and boring pre-knock out phase; the ten-team format, while seemingly cumbersome, will generate some thrilling match-ups between the top ranked teams fighting for survival. Winning such a World Cup would be a top achievement for any cricketing side. 

What does rankle considerably, however, is the free pass given by the ICC to full members who play pretty shoddy cricket and display remarkable inconsistency, despite having access to all the benefits of full membership. Bangladesh scored two of the three lowest totals of the tournament – 78 and 58, Zimbabwe failed to compete against any of the other members and the West Indies lumbered along in its usual farcical fashion, with only a few flashes of brilliance to interrupt an otherwise characterless campaign. Ireland is, in fact, ranked number ten on the ODI list, ahead of Zimbabwe and certainly put up a more inspiring performance on the field. Ireland also runs a far more efficient local cricket system than Zimbabwe, which is mired in shocking corruption and appalling incompetence, and is closely linked to a tyrannical government. 

Moreover, most cricket-viewers probably don’t give a damn but there was, in fact, an extensive qualification process for the Associates to get to the World Cup through the ICC World Cricket League. This process threw up epic encounters such as this one, which causes goosebumps just reading about it. With a World Cup place to fight for, the World Cricket League has a point. In football, teams in lower divisions are motivated to fight for promotion to a higher league. In a static system, there is no motivation for improvement among the worst teams of the top league and best of the rest. 

The ICC must protect against this dangerously comfortable status quo by abandoning such rigidity. This isn’t hard to manage at all; perhaps the top 8 ranked teams can automatically qualify for the Cup while the others fight for the last two spots. But surely the likes of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and maybe even the West Indies need to earn their place in the final tournament rather than receive it on account of historical privilege. 

The one truth that has emerged from the ICC’s decision is this: cricket has certainly not succeeded in shrugging off its imperial origins. Pity that the long-colonised bully of the ICC, India, cannot provide better leadership.

About the Author

Anisha is currently reading for a DPhil in Economics at the University of Oxford.

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One Comment on "The ICC Gentlemen’s Club Cup: non-members need not apply"

  1. Suhrith April 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm ·

    Couldn’t agree more. This is an utterly shameful decision from the I.C.C. Where does Ireland, for instance, go from this? I am sure its best players will continue to be stolen by England – there are already rumours that George Dockrell and Gary Wilson are being chased. And Paul Stirling has himself, expressed an interest in playing for England.

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