James Fitzgerald, Irish Times
Former England Test player Mark Butcher has said that the participation of ICC Associate nations such as Ireland in the Cricket World Cup could turn the global viewing public away from the tournament and that the Irish could get 'absolutely hammered off the park' in the West Indies next year.
Four non-Test playing nations took part in the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. This has been increased to six for next year's event in the Caribbean but Butcher says there should be fewer, not more and that Ireland will struggle to be competitive at that level.
Speaking in Belfast after the C&G Trophy match between Ireland and Surrey was called off due to rain on Sunday, Surrey captain Butcher said that Ireland should stick to playing in tournaments like that as well as the occasional once-off game against top opposition rather than being a part of the World Cup.
'Ireland in this domestic competition are allowed to field the likes of Saqlain (Mushtaq) and (Shahid) Afridi and the team are going to play good cricket against good teams,' he told The Irish Times. 'But when they go to the World Cup they are going to have to be made up of people who are eligible for Ireland. They won't have Pakistan Test players playing for them. So that is something that might be tricky for them,' said Butcher, who played 71 Test matches for England.
'There was a feeling that there were already too many non-Test teams in the World Cup but now they have increased it. I know they want to spread cricket around the world but viewing audiences won't be fooled by watching games that are one-sided and not competitive in any way. The World Cup is there to showcase the game, to show the game as a tough, highly skilled, highly competitive sport.
'If people are tuning in you don't need to be showing them games where sides are getting absolutely hammered off the park and there is no level of competition in it. That's a risk and that could happen in this competition,' he said.
Ireland will play England in a full one-day international for the first time in Stormont on June 13th, something Butcher thinks is a more appropriate way to develop the game in Ireland rather than allowing them into the World Cup.
'I think that's fantastic. You take it outside the World Cup and I think it is completely right to play one-off games between the established Test and One-Day nations and those that aren't. That will help Ireland to improve, it will help to increase interest in this country. But in terms of doing it on the world stage, which the World Cup is, I am not such a fan.'
Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Bermuda, Canada and Kenya will join the ten Test nations (including Zimbabwe who have elected not to play Test cricket for a while) in the World Cup next March. Ireland qualified by reaching the final of the ICC Trophy in 2005 and will play in Group D of the competition against Pakistan, Zimbabwe and hosts West Indies in Jamaica.