Jon Coates, Irish Daily Mail/The Scotsman
Ireland and Scotland have reacted with resigned displeasure to the imminent reduction of the Cricket World Cup from 16 to 14 teams.
In the pursuit of a snappier format, the 2011 event in the Asian subcontinent is almost certain to be reduced by nine days to 38. The shorter duration will be welcomed by cricket fans worldwide but the pruning of two associate nations is a victory for the all-powerful Test nation chief executives who made their recommendation to the ICC Board yesterday.
The ICC chief executives' committee's recommendation has to be rubber-stamped by the ICC Board on March 18, but the big fish have let their views be known and the inevitable result is that the top associate nations will be chasing just four qualifying berths for a finals appearance in 2011.
ICU chief executive Warren Deutrom said it beggared belief that the ICC's mission to expand the game had been effectively disregarded by yesterday's vote.
The only consolation is that the basic prize for qualifying for the 2011 event, held across the Asian subcontinent, is juicier than ever. All competing nations will be guaranteed six matches - rather than a paltry three in 2007 - under the proposed format.
Mirroring the structure of the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, the teams in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will be split into two groups of seven. But the event has been shortened by nine days by the abandonment of a second group phase - eight teams will instead go straight into the quarter-finals.
"I wouldn"t say we will have to play better to qualify, I would say that we will have to sustain the level of performance we have produced in recent years," said Deutrom.
"Last time there were 12 teams competing for five places, but Kenya weren't involved. Now there will be 12 teams, including Kenya, going for four places at the World Cup. If we do qualify, the positive thing is that Ireland will be guaranteed six games. But it's disappointing that the ICC has gone back on the main reason for having a High Performance Programme, which is to expand the world of cricket."
Next year's 12-nation World Cup Qualifier will be an outrageously competitive affair, with 11th-ranked Kenya among the nations scrapping to qualify after successive automatic entries to the World Cup. As well as the six current HPP nations, Namibia and the hosts, UAE, should offer a stiffer challenge than in 2005 in Ireland.
Yesterday's development raises both the value of success and the price of failure.
"We were expecting this to happen, and can understand it to an extent, but it is a backward step and it goes against the whole point of the ICC's High Performance Programme," said Cricket Scotland chief executive Roddy Smith.
"There are obvious pros and cons. Yes, if we qualify, we will be guaranteed six games as opposed to three in 2007. But the qualifying tournament is going to be more tense than ever, with so few places at stake."