A trying week for Irish cricket ended with a double dose of dramatic good news yesterday. The withdrawal of Zimbabwe from next summer's World Twenty20 in London and Nottingham freed up a third place for the six associate countries, including Ireland, who will strive to qualify in Belfast in August.

Taking a long-term view of the health of the game in this country, however, far more significant was the confirmation that International Cricket Council support for the second-tier nations of world cricket is set to treble.

If Ireland qualify for the 2011 World Cup, their annual support will soar in 2009 from $500,000 to almost $1.5million. The result of that would be vastly improved cash incentives for the semi-professional players who ply their trade at home and greater freedom for national teams at all levels to travel overseas.

Cricket Ireland Warren Deutrom, who was at the ICC Conference in Dubai this week, told Sportsmail last night: ‘Presuming that this was rubber-stamped by the board today — and if it hadn't been, I would have heard about it — then the proposed increases in funding for associate nations will apply from 2009.

‘The annual funding for the four countries who qualify for the next World Cup will amount to about $1.5m from 2009, and even for the two nations with one-day international status who fail to qualify, the increase will be dramatic.

‘That money will go some way towards offering contracts and retainers to players, providing them with gym access and sports science support, and better preparation for tournaments.' As for the Twenty20 Qualifier at Stormont, Deutrom said it would be a ‘logical step' if the provisional rain day of Tuesday, August 5 was reserved for the final and the third-placed play-off, which will now be required to complete the 12-team line-up in England next June.

However, he also predicted that the winners of the qualifier would now take Zimbabwe's spot in Group A, rather than join England in Group B and take part in the opening match at Lord's — which would instead be a privilege reserved for the associate runners-up.