Where did the ODIs go?
Back in 2006, when the top six non-test sides were given ODI status for the first time, it was hoped that more meaningful matches against the Full members would take place. The ICC even said that each of the top six would have at least one 'event' involving a Full member each year, with the top two – at that point Kenya and Scotland – having one at home and one away. This still applies now, with the top two being replaced by any team on the main ODI ranking table – currently Ireland and Kenya.
It hasn't exactly happened like that.
It started very well. In early 2006, a substantial program of ODIs for the top six against Full members was announced. In all, 19 such matches were played, involving each of the top six, with Kenya playing the majority – seven and five against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe respectively. Scotland hosted Pakistan, Ireland hosted England, the Netherlands hosted Sri Lanka, whilst Canada and Bermuda played an ODI tri-series with Zimbabwe in Trinidad.
In 2007, 29 ODIs took place between Full members and the top six – though when you take out the 20 that were part of the World Cup, the figures begin to look a little bleak.
Bermuda and Canada again played a tri-series against a Full member in the West Indies, this time playing Bangladesh in Antigua prior to the World Cup. India and South Africa both played Ireland prior to their tri-series at Stormont, and a quadrangular tournament took place in Ireland. Originally scheduled as a tri-series involving Ireland, the Netherlands and the West Indies – and planned to become an annual event with the Full member changing each year – Scotland were added to make it a quadrangular.
Kenya, who played so many ODIs against Full members in 2006, played none outside the World Cup in 2007, but they did play Twenty20 Internationals against Bangladesh and Pakistan.
It was another reasonable year in 2008, in which a record eight non-test teams played ODIs, with the UAE and Hong Kong playing in the Asia Cup. Seventeen matches were played in all, four of which were in the Asia Cup. Ireland toured Bangladesh for three ODIs, and played two tri-series, one with Scotland and New Zealand, and a second with Kenya and Zimbabwe. The first Scotland v England ODI took place, but was rained off. Canada hosted a tri-series against Bermuda and the West Indies, as well as a Twenty20 Quadrangular involving Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Kenya toured South Africa for two ODIs.
But not all was rosy. You may have noticed the absence of the Netherlands in the previous paragraph. The arrangement for an annual tri-series also involving Ireland and a Full member lasted all of one year, and the Dutch played no ODIs against Full members in 2008.
On the face of it, twelve ODIs against Full members in 2009 seems quite reasonable. But ten of those were Kenya playing Zimbabwe – a Full member in name only. The other two saw Scotland play host to Australia and England make a rather reluctant trip over to Ireland. There have been no ODIs against Full members for Canada, the Netherlands (again) or the newest team on the ODI scene Afghanistan. Kenya were hoping to play South Africa again, but Cricket South Africa apparently demanded US$100,000 for Kenya to play the matches.
Next year could be even worse. Whilst Ireland will host Australia and Scotland will host England, nothing beyond that has been announced. It would be a big mistake if Cricket Ireland don't take advantage of Bangladesh touring England in 2010 and host them for an ODI series. The proposed ODI between Bangladesh and the Netherlands in Scotland hardly makes up for what, by then, will be almost three years without an ODI against a Full member for the Dutch.
The Asia Cup takes place again in 2010, but the Asian Cricket Council has limited it to only the four Asian Full members. When Bangladesh indicated that they may not be able to play due to their tour of England, the ACC didn't think of inviting Hong Kong, winners of the ACC Trophy Elite in 2008, or Afghanistan, the other Asian ODI status team, and instead said that in the event of Bangladesh pulling out, the tournament would become a tri-series. The tournament may be hosted in the UAE or Malaysia, but it is matches against Full members that these countries need, not matches involving two Full members. Some non-test teams are set to take part in the Twenty20 tournament at the Asian Games, though it remains to be seen whether the four Asian Full members will send their strongest possible sides.
The problem is that there is little incentive for the Full members to bother with ODIs against the six ODI status teams. Only Ireland and Kenya are on the ODI ranking table, so matches against the other four have no effect on the ranking position of the Full members. In addition, as more and more upsets are taking place, there is the embarrassment factor – the Full members have very much nothing to gain and everything to lose.
It remains to be seen what incentives can be put in place. As the various ICC boards that meet at various times over the year and would decide on these sorts of things are made up of Full member representatives, they are unlikely to vote for sanctions against themselves.
It is perhaps a result of the heavy amount of international cricket that now takes place. Tours are getting shorter. Whilst a tour of England in the 1970s or 1980s (and even the 1990s) would regularly be lengthy enough for matches in Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and even on occasion Denmark, this is no longer the case. Tours seem to operate on a policy of get in as late as possible and leave as soon as possible, leaving little time for anything beyond a Test series, a couple of warm-up games, a Twenty20 International and a ridiculously lengthy ODI series.
The Full members are unlikely to change their attitude, so it is up to the six to make the case themselves. They should make the rather obvious point that a competitive game against an Associate is going to be better preparation for a tour than a perfunctory warm-up against what are often the second XIs of the domestic sides.
The Associates also need to show that they're capable of playing the big boys more often. Arranging games against the domestic sides of Full members and against Full member A sides is a good way for the Associates to show their progress without the Full members being embarrassed too much.
But a lot of it of course, comes down to the ICC. They were contacted to confirm whether the guarantee of one 'event' against a Full member mentioned in the first paragraph was still in effect. They confirmed that it was, and their spokesman had this to say: 'I reckon we have, or have gone very close to, always achieving this aim for every AM ODI nation every year (and actually over-achieving for several AMs in some years and/or always doubly-achieving in the previous or following year for any AM that may have missed out in a year)."
This is clearly not the case. As long as the ICC are deluded into thinking there is no problem, they won't come up with a solution.