At the conclusion of the qualifier for the qualifier of the Twenty20 World Cup - or the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier to use its official ICC sanctioned name - I feel somewhat in two minds.
On the face of it, from a cricketing perspective, the tournament was a good one. It was unpredictable - but not too unpredictable. It had the expectation defying performances of Oman, Jersey and the USA. It had the apparent decline in Twenty20 cricket of Nepal and the UAE. It had teams kept interested until the end of the group stage. It had some spectacular batting, bowling and fielding, and at the end the best six teams in the tournament did qualify. It also showed that associate cricket is more than just Afghanistan and Ireland.
Despite all this though, there was much to be unhappy about when we go beyond the cricket.
The format of the 2013 qualifier was - whilst a little confusing - actually pretty good. Where teams finished in their group influenced how easy a route they had to the next tournament in Bangladesh. This format was - with slight modifications - retained for 2015. But those modifications weren't satisfactory.
First, the tournament was reduced to 14 teams, no doubt as part of the “more opportunities for associates” nonsense the ICC like to talk about in their media releases. The result of this was that the cross over matches between 4th & 5th place in the groups were dropped, meaning that the 4th placed teams now only needed to win one match to qualify, as opposed to the two they had to win in 2013.
In addition, ranking play-offs for places below the 5th & 6th place play-off match were dropped. Logistics and costs will no doubt be given as the reasons, but how does that fit with the mantras of “increased investment” and “more opportunities” for the associates? Perhaps the money went on flying in ICC bigwigs such as Giles Clarke, Dave Richardson and Tim Anderson for the final stages in Dublin.
The ICC coverage was odd, with elementary mistakes cropping up here and there. On more than one occasion, the ICC website seemed to be under the impression that Oman had never played in this tournament before. They had, of course, played in 2012, finishing 15th out of the 16 participants. Is it too cynical to suggest that indicating that on the ICC website might cause people to wonder why this tournament had been reduced?
To compliment the ICC website for a moment - it looked good. With that out of the way, let's get to the main problem - the live coverage. This has been done to death on this website and elsewhere but it needs saying again - the ICC's live coverage was terrible.
ICC hired Opta to do the official live scoring. To correct what has been written elsewhere, Opta weren't actually responsible for the automated commentary on the official website. The ICC instead take a feed of data from Opta and process it into what you saw on the website. It is the ICC who are responsible for ensuring that every six was “a great shot” that “went all the way” and that every four, even a streaky inside edge down to fine leg, was a “nice boundary”.
Whilst we're on the subject, if you do insist on having an automated commentary service, why have only one description for a six, but multiple descriptions for a dot ball? And those dot ball descriptions don't even cover everything. A dot ball could see an lbw appeal, a near run out, a dropped catch, or all three from the same delivery but would still be “no run, there is no run there”.
CricketEurope were, as you are no doubt fully aware, prevented from providing our usual high quality ball by ball commentary service from the grounds due to the contract with Opta. This was apparently to aid the teams in building profiles and fan bases. How does restricting the audience help them do that? We were at least allowed to cover the televised matches when the ICC conceded that they couldn't actually stop us doing so, and I hope those of you who followed the commentary of Michael Taylor and myself enjoyed it.
The restrictions due to ICC partners didn't stop with us. I'm told that even the BBC were prevented from interviewing players on camera at Malahide. Mainstream media organisations rarely cover these teams. It seems churlish to put obstacles in their way of doing so.
How many interesting moments were missed due to the absence of independent live coverage? How long before nobody is allowed to cover the tournament at all?
The TV coverage
As I mentioned in the previous section, CricketEurope was allowed to do ball by ball commentary from the televised matches. This was a rough experience as anyone who followed the commentary of Michael Taylor and I could probably tell.
It may seem picky to criticise the TV coverage. It was after all the most substantial televised coverage of any associate tournament ever, with 20 matches broadcast if we include the washed out 3rd place match and final, and the decision by Sky Sports to show all of it in the UK and Ireland should be commended. The 2012 qualifier had minimal broadcast coverage and was mostly live streamed by QTV Sports - then Quipu TV.
There has been increase in production values, but this has correlated with a decline in the quality of the commentary. I didn't see much of the televised matches from Scotland, so the following mostly concentrates on the coverage from Ireland.
Let's start with the good. Kyle McCallan was excellent. Unlike his co-commentators he actually seemed to have watched the teams earlier in the tournament. He knew about the history of the teams in the various tournaments. He was also keen to point out how important it is that associates get the chances to play against top teams. Was the ICC listening to him?
A surprising highlight for me was the commentary of the recently retired Matt Prior. New to the commentary game, he doesn't seem to have been infected by the usual low standard that passes for cricket commentary and stayed away from the “jokey banter” that tends to plague it. His bits on wicketkeeping technique were genuinely insightful.
The other commentators ranged from disinterested to comical. And the king of comedy was undoubtedly Pommie Mbangwa, who seems to have taken to cricket commentary about as well as he took to batting in Test matches. (look up his average)
Mbangwa was over enthusiastic to the point of annoyance. Never mind Richie Benaud's rule of knowing the value of a pause, Mbangwa barely paused for breath. Sometimes the action can speak for itself. It doesn't need artificial hype.
One area where many of the commentators fell down was in the pronunciation of some names. Charles Perchard didn't have his name pronounced right once. Dominic Cork had several different attempts at pronouncing Timm van der Gugten and never said it correctly. Though as our Dutch correspondents will point out, Timm van der Gugten doesn't say it correctly either.
It's not hard to get the correct pronunciation. Just ask the players! And before the game too. Mbangwa chose the post-match presentation of the fourth Namibia game he'd covered to check if he was pronouncing the Namibian captain's name correctly. That is not the time to do it.
What the tournament is for
As the ICC coverage was keen to point out, these teams were fighting it out to join “the big boys” in the 16 team World Twenty20. They weren't. They were fighting it out to join Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in a qualifier for a 10 team World Twenty20.
Oman aren't going to get the chance to take on India. The Netherlands might not have the opportunity to beat England at a World Twenty20 again. They've to play another qualifier first.
Peter Borren actually pointed this out at numerous points throughout the tournament, with William Porterfield and Preston Mommsen also making their displeasure clear. When Borren called the World Twenty20 a 10 team tournament on a live ICC broadcast it brought a thrill to my heart. A brief moment of rebellion and realism on an otherwise sanitised ICC production. Other associate captains please take note.
During this tournament teams with “lesser” status won 14 matches against teams with higher status. The more teams of different status mix, the more the concept is shown up as a sham. No wonder the full members want to avoid playing associates.
Whilst there wasn't a repeat of the ridiculous situation in the 2013 qualifier when the 11th place play off was an official T20I and the play-offs for 3rd through to 9th weren't, there were still a couple of oddities, namely in the qualification play-offs.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong v Afghanistan was a T20I. Netherlands v Namibia wasn't. Then on Thursday, Afghanistan v Papua New Guinea was a T20I, whilst Namibia v Oman wasn't. If anyone can give me a logical explanation for this, I'd be very surprised.
Oman's reward for beating Namibia and qualifying for the World Twenty20 was to be given T20I status. They replace Nepal who have lost T20I status despite having equal points and a superior net run rate to the UAE, who will keep their T20I status due to their ODI status. Is this making sense yet?
Nepal knew they had to finish in the top six to keep their T20I status, but given that they'd had it for only a year and that Oman will now have it for four years, they're within their rights to feel a little aggrieved.
Of course if you let Nepal keep T20I status, then you'd have to give it to those teams that had a better tournament than them. That would be ridiculous, though not as ridiculous as the whole concept of status is in the first place.
This is the 21st century. We're not playing Gentlemen v Players anymore. Put an end to this status nonsense and just call an international an international. What would be the harm?
We know what's next for the top six of course. They'll get to play in another qualifier. But what of the other eight teams? They'll have World Cricket League matches to play, but what about Twenty20 cricket?
The World Twenty20 has been moved to a tournament that takes place every four years. After the previous qualifier the teams all knew that they'd have their own regional qualifiers within another 18 months. Will Jersey and Nepal have regional Twenty20 tournaments before 2018/19?
It's still up in the air. Regional budgets have already been hit, and will no doubt continue to be cut, despite what the ICC might want us to think. Regional 50 over tournaments are practically extinct and the Twenty20 tournaments have been scaled back. Further cutbacks in tournaments - and opportunities for associates - should be expected.
And what about associate & affiliate cricket in general? During the final stages of the tournament David Richardson and Giles Clarke had conversations with journalists - the latter off the record. Their comments don't offer up much hope for the future of associates & affiliates.
It's a rough time to be involved with associate & affiliate cricket whether as a player, administrator or journalist. Meritocracy. More opportunities. Building an audience. It's all bullshit.