As the dust settles on last week’s ICC announcement that Ireland and Afghanistan had been given full membership (and the Test status that comes with it) it is perhaps time to look at what this means for their now former fellow Associate members.
Other than the promotion of Ireland and Afghanistan, the expulsion of the United States of America Cricket Association and the removal of affiliate membership (with all affiliate members becoming associates) there was little of note as far as associate cricket is concerned. Perhaps that is because the promotion of Ireland and Afghanistan leaves associate cricket in something of a flux, with a wider impact than might initially be apparent.
Not announced by the ICC in their media release, but widely published elsewhere, is a change in the funding distribution that had been approved in April. In that model, the associates (including Ireland and Afghanistan) were due to receive a combined US$280 million over the duration of the current TV contract. Under the model approved at the annual conference, Ireland and Afghanistan will each receive $40 million (an increase from their previous funding) which will come out of the associate budget of $240 million, leaving $160 million for the other associates.
To clarify then, Ireland and Afghanistan are receiving an increased share of a reduced associate budget. In 2014 after the now discarded “big three” reforms, Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom was quoted by Cricinfo as saying “It is hard to look fellow Associates and Affiliates in the eye and ask to have more from their share”. Evidently, it wasn’t all that hard.
The remaining associates are no doubt wondering what this reduction in their expected share of funding means for their development programmes, and for their tournament structures. Will the World Cricket League, already cut from eight divisions to five, be cut further? What about the few remaining regional tournaments? Will the Intercontinental Cup and World Cricket League Championship remain eight team events? Will the Intercontinental Cup even exist at all?
One of the purposes of the current cycle of the Intercontinental Cup was to qualify a team for the “Test Challenge”, which would see the winner play a four match series against Zimbabwe. Had they won, they would have been granted Test status for a four year period. With the ascension of Ireland and Afghanistan, this has been scrapped. It is hard to escape the feeling that the ICC’s flirtation with meritocracy in multi-day cricket was only ever meant to include Ireland and Afghanistan. In the absence of the Test Challenge, some will no doubt question the relevance of the Intercontinental Cup, and it could well be a casualty of cuts in funding.
The proposed thirteen team ODI league is at least still on the cards, though the plan for the thirteenth team to be the winners of the ongoing World Cricket League Championship seems to have been scrapped, with reports suggesting that it will instead be the highest associate on the ODI rankings. Of course there are now no associates on the main ranking table, with the four associates with ODI status on a separate table ranked by win percentage against each other, an obviously unfair metric given the disparity in opponents. The unfairness of that is perhaps best indicated by the fact that the UAE, currently bottom of the WCLC, top the associate ODI table. The Netherlands, currently front runners for the WCLC title but without ODI status, will be the most aggrieved by this decision.
This of course raises another question – will the top six associates still have ODI status in the future, with the number of teams with that status thus increasing to 18, or will the ICC keep it at 16?
Pathways to global tournaments in Twenty20 and Under-19 cricket are also up in the air. Whilst Afghanistan and Ireland are still set to play in regional qualifiers for the 2018 Under-19 World Cup, it remains to be seen what the pathway will be for 2020. Full members usually qualify automatically for the Under-19 World Cup, so either that will now not happen, or the number of associates will be four from the ICC’s five regions, requiring the return of a global qualifier, eating further into the development budget.
Full members also qualify automatically for the World Twenty20. Will the associate representation in the qualifier that masquerades as the first round of that tournament thus be cut? Perhaps not, as there is talk of expanding that tournament. But do Ireland, currently 18th and last in the T20I rankings, deserve automatic entry given their atrocious T20 form in recent years?
There is also the World Cup, still set to be a long drawn out ten team affair in 2019 and 2023. The increased funding given to Ireland and Afghanistan is going to make it even harder for an associate to reach that event. It is entirely possible that most of the the current generation of associate players will never play a 50 over World Cup.
Scotland’s Kyle Coetzer certainly sees it that way, tweeting on Friday that associates faced “No World Cups, No Money, No Facilities, No development!”, sarcastically adding, “Exciting future ahead for associates”.
The promotion of Ireland and Afghanistan to full member status will certainly help the game immensely there. But there are 92 other associate members (plus the USA) facing an uncertain future. Do they have a pathway?
Last week’s news wasn’t a sign of cricket’s glass ceiling being shattered. It has merely been lowered to include two more teams. Cricket hasn’t suddenly become an egalitarian and meritocratic sport. It still has the gentlemen’s club, old school tie, closed shop mentality that has long harmed its development. There’s still a long way to go, and the remaining associates know that all too well.