The new world league order
The World Cricket League as we knew it is no more.
Widely regarded as one of the best things the ICC had done for associate cricket, it began with a division one tournament in Kenya in early 2007 and at one point had eight divisions featuring over half of the ICC's associate (and affiliate as then was) members. It took in venues as diverse as Argentina, Botswana, Italy, Nepal and Samoa. It helped Afghanistan rise from playing regional events to ODI status in less than a year and was a key step on their remarkable journey to full member status.
Its cutthroat nature - mostly six team tournaments with two being promoted and two being relegated - lent itself to some exciting tournaments. The final day of round robin play in a world cricket league tournament was a better advert for 50 over cricket than any bilateral series between full members.
There were many highlights along the way, perhaps most notably Mahaboob Alam taking all ten wickets against Mozambique at the first Division 5 tournament in Jersey just over ten years ago. Nepal were also involved in one of the low points of its history - a crowd riot in Kathmandu in 2010 which caused Singapore to miss out on promotion to Division 4.
So after 12 years and 33 tournaments (plus two still to come), what will replace it?
The Netherlands had already gained promotion to the new 13 team ODI league, set to start in May 2020, where they will play three matches against 8 full members over the following two years. This league has been christened the "Cricket World Cup Super League". The top eight teams from this event will automatically reach the World Cup, with the bottom five having to play in the World Cup Quallfier.
For the next seven teams in the rankings, what was the World Cricket League Championship is now the "Cricket World Cup League 2". Previously each team in this event played two matches against each other team either home or away. They will now play three matches home AND away against each other opponent for a total of 36 matches each over 2.5 years, starting in July 2019.
In a major - and long hoped for - change, all matches in the tournament will carry ODI status, and all teams will be on the ICC's ODI ranking table. Whether they'll all be able to arrange bilateral matches outside of the tournament is currently unknown.
Scotland, Nepal and the UAE are already certain of playing in this tournament, with the top four from April's World Cricket League Division 2 tournament joining them. Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Canada and Namibia will be joined in that event by the top two from next month's WCL Division 3 tournament.
The top three teams from this league will qualify for the World Cup Qualifier, with the remaining four teams entering the six team Cricket World Cup Qualifier play-off. The other two teams in that event will come from the third tier of the structure, the twelve team Cricket World Cup Challenge League.
Teams in this event are divided into two groups of six teams. They will play 3 matches against each other team in their group over 2.25 years starting in August 2019. The exact format is currently unknown but a three match series against each other opponent either home or away seems likely. All matches at this level will carry List A status.
The teams involved in this stage will be those ranked 21-32 after the conclusion of World Cricket League Division 2 in April 2019. These will be the bottom two from that tournament, the bottom four of next month's Division 3 tournament, Malaysia, Jersey, Vanuatu, Bermuda and Qatar. That gets us to 11 teams with Qatar currently ranked at 31 and no other teams technically in the World Cricket League. Giving Italy - who lost a relegation play-off against Qatar the final place in the tournament seems likely but would be a little unfair on the other teams relegated back to regional play from that tournament - Guernsey, Cayman Islands, Ghana and Germany.
As mentioned above the top two teams - the group winners - will play in the World Cup Qualifier play-off. The winner of this six team event will be the tenth team in the World Cup Qualifier, from which two teams will qualify for the 2023 World Cup. The bottom two teams from each group will play in a "Challenge play-off" tournament, likely against teams from regional qualifying events, though this isn't known for certain, for promotion/relegation.
Whilst there are positives to take from the change such as the vastly increased programme of 50 over cricket for all teams involved, there are some negatives.
The exciting nature of those six team tournaments is the most obvious casualty. In addition, those tournaments occasionally found their way into the wider cricketing consciousness in a way that a league played over two years seems unlikely to replicate.
In addition, the World Cricket League has seen the rankings of associate cricket shaken up over the years and likely played a role in the abolition of the distinction between associate and affiliate members. Several teams currently in the top 32 and therefore involved in this new structure have played - in some cases started - at World Cricket League Division 5 or below. Most notable amongst them are - as mentioned earlier - full member Afghanistan and ODI status team Nepal but also Jersey, Malaysia, Singapore, Oman, Qatar and Vanuatu, the latter of which started in Division Eight.
Whilst the expanded programme is no doubt welcome for those involved, it is important that those currently just outside the top 32 are also nurtured. Many of them still play 50 over cricket at domestic level and would like to play internationally too. Germany, to name one, have made great strides in recent years. The mention on the ICC press release of the Challenge play-off tournament suggests that some sort of structure will be in place for them, but they would no doubt like to play sooner than 2023.
And then there's the big one - the 2023 World Cup is still set to be a ten team affair. The reasons why this is a bad idea don't need repeating again.
Although, there may be a tiny ray of hope. On the graphic detailing the pathway are three little letters in parentheses after the part where it says the World Cup will be 10 teams. Those letters? TBC. To be confirmed. Maybe, just maybe, the ten team World Cup in 2023 isn't a done deal after all.