This week the ICC announced their calendar of top level international events from 2024 to 2031. The main headlines were that the men's ODI World Cup will be expanded to a 14 team event and that the men's T20 World Cup will be expanded to a 20 team event. This week's column will explore what is good about this, what is bad, and what we still don't know.
Obviously more teams being in World Cups is great. Cricket was alone in major sports in having such restrictive World Cup tournaments and to see them moving in the right direction is a positive. Giving more teams more opportunities to play on the big stage can only be good for those teams that will now play, particularly in the T20 format.
It gives them - and their players - more visibility both at home and around the world and moves the World Cups closer to being a true festival of cricket. Players will have the chance to put themselves in the shop window for professional contracts in the full member world, particularly in the T20 format.
The T20 World Cup will feature four groups of five, finally becoming a true bigger tournament rather than the 10 team tournaments with a qualifier tacked on front masquerading as inclusive 16 team tournaments the last two have been.
It has the potential to drive development. Scotland's Kyle Coetzer and Canada's Nitesh Kumar have both spoken in the past about how they were inspired by watching their countries in the 1999 and 2003 World Cups respectively. Now another generation will get the chance to be inspired.
It's not all positive though. Whilst the World Cups have been expanded, the formats aren't the best. With the ODI World Cup, 14 teams mean that a good format is almost impossible to achieve. Groups of seven are unwieldy and can lead to the weaker teams being eliminated when there are still several games to play.
The T20 World Cup with four five team groups is a great first round format, but it then inexplicably moves to a second group stage for the last eight rather than knockouts. This means that if a weaker team does luck their way into the second stage - possibly through wash-outs or a team taking their foot off the pedal when they've already secured their place, their stay in the tournament becomes prolonged.
The tournaments are also prolonged - the ODI World Cup will have the same format as 2003, a tournament that lasted six weeks. The format for the T20 World Cup is also likely to last around five weeks unless multiple games are played simultaneously, something that the ICC has not been keen on in recent years.
It may sound churlish to be complaining about all this. After all, like everyone involved in associate cricket in whatever way, I have been backing expanded World Cups for a long time. But a bad format can lead to a poor spectacle. And if it is a bad spectacle it won't be the poor format that gets blamed, it will be the expansion. Just look at 2007.
It could also be argued that the 2027 ODI World Cup having the same number of teams as the tournament 12 years prior and still fewer than in a tournament 20 years prior does not represent expansion in any meaningful sense. There is still work to be done.
As ever with ICC press releases, this one didn't give the full story. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, both about the World Cups and other aspects of the international calendar.
People with long memories may remember that the 2012 World T20 was originally going to be a 16 team tournament. It was reverted to a 12 team event (as the previous three had been) not long after the associates kicked up a fuss and had the decision to make the 2015 ODI World Cup a ten team full member only event. But for a change let us give the ICC the benefit of the doubt and assume that the expansion will go ahead!
First, the main question - how will qualification work? As far as anyone can tell, the ODI Super League is here to stay for the next cycle. As this will feed into the 2027 World Cup, it will need a change to the number of teams earning direct qualification from it and the number of teams dropping into the World Cup qualifier.
The T20 World Cup is a trickier matter. Keeping the current qualification structure will require a ridiculous number of teams to be given automatic entry, so it seems that a move to the regional qualifiers feeding directly into the main tournament rather than into a global qualifier will be needed.
The Rugby Union World Cup - also a four groups of five tournament - has the top 12 from the previous tournament automatically qualify with the other eight teams qualifying from five regions plus a repechage. This model could work for cricket, and raises the possibility of full member sides dropping into regional qualifying, giving some of the associates just below the top more chances to test themselves against full members.
The problem with all this though is the amount of qualifying that will take place. With three World Cups in each four year cycle, the associates involved in qualifying for both are going to have very busy international calendars. Whilst associate cricket is becoming increasingly professionalised, many players are still amateurs and may struggle to fit in all the qualifying matches alongside work commitments.
This brings us to a big unknown - will funding be made available to alleviate this busy schedule? Changing the funding distribution would likely have a bigger impact than expansion, but will the BCCI be willing to give up some of their share of the pot to help out the associates? Recent history suggests not.
There has been movement recently towards the inclusion of cricket in one or both of the 2028 and 2032 Summer Olympics. The scheduling of men's T20 World Cups in those years does not bode well for this. The IOC are unlikely to be too pleased at having a competing international tournament in the same year.
There were murmurs in the build up to this announcement that a return of the Intercontinental Cup as a second division of the World Test Championship was on the cards, with Ireland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan playing against some top associates. Whilst the WTC was confirmed to be continuing, with a final every two years, no mention has been made of this potential second division.
There is still a long way to go and all this may be announced in due course. Whilst the decision to expand the World Cups is very welcome, the wider implications still need to be considered.