The end of the ODI Super League
"The threat which cup competitions represented to the exclusivity of the game was widely understood. Participation in a knock-out cup meant that a club could no longer choose its opponents and the prospect of defeat to ostensibly lesser teams helped to animate the socially exclusive clubs' opposition to cup ties."
I think about that quote often. It's not about cricket, but about rugby in Yorkshire in the 1880s. It's part of what eventually led to rugby splitting into the two sports of rugby union and rugby league.
But whilst it isn't about cricket, it's indicative of the same sort of attitudes that led this week to the ICC announcement that the qualification pathway to the 2027 ODI World Cup has been changed to ditch the ODI Super League and revert to using rankings to decide the ten automatic qualifiers.
Rankings of course allow the elite teams to choose their opponents and avoid the chance of defeat to "lesser teams". England can be free to play Australia and India ad nauseam without having to take a quick trip to Amstelveen for three matches against The Netherlands. No way does that series - or the Dutch trip to South Africa next week - happen without a proper qualifying structure.
We've seen recently with the T20 World Cup that a way below par team like Bangladesh can scrape through rankings based qualifying criteria despite poor recent form. We saw a few years back that Pakistan randomly cancelled a series just before the cut-off point for qualification for the 2017 Champions Trophy when defeat would have led to them dropping below the cut-off. The rankings can be gamed. A league table can't.
The T20 World Cup gives us a possible look into the future of ODI cricket. Cut off from full members (and the franchise circuit often undervaluing associate players) the gap between the full members and the top associates has widened. With the end of the ODI Super League likely to leave the top associates begging for scraps - an occasional one-off ODI as a glorified warm-up - rather than the regular fixtures The Netherlands are currently getting.
The threat of a full member being relegated from the top level of ODI cricket has gone - reducing the excitement of the end stages of the Super League at the bottom of the table. Of course that is the reason why it is going. To avoid having to play lesser teams. They prefer their Victorian era touring model. Back we go to endless England v Australia and India v Sri Lanka bilaterals and Ireland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan only playing amongst themselves.
English cricket is - quite rightly - having a reckoning on the issue of equality, diversity and inclusion at the moment. They have set up an "Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket" and on Monday called for anybody who has experienced racism, sexism or elitism in cricket to contact them. Elitism? There's 94 associate members of the ICC who know all about elitism in cricket.
Associates co-hosting World Cups
Whilst the decision on the World Cup pathway was disappointing, it was great to see the ICC announce this past week that three associates will be part of hosting men's World Cups between 2024 and 2030.
The USA will join the West Indies in hosting the 2024 T20 World Cup - which will be the first 20 team tournament, whilst Scotland will join England and Ireland in hosting the 2030 tournament. In the ODI format, Namibia will join South Africa and Zimbabwe in hosting the 2027 tournament, newly expanded to 14 teams.
Much is still to be confirmed of course. Will the co-hosting associates get automatic entry? The decision to use the rankings to decide ten automatic qualifiers for 2027 suggests not. The main question though is how much of the tournament they get to host. Hopefully it won't be a token couple of games as we saw with Ireland, Scotland and The Netherlands in 1999 or Kenya in 2003.
The T20 World Cups - set to involve four groups of five teams seem ideal to let the associates host a significant chunk of the tournament. In 2030, perhaps one group could be in Scotland, one group in Ireland and two in England.
Another question is where in the United States games will be played in 2024. Fort Lauderdale is the usual host for big events there, but there may be a desire to get some games in the Los Angeles area as something of a trial run for the potential Olympic cricket tournament in 2028.
Scotland added to Under-19 World Cup
With New Zealand having to pull out of the next Under-19 World Cup - which will be played in the West Indies in January and early February next year - due to the strict quarantine requirements for minors on return to New Zealand, the ICC announced that Scotland would take their place.
The ICC haven't announced the criteria by which Scotland have been chosen but as the 11 automatic qualifiers were the top 11 of the 2020 tournament, it seems likely that they were chosen due to their 12th place finish in that event.
However, the principle that the ICC adopted in deciding regional qualifiers when the tournaments couldn't be played was performance over the previous ten years, not the most recent tournament. As such, teams with a stronger Under-19 World Cup record such as Namibia or Nepal can feel aggrieved, as can those teams that missed out on regional qualification despite having better recent form such as Japan.
Nothing against Scotland here, it was clearly the right decision to include them. But it's yet another sign of inconsistency in how the ICC have dealt with tournament qualification in the time of Covid.
As expected, Canada joined the USA in qualifying for the global qualifier for the 2022 T20 World Cup after beating Panama on the final day. They did so in quite spectacular fashion as they scored 245-1 and bowled their opponents out for just 37. Saad Bin Zafar made history in the process by becoming the first male player in T20I history to bowl four overs without conceding a run. Two players had done it previously in women's T20Is.
Remarkably, he wasn't the only person that week to do that feat in List A T20 matches. Just six days earlier, Akshay Karnewar did it for Vidarbha against Manipur in India's Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Uganda emerged triumphant in the African qualifier final this week. Their only defeat in their six matches was a one run loss against their old rivals Kenya, but with Kenya losing the second match between the two teams and also losing to Tanzania, it meant that net run rate wouldn't come into the equation and Uganda progressed to the global qualifiers for the first time since 2013.
Kenya meanwhile will miss out on the global qualifier for the first time ever, a further sign that they have long lost their status as the top dogs in African associate cricket. Nigeria will be disappointed that they couldn't build on their late entry to the 2019 global qualifier as they lost all six of their matches.
That then confirms the 16 teams that will take part in the two global qualifiers, set for February in Oman and May in Zimbabwe. Which teams will play in which event are yet to be decided though. Ireland, Netherlands, Oman and Papua New Guinea drop down from the recently concluded T20 World Cup, Nepal, UAE, Singapore and Zimbabwe qualify through the rankings, whilst the USA, Canada, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Philippines, Jersey, Germany and now Uganda have come through regional qualification - Hong Kong and Philippines due to cancellation of events and rankings being used instead.
Qatar women v Nepal women
Nepal's women travelled to Qatar as part of the preparation for the Asian qualifier to the next women's T20 World Cup, playing a three match series against the home team. Nepal were dominant throughout, winning the first match by 119 runs, bowling Qatar out for just 27 and having Rubina Belbashi take three wickets for just one run. The second match was won by 61 runs and the third by 109 runs. Belbashi took six wickets in the series at an average of just 3.66.
Pathway events continue
Global pathway events are continuing this week in the women's game. The ODI World Cup qualifier is underway as I write with Pakistan taking on Bangladesh and Thailand playing the hosts. Ireland, Netherlands, Sri Lanka, USA and West Indies are the other five teams involved.
Another tournament in the UAE starts tomorrow, as six teams compete for one place in the global qualifier for the next women's T20 World Cup. The hosts will be joined by Bhutan, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Malaysia and Nepal.