Associates to face extra World Twenty20 hurdle
There was much rejoicing in the world of associate and affiliate cricket when the ICC announced that the 2014 World Twenty20 would feature sixteen teams with six qualifiers from the qualifier in the UAE later this year joining the ten full members in Bangladesh. It would be the most inclusive World Cup tournament in cricket since the 2007 one-day World Cup in the West Indies.
But as ever, it isn't quite as simple as that.
The first stage at the World Twenty20 will instead see the six qualifiers join Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in a preliminary round - the format of which is not known at this time - from which two teams will join the remaining full members in the first round proper.
This of course means that the main part of the tournament could well feature only the ten full members, though the six qualifiers, especially Ireland and Afghanistan, should they qualify, will no doubt be confident that they can overcome Zimbabwe and the hosts.
Whilst the preliminary round will be part of the tournament and be televised, it is hard to see this as anything other than an extra stage of qualification. The media will no doubt take it as such, only treating the subsequent stages as being the "real" tournament.
It also remains to be seen what would happen with the following World Twenty20 should one of the Associate/Affiliate qualifiers make it through the preliminary round. Would Zimbabwe or Bangladesh then be "relegated" to qualification rounds for the next tournament? Will the teams that then finish bottom of their five team first round groups then be relegated to the preliminary round next time?
History suggests not - after all, at least one qualifier has finished with a better record than at least one full member at all four tournaments so far and still had to qualify for the subsequent tournament.
Some may be satisfied with the format - it does after all guarantee six associate/affiliate sides at least one match against a full member in a short time period. But it does take away from the magic of what World Cups are supposed to be - a chance for the "smaller nations" to be on an even footing with the big boys.
Instead, they just qualify for a chance to take on the big boys. It feels like another attempt by the full members to protect their status and keep any other nation from daring to try and take their place. One could argue that rather than expanding the World Twenty20 to sixteen teams, they've reduced it to ten.