A recent article on Yahoo Cricket, apparently based on a leaked ICC document, gave readers the first look at the proposed system of qualification for the ten team 2019 Cricket World Cup, to be held in England. The proposal can be summarised as follows:
However this article raises more questions than it answers.
To start with - the limiting of the ODI rankings to 12 teams. Will this be the current top 12 - the full members plus Ireland and the Netherlands? And also, as I've written in the past, why use rankings? Why not just the top 8 teams from the 2015 World Cup? Perhaps because that might lead to the "wrong" top 8.
The ICC will point out that they commissioned an investigation into whether rankings were suitable to use for qualification to tournaments, but that investigation was carried out by David Kendix who can hardly be considered independent given that he devised the rankings in the first place.
There is also another potential problem with the rankings, in that it is possible for teams to essentially "game the system" to ensure that they remain towards the top of the rankings. A team in the top 8 would lose more ranking points if they lose against a team outside the top 8, so they can just avoid playing those teams where possible in order to minimise their risk. This will make it very hard for the top 8 to be anything other than the current "big 8" full members.
And what of those specific criteria? The article mentions a minimum number of ODIs to be played over a four year period, but what other criteria will be in place? Will one of those criteria be having to be a full member, meaning that if, say, Ireland make it into the top 8 they won't be allowed to automatically qualify from the rankings?
The article also doesn't mention much about how the World Cricket League will feed into the qualifier. It seems that the top two associates will no longer play in the World Cricket League Championship, but how many teams will play in that tournament? It may continue to be 8, but then that also raises questions about the future of the Intercontinental Cup - will the two associates on the main ODI ranking table play in it, and if so, how will it fit in with the scheduling of the World Cricket League Championship, given that some teams will not be playing in both competitions? Could the Intercontinental Cup be scrapped altogether?
The article talks about promotion and relegation to and from the main ODI ranking table, but will certain criteria need to be met for that? It's entirely possible that full members will not be allowed to be relegated.
There is also the question about how many teams will have ODI status. Will it just be the two associates on the main ranking table, will it also be all the teams on the WCLC table, or will it be just the top six associates and affiliates, as at present? This will of course lead to more of the current silly situation where matches in the WCLC will have different status depending on which teams are playing in them.
How will the other two teams in the qualifier, that come from the World Cricket League pathway, qualify for said qualifier? Will it be similar to the current situation where the remainder of the WCLC teams will be joined by four teams from whatever the next WCL divisions are in a sort of qualifier for the qualifier?
And of those two associates on the main ODI ranking table - will they be part of the future tours programme, ensuring they get enough matches against the full members to give them a chance of meeting the minimum number of ODIs? Or will they have to pick at the scraps as they do at the moment?
Whilst on the surface this may appear to be a more meritocratic qualification system, the concerns detailed above mean that the appearance of meritocracy is mere illusion, a pseudo-meritocracy. It's like giving someone a ladder that starts six feet from the ground.
And why on earth should eight teams get automatic entry into a ten team World Cup in the first place? Eight automatic entrants would be too much for a 16 team tournament - for a ten team tournament it's approaching insanity.
But at least the media will get their short and sweet ten team World Cup they've been longing for, right? Well no. The article reveals that the tournament will be one group of ten followed by semi-finals and a final - 48 games in all, to take place over six weeks. This is just three games less than the 16 team 2007 World Cup. It's almost as if the presence of all these teams had nothing to do with the tournament taking so long.
And of course the point remains that a ten team World Cup is grossly unfair, for reasons that I and others have gone into many times on this website and others. Cricket seems determined to stick to the same old teams playing each other again and again, expansion be damned.
In 1975, the World Cup had 8 teams in it, out of 20 ICC members, a 40% participation rate. In 2019, less than 10% of ICC members will play in the World Cup. That should be a damning indictment on the ICC. But they probably don't even care.