Bermuda & USA relegation, Nepal promotion continues a trend
When one looks at the promoted and relegated teams in World Cricket League tournaments this year, it doesn't take long for a trend to emerge. Asian teams are frequently being promoted, and teams from other regions – especially the Americas – are being relegated.
Given this trend then, what are the ICC doing to learn from how the Asian Cricket Council has developed their ICC members over the last seven years or so? What structures will the ICC bring into the Americas and other regions that are currently in place in Asia?
The answer may surprise you – nothing. In fact, they're doing precisely the opposite and bringing the structures in Asia in line with the other regions.
Looking at the performance of the Americas teams in the World Cricket League, one sees that the USA are the only team from the Americas to have improved on their starting position. Recently relegated to Division Four, they started in Division Five, though they were initially meant to start in Division Three before an ICC suspension knocked them down the ladder.
Canada have dropped from Division One to Division Two, Bermuda have dropped from Division One to Division Four and Argentina have, famously, dropped from a high of Division Two to Division Six and out of the WCL altogether.
Asian teams on the other hand are, in general, improving their starting position. Afghanistan are the success story of the World Cricket League, going from Division Five to Division One, but Malaysia & Singapore have gone from Division Six to Division Three and Nepal from Division Five to Division Two. Oman are the only black mark, having gone from Division Two to Division Five. Asia has gone from having no teams with ODI status to having three teams, plus one more with T20I status.
When you look at the average performance in the WCL for Asian teams, the average movement in divisions is a promotion of 1.2 divisions. For the Americas teams, the average movement is a relegation of 2.14 divisions.
In fact, when you work this out for all regions, Asia is the only region for which the teams have, on average, been promoted in World Cricket League tournaments. All other regions have seen their teams, on average, drop down the structure, as shown below:
So why the discrepancy?
It is well known that the Asian Cricket Council gets more in ICC funding than all the other regions, but it is what they do with this money that makes them so successful in the World Cricket League. Quite simply, they actually play 50 over cricket on a regional basis.
Back in 2011, the ICC elected to cut the World Cup to just the 10 full members, a decision that was later reversed for 2015. At almost the same time, the World Twenty20 was expanded to 16 teams from 12, although that expansion was delayed until the 2014 event having initially been planned for 2012.
Due to this, most regions decided to switch their regional divisional structures to Twenty20 cricket. After all, with no associates planned to be in the World Cup for the near future, why not concentrate on Twenty20 cricket? Every region did that except one – the Asian Cricket Council.
When other regions began to restrict further the number of teams playing regional tournaments, the Asian Cricket Council again didn't follow suit. They still provided 50 over cricket for all their members at senior, Under-19 and Under-16 levels.
Fifty over cricket on a regional basis outside of Asia has become increasingly rare. Europe has held just one tournament since 2010, Africa recently held its first fifty over tournament since 2010, and East Asia Pacific has held some 50 over friendly matches around their Twenty20 events, and will hold a small tournament in Australia later this month.
The Americas region, on the other hand, has held no 50 over tournament for any of its members since 2010. When Bermuda arrived in Malaysia, they hadn't played a 50 over international in almost 18 months – the last being the previous WCL3 event. The USA had played only one such match in that time – a one off match against Canada that was washed out after the Canadian innings.
Malaysia & Singapore and promoted sides Nepal & Uganda have all played in regional 50 over tournaments within the last six months. Given this disparity in recent activity, is it any wonder that the two Americas sides struggled at WCL3 last week?
The continuing success of the Asian teams in the World Cricket League creates something of a feedback loop. Performance in tournaments still makes up a significant part of the ICC funding methodology, so the continuously good performance leads to more ICC funding which, combined with the fact that money goes further in many Asian countries, leads to more investment into cricket which leads to further improvement in performance and the cycle repeats.
With a solid foundation in the longer forms of the game thought to be needed in order to be successful in Twenty20 cricket, it is perhaps also no surprise that Asia provided four of the six associate qualifiers for the World Twenty20 this year.
So it is worrying that, despite the obvious evidence that what the Asian Cricket Council is doing is working, the ICC are set to step in and direct the running of the Asian region as they do with the other four. The long standing dominance of the Asian region could well end, not because other regions are being brought up to their standards, but because the Asian region is being brought down to the standards of the other regions.
The conclusion here is blindingly obvious. Playing more 50 over cricket outside of the World Cricket League means that teams do better in the World Cricket League. So why then, are other regions not following suit, and why are the ICC stepping in when it comes to Asia?
With the new ICC TV deal thought to only provide an increase of funding for the top associates, and the new ICC big three overlords thought to want a cutback in regional events, it's hard to see the situation improving. Associates will get worse at 50 over cricket. And then they'll get worse at Twenty20 cricket. And then – why not cut them off altogether?