In Dubai yesterday, Paul Collingwood was at the ICC Global Cricket Academy helping the UAE national side as part of their preparation for the 2015 World Cup.
Meanwhile on the other side of the field, in the ICC offices, the decision to cut the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams was rubber stamped, meaning that the UAE, and most likely the other associates & affiliates, will be locked out of the World Cup for the foreseeable future.
Yes, there's a theoretical qualifying pathway, but the decks are stacked even further against the associates by scheduling the final qualifying tournament in Bangladesh. Even if an associate manages to overcome all the obstacles in their way and reach the World Cup, you can bet that the full member that doesn't qualify will get more money.
The arguments against the ten team World Cup are well worn and don't really need repeating here, but what about the arguments often presented in favour of a ten team, all play all, World Cup? These arguments are myriad, but are easily debunked.
The associates aren't competitive enough/always lose
The full members play each other on a regular basis. They are used to playing against quality opponents, week in, week out. The associates are starved of international competition against quality players as it is. Starving them even more is not going to help. Associate wins over full members have happened in all but two World Cups (1975 and 1987). They're often listed amongst the highlights of the tournament.
Having more teams in the World Cup will make it longer
The 2015 World Cup will have 49 matches and will last 6 weeks, as did the 2011 tournament. The 2019 World Cup will have 48 matches and will last 6 weeks. Not much shorter is it? A 16 team tournament could have four groups of four followed by a knock out stage, which would be 31 matches. Play two games a day during the first round and you could easily run it in under 4 weeks, even with reserve days for every game.
India need to play a lot of games in order to keep the TV audience
Maybe so. But is the ICC really so unconfident in its product that it can't survive without one admittedly big audience? In any case, the aim of a World Cup is not really to provide a big TV audience or to give one team plenty of matches. That's supposed to be a happy side effect of the true aim deciding the best team. The teams that play plenty of matches should be the best teams the ones in the final. If that's India, great. If it's not, that's great too. A sport cannot thrive if it becomes predictable.
The 1992 World Cup was the best World Cup
Best because of the format, or in spite of it? The 1992 World Cup had the novelty of South Africa returning to international cricket and of being the first World Cup played in coloured clothing. It was the bridging point between "old style" and "modern" ODI cricket, and as such saw new experiments such as "pinch hitters" and opening the bowling with spinners. It was the last hurrah for many legends of the 1980s, including Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Malcolm Marshall. It had a lot going for it other than the format.
And what of the format? Was it really that good? South Africa and Pakistan reached the semi-finals despite losing three games. Were it not for an abandoned game with Pakistan sure to lose, one semi-finalist would have lost four games. Come the 2019 World Cup, it is entirely possible that a team losing four, five or even six games could reach the semi-finals. A sensible format? I think not.
Having all the teams play each other makes the tournament exciting
With a group of 10 with four teams progressing, it's possible to have as many as 15 "dead rubber" matches. Does that sound exciting? There's a reason no other sport has a World Cup with that sort of format. What makes a tournament exciting is when as many matches as possible are "must win" games for one or both teams in a match. The best way to do that would be a knockout tournament, though that treats slow starters a little unfairly. The previously mentioned four groups of four followed by knockout is a good balance between providing a high number of "must win" games and allowing teams to come back after an early defeat.
Cricket doesn't need more teams
Can a sport that only has ten teams playing each other again and again in varying combinations survive and thrive in the long term? Evidence suggests that some people are starting to get bored of seeing this in their international cricket. More teams help spice up the game, give it some variety, and potentially bring a new audience. Sadly, the ICC seem more interested in short term profit than long term stability.
The 2007 World Cup had 16 teams and that was terrible
Terrible because of the short, sharp and exciting first round, or terrible because of the long and drawn out Super 8 stage? Had that World Cup gone straight to a quarter final stage it would have been finished a lot quicker. If you think that World Cup was terrible because India and Pakistan got knocked out in the first round, then tough. That's sport. Sometimes the top teams lose and get knocked out early. The role of a World Cup is not to stack the decks to favour them and give them an easy path through to the next stage.
No one wants to watch associates
Evidence suggests this isn't the case. Live web streams of associate matches are attracting an ever increasing audience. Quipu TV has had audiences of over 300,000 for Ireland matches, with even Europe Division Two highlights getting 30,000 viewers. Their 2012 World Twenty20 Qualifier coverage was watched in 117 countries.
And even if it was true, if two games a day are being played during the first round, schedule seemingly boring matches between weaker sides at the same time as matches between top teams. If people don't want to watch the two associates, they have an alternative. Or maybe the match between the top teams will be dull and they have something to switch over to
Teams like Bermuda in 2007 show why the World Cup is being reduced
Anyone who thinks that is suffering from a terminal case of naivety. Bermuda in 2007 did what associates are supposed to do at World Cups. Add a bit of colour, produce a highlight reel moment, lose and go home as quickly as possible. The team that spoiled the 2007 World Cup in the eyes of those in power at the ICC was Ireland, who did what associates aren't supposed to do play well. And spoil the planned India v Pakistan Super 8 match of course. A cynical view? Yes, but that's what almost a decade covering associate cricket does to you.
In the grand scheme of things though, any debunking won't do any good. The decision has been made to sell the future of the sport down the river for short term gain. The big three and the other full members will be better off in the short term, but the game will be poorer in the long run.
The hopes and dreams of associate cricketers, such as the Papua New Guinea players who were in tears after becoming the first team to win their first two ODIs at the weekend, or the Afghan and Nepali Under-19 players who started their Under-19 World Cup Qualifying campaign this week, have been cast by the wayside by a sports governing body that is possibly the only one not interested in expanding their sport.
I say governing body, but the ICC is no governing body. It's a private members club, protecting the interests of its full members. In that context, the decision confirmed in Dubai this week shouldn't have been surprising. It was sadly inevitable.