Plans to drop Associate nations are flawed in the extreme argues Mark Woods
THE International Cricket Council is not renowned as a debating chamber that the English Speaking Union would readily acclaim. Its board discusses, certainly, but habitually the deals have already been done and the likes of Scotland are rarely co-opted into a conversation that, increasingly, is solely a tripartite chat between India, Australia and England.
How wonderful, therefore, that so much noise has been made about the presence of the sport’s Associate nations at this World Cup – and their potential absence at future editions – that it has drowned out the party lines about how entry to the showpiece should only be for those, in the words of ICC chief executive David Richardson, with a realistic chance of lifting the trophy. Which ironically, on current form, would seem to rule out the English from the contracted ten-team tournament they are due to host in 2019.
“It seems such a bizarre decision,” Scotland vice-captain Kyle Coetzer says, in a view shared by the many, not the few. “It feels like the ICC is shooting themselves in the foot. It’s disappointing, the decision that they’ve come to.”
Reducing the current quota of 14 by four, in an extraordinary coincidence, equals the number of Test playing nations. It would, based on events during the opening two weeks of the 2015 edition Down Under, greatly limit the spectacle. Wednesday’s last-over victory by Ireland over the UAE did not want for thrills and spills, decided only with five balls remaining.
Twenty-four hours later, and Afghanistan and Scotland went one delivery beyond in an even more compelling drama. If you wanted a mis-match, then you had to wait for South Africa to crush the West Indies a day later. To their collective credit, the quartet of mis-named minnows have been holding their own.
“It shows how competitive we are and how much this all means,” Coetzer argues. “We really want to perform well on the highest stages. These tournaments are few and far between so you want to show what you’re capable of, that we deserve to be here.” Enough that Richardson, for the first time, has been forced to hint at a fresh appraisal of the existing cartel.
“All us, as Associates, need to keep striving for those wins because I’ve no doubt that all four of us can keep up the pressure on the people running the sport to change their plans for 2019,” says Coetzer.
Actions speak loudest. With three games left of this opening phase, the Saltires could make no better case than by knocking off one member of the establishment before they come home. With Sri Lanka and Australia awaiting next week, the greatest chance left to break their World Cup duck comes on Thursday when that tiddler among the giants, Bangladesh, provide their opposition in Nelson.
The mental scars from the one that got away will need healing first. After returning to their hotel in the wake of a soul-destroying loss to the Afghans, coach Grant Bradburn insisted his entire team gather together rather than seek solitude and self-pity inside their rooms. “We don’t want to let one loss drag us down even if it was a painful defeat,” Coetzer declares. Last rites can be written but the Scots should not forget they are not yet mathematically dead.
The chief exasperation, captain Preston Mommsen underlined, is that his side has not yet shown its best. Shoddy shots, wayward bowls, although creditably few mis-fields. “If you take out England, we’ve played two games in friendly conditions for us,” Coetzer notes. “That was a big plus. But I guess batting how we did against England is equally frustrating. You see good signs, things we’ve done really well. And then the areas we’ve slipped. We can’t fault our character or application. But it’s just small margins you can’t give up.”
Tough calls may be made by Bradburn. Michael Leask deserves his chance, probably at the expense of the struggling Calum MacLeod. All 11 must show up and show off. “It is an opportunity,” adds Coetzer. “They’ve only one win so far. We won’t sit back and think we need luck even. We know we’re making strides.”
It is a relief that the world, outside the cosy confines of the ICC, knows it too.