THE worst fears of 95 of the ICCs 105 members were finally realised yesterday when their Board confirmed that the 2015 World Cup will have just its ten Full Members taking part.
This decision will reaffirm the developing cricketing world's view that its governing body's main interest lies firmly in its commercial operations and the protectionism of its ten most powerful members. Participation in the next World Cup will depend purely on your membership status, not how good a cricket team you are.
The last seven weeks have seen some scintillating cricket, climaxing with a wonderful advert for the game in Mumbai last Saturday. The ICC can be rightly proud of its 2011 World Cup. The top eight sides made the quarter- finals and here lay the obvious cut-off point in class. The next best three sides - Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Ireland - all had their moments but there was nothing between them. In fact, there is clear evidence to say that the Irish were the most consistent of the three. With yesterday's decision, the ICC have condemned Ireland, Scotland and the other leading Associate sides to at least eight years without a 50-over World Cup to aspire to. The ICC have in place an excellent development programme around the world and its high performance programme has assisted the top Associate countries to become more professional in their operations and more competitive on the field. However, with an opportunity to embrace growth and participation for all its members, the ICC have instead decided to build a brick wall to progress and shut the door to a non-Full Member joining its biggest stage. A qualification process was imperative to ensure not only that the best ten sides took part, but for the credibility of the 2015 event as a true World Cup.
This decision cannot be justified for purely commercial reasons as it has long been argued that only the Full Members offer television numbers and commercial opportunities. The television figures for the World Cup, however, make for some interesting. The match between two of the qualifiers, the Netherlands and Ireland, had a larger television audience than the game between Zimbabwe and New Zealand. The USA is cricket's second-biggest media market after India, whilst the cricketing public in mainland Europe, Scotland and Ireland is far more likely to embrace the commercial realities of the game ahead of Zimbabwe and even New Zealand. Developing countries (and markets) that the ICC must embrace include the UAE, Canada and parts of Asia such as Nepal and even Afghanistan. Harron Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, confidently boasted that the overall viewing figures for the 2011 World Cup "have been the biggest in the tournament's history".
The reality is that his viewing figures may well go up again in 2015 due to India playing more games, but the reach of the broadcast and its global appeal will fall. A very short-term and blinkered view from a sport pertaining to be the second biggest in the world.
The cricketing argument is even more indefensible than the commercial one. The two most vulnerable Full Members, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, have both lost to Ireland in recent times, with the Bangladesh team also succumbing to the Netherlands. With four years to the next World Cup, it is impossible to predict which of the teams currently ranked ninth to 16th would make the top ten. If leading Associates continue to have more professional players and competitive fixture lists, they will keep improving and close the gap on the teams above.
However, the fear of the best Associates improving has definitely been a factor in this decision. With fewer opportunities to participate in matches against the big countries due to an increasingly crowded future tours programme, and without the carrot of a World Cup to participate in, many more of the leading Associate players will look to ply their trade in the Full Member countries whilst looking to qualify by residency to represent them. Why would players looking to enhance their careers on the international stage be content with the chance to play in a T20 World Cup and a few one-off ODIs when they could play regular international cricket with a major country? In effect, this decision will merely accelerate the path of Irish, Scottish and Dutch cricketers to the English county game with the hope of playing for England one day.
The ICC's 'buy-off' for this decision are their plans to expand the T20 World Cup to 16 teams for the 2012 event and beyond. Although this must be welcomed in purely cricketing terms it consigns the developing countries to prioritise this format of the game above all others.
The ICC claims proudly that its values include fairness and equity, commitment to the game, respect for diversity and, above all, openness, honesty and integrity. There was little evidence of these values being reinforced yesterday. A sad day for world cricket and a disappointing postscript to an excellent World Cup.