Could do better: the Full members and the HPP
Events in the Sub-continent over the past month have provided ammunition for both sides in the debate over the future of the World Cup and the place of the leading non-Test-playing nations in international cricket.
Ireland’s dramatic defeat of England illustrated the additional excitement an Associate country’s presence can bring to ‘the Cup that counts’, but the performances of the other three qualifiers in general did more to strengthen the case of the retrenchers than that of the supporters of a larger, more inclusive World Cup.
There are partial exceptions to that negative impression, of course: the Dutch batsmen did themselves proud in their opening game against England, while Canada’s bowlers set up another shock by bowling Pakistan out for 184.
In both cases, however, the Associate side could muster only half a competitive performance: the Netherlands’ bowlers were unable to trouble the English batsmen, and Canada were skittled for under 150 for the third time in a row to lose by 46 runs.
Despite the ICC’s support of the leading Associates and Affiliate Afghanistan through its High Performance Program, the gap between these countries and the Test-playing nations remains huge, with only Ireland showing any real sign of bridging it. And the fact is that, welcome as that funding is, it does not go nearly far enough in seeking to raise the playing level of the game’s second tier.
One major problem, as Dutch skipper Peter Borren eloquently pointed out in one of his press conferences, is that there have been precious few opportunities for the HPP countries to play ODIs against the Full members in the four years between World Cups.
They do, it is true, get to play each other on a fairly regular basis – thanks in part to the framework of the Intercontinental Cup – but that is not nearly enough to develop any reservoir of experience against the world’s best.
‘It is very difficult coming into a competition to play Full-member teams when we haven't for a long while,’ Borren said in Mohali before the Dutch match against South Africa.
‘We don't play at this level enough and we played fantastically against England and poorly against West Indies and that's the second and third ODIs against Full members we've had in two years.’
So it’s a welcome sign that even some of the TV pundits seemed to have got the message that the top Associates need more opportunities to play against the best, even if they had a tendency to confine their recommendation to the Irish.
The full record between the 2007 World Cup and the start of the present tournament shows just how severe, and how general, the problem is:
These figures give a pretty accurate idea of just how strongly the Full members are prepared to back the development of the HPP countries with their actions. If we take out three five-match series between Kenya and Zimbabwe, there were just 35 ODIs between Full members and Associates in the four-year cycle between World Cups, and half of these involved Ireland. Bermuda, Canada, Scotland and the Netherlands were allocated just 14 between them, and Afghanistan, who have had ODI status for nearly two years, have not yet managed to find a Full member willing to play them.
Australia have condescended to play precisely one ODI against an Associate, Pakistan and India haven’t played any since 2007, and Sri Lanka played none at all. We all know that the Future Tours Program is over-crowded, but for the Full members, with this record of neglect, to castigate the Associates for being uncompetitive is hypocrisy of the rankest sort.
One-off matches, moreover, are scarcely designed to generate a learning curve; more like a learning point. But suppose each of the six were to be guaranteed two three-match series against a Full member in each calendar year: that would be twelve series, to be shared among the Big Ten, which is one, or at most two, per year.
In addition to these series, which should be a minimum requirement on the Full members, there should be provision for more matches between the High Performance countries and other sides from the Full members, such as A teams and state, provincial or county sides. Scotland and the Netherlands’ participation in the CB40 League is a positive step, but they need more experience playing quality opposition in a variety of conditions.
All of this would cost money, and the existing High Performance Program is barely funded to cover the existing commitments, let alone the sort of expansion which is necessary if it is to have any realistic chance of achieving its declared goals.
It is also clear that those who run the Full members are much more interested in money than in the interests of cricket, and will only respond to financial incentives.
I therefore propose that in addition to the funding to the HPP countries, there should be a substantial fund created out from the ICC’s coffers to reward the Full members in proportion to the matches they arrange against the leading Associates and Afghanistan.
This would, of course, be the Full members paying themselves. Part of the money which they currently get automatically would be distributed according to the number of fixtures they played against the developing nations, with full ODIs carrying the greatest weighting and lesser allocations for matches involving other national or representative sides.
As the ICC moves to close one of the most important doors leading from the part-time world of Associates cricket into the golden room that is Full membership, it owes it to those who are battling to raise their standards to find genuine forms of compensation.
Expanded participation at T20 is a sop, and potentially a destructive one. But a proper, properly funded programme of international matches for the HPP countries would be a real step in the right direction.