Just what is the Intercontinental Cup for?
Neil Drysdale (The Herald)
The ICC have rightly earned global criticism for their decision to implement a closed shop and restrict the next World Cup in 2015 to just 10 teams, with no qualifying tournament.
Yet, while there have been positive indications that they might do a U-turn at their meeting in Hong Kong later this month, the ICC's methods and strategies would occasionally tax the little grey cells of Hercule Poirot.
One such mystery is what purpose the Intercontinental Cup serves in the governing body's long-term plans.
For the uninitiated, this competition, which allows the likes of Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Canada to test their mettle over four days, is shortly arriving in Aberdeen, when the Scots tackle the Dutch between June 21 and 24 at Mannofield in a contest where the visitors will probably start as favourites, given the strength and experience of the squad at their disposal.
When this fixture was originally scheduled, both countries were keen to augment the longer match with a couple of Twenty20 tussles, which might have attracted significant crowds, in addition to helping their best players prepare for next year's World T20 qualifying tournament.
But now, following the ICC's insistence that every Intercontinental Cup tie is accompanied by two one-day internationals, Scottish and Dutch officials have had to scrap that notion, and proceed with two ODIs on Tuesday June 27 and Wednesday 28.
One doesn't have to be a doom-monger to predict that attendances at these matches will be significantly below what might have been anticipated for the quickfire thrills of T20 in the Granite City.
After all, how many working people, or children, for that matter, will have the time in midweek to spend a whole day watching second-tier cricket? They both commence at 10.45am. And that's just before the start of the school holidays.
It seems an absurd piece of planning, but it isn't the fault of those who run the sport in either of the participating nations. Instead, it might be helpful if the ICC explained what their grand design is for Associate cricket.
Personally, I cannot envisage any sequence of events whereby the Scots, Irish or anybody else graduates to playing five-day Test cricket in the future.
It isn't simply that crowds are dwindling in this milieu - and one only had to witness the pathetically small number of spectators who watched last month's West Indies v Pakistan series in the Caribbean to recognise the scale of the malaise - but that the emerging teams remain mostly part-time players, whose staple domestic diet is of the limited-overs variety.
In short, their skills, their mentality, their whole instincts are geared to the one-day version of cricket, and, if we are being honest, that applies as much to supporters in Scotland and Ireland as it does to the players.
Of course, there is the argument that the Intercontinental Cup allows participants to improve their technical ability and teaches batsmen how to construct an innings properly, whilst bowlers and captains have to show greater invention and be ready to set fields and stifle opponents for up to 120 or 130 overs - or longer.
And, if the ICC organised matters, so that the so-called "minnows" were playing 10 or 12 of these contests every year, it would probably succeed in seriously developing the skills of the elite performers.
That much has been evident from the fashion in which the likes of Ireland's Niall O'Brien, William Porterfield and Paul Stirling, the Netherland's Alexei Kervezee and Ryan Ten Doeschate, and Scotland's Kyle Coetzer, have benefitted from honing their talents, day in, day out in England.
However, the stop-start, sporadic nature of the ICC Cup is a world removed from the English county circuit. Therefore, wouldn't it be more sensible - if the ambition is to prepare young cricketers for longer matches - to put pressure on the ECB to allow Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands to enter their second XI competition?
For that matter, Namibia and Kenya could work with the South Africans, Canada and the US could join forces with the West Indies, and the Afghanis and UAE could follow suit with India or Pakistan.
If this happened, the cream of the Associates would have regular involvement in three or four-day cricket without us all pretending they are ever going to become Test-playing sides in the future.
As somebody who has turned up at Intercontinental Cup games in the past, it has to be admitted they are a hard sell. The last time Scotland met the Dutch in Aberdeen - and thrashed them - the match finished more than a day early, on a Saturday with, at best, a couple of hundred fans in the ground. It was not an inspiring atmosphere, from which youngsters might go away saying:"I want more of that!"
In which light, it's a shame the ICC has forced these ODIs on the countries three weeks hence. It is even more regrettable that the Associates are scrabbling around for T20 games, while the world's best players are being sated on these events.
It all reinforces the impression that the administrators are really interested only in the top end of the sport, which explained their initial World Cup decision.
And that attitude does nothing to aid cricket's attempts to preach to the unconverted.
Neil Drysdale is blogging on cricket in Beyond Boundaries for 'The Herald' and wants to hear from Scottish clubs and cricketers and give them a platform for their activities and developments.
If you want to get in touch, please contact him on email@example.com