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After the short-lived experiment of awarding Kenya permanent ODI status the ICC invested the associates and affiliates that qualified for the game's premier tournament with ODI status for the duration of a world cup qualifying cycle. The theory was that these aspiring teams could gain invaluable experience in this format against their full member cousins to make them more competitive at the tournaments themselves. This was a key component of the High Performance Programme's mission to close the gap. However, in practice only a handful of ODI fixtures have been played beyond the world cricket league and global tournaments and precious few involving full members, who already complain of fixture fatigue due to the demands of the Future Tours Programme and their media partners.
Leading associate players have called for more fixtures against the 'A' teams or development squads of full members to help fill the void of competitive fixtures, but these have proved the exception rather than the rule with cricket boards favouring specialist spin or fast bowling clinics rather than pitting their second strings against what they perceive as their poor relations. This leaves the ICC with a quandary. On the one hand they want to give leading associates and affiliaties their opportunity in global tournaments to showcase the globalisation of the game and the success of their development programmes. But on the other they have to contend with media partners who demand that every fixture is 'box-office' and exert considerable pressure to exclude emerging teams. This push-me-pull-me tension has resulted in several u-turns on participation in world cups, leaving many cricket boards dismayed and disheartened.
If international fixtures are difficult to secure then the focus falls on developing a more competitive domestic schedule. And this is where neighbours of full members enjoy an advantage over their peers. Both the Netherlands and Scotland have been consistently competitive in England's Pro40 competition claiming some impressive county scalps in the process. In these tournaments at least they can no longer be considered minnows. From a players perspective it also provides them with a high profile shop-window for county contracts, with the likes of Richie Berrington and Matthew Parker being offered trials.
Elsewhere in the world Namibia have developed as a team thanks to regular fixtures against South African provincial sides at List A and First Class level. Pacific teams such as Papua New Guinea and Fiji have also garnered much from their fixtures against Australian county sides. There are of course less heartening examples, such as Canada's disappointing performance in West Indian tournaments.
There are contrasting views on whether full members should play an avuncular development role with its associate and affiliate neighbours. Ireland, for instance, chose to forego an invitation to feature in the Pro40, focusing instead on developing their domestic game and exploring opportunities to play the weaker full member nations. However, with logistics equating to costs it is clear that proximity to professional leagues gives some aspiring teams, and indeed players, an advantage over others. Former Nepal captain Binod Das thinks the greatest opportunity missed for his nation has been not playing within the Indian domestic set-up. It will also be interesting to see if any relationship is formalised between Afghanistan and Pakistan to incorporate the former into top level domestic cricket There is a cost attached of course, but then there is also a cost to stagnating development and missing out on the substantial increase in funding open to the HPP nations. In some cases such participation hinges on securing a sponsor.
The development of the global game in recent years has largely been led by an increase in the level of economic migration, particularly from the sub-continent. This has provided many nations with a core of ex-pats to form a national team and attempt to climb the world cricket league ladder. But it is those nations that border full member cousins who generally have the most exposure to the sport through media coverage and cross-pollination of student populations. Of course there is always the danger, as Ireland can attest to, that if players make too much of an impression on their neighbours that they will be poached. The ICC must take a stronger lead in ensuring this doesn't happen, but in general the relationship can be instrumental in developing not only the national team but the social standing of cricket in society.
For teams such as Argentina, Hong Kong and Malaysia, where cricket has a long established history, the emphasis must be on raising the standards and participation levels of the domestic game. But for a team such as Hong Kong it is likely that without either regular fixtures against high class opposition or a significant financial boost through sponsorship or qualification for the HPP they may crane their necks upwards to a glass ceiling.
It is for the ICC's regional development offices to work with their member nations to identify the best developmental pathways for each country. It is also for the full members to recognise the role they can play in developing cricket in their region. This shouldn't be seen solely as philanthropy, afterall an expanded global game means expanded opportunities and, if well managed, expanded income potential.
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