The good - and the not so good - of the ICC announcement
On the face of it today's ICC announcement that, amongst other things, Afghanistan and Ireland will be allowed to qualify for the 2019 World Cup through the ODI rankings and that Kenya and Nepal will play in the World Cricket League Championship, is a good news story for associate and affiliate cricket. As ever with the International Cricket Council though, it's a little more complicated than that.
The headline news is that Afghanistan and Ireland will be allowed to qualify for the 2019 10 team World Cup through the ICC rankings. This seems perfectly fair - if qualification is based on rankings, it is absolutely right that all teams on the rankings have an equal shot at doing so.
Except that whilst Afghanistan and Ireland are currently on the ODI rankings, there are another four teams with ODI status (Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates) that are now not allowed to be on the ODI rankings. Don't they deserve a fair shot at qualifying through the ODI rankings?
Afghanistan and Ireland are of course the two leading ODI status associates, but if this is about meritocracy, surely all ODI status teams should be on the rankings?
There is of course also the question of what fixtures Afghanistan and Ireland will get prior to the top eight being secure in the World Cup. They already struggle to get matches against full members, and the ICC press release is silent on whether - as both cricket boards hoped - they would be added to the FTP. A regular programme of matches is imperative if this inclusion in the rankings is to be anything more than an empty gesture.
They need more than the occasional one-off games they currently get if they're to have a fair shot at making that top eight. With their place in the World Cup no longer automatic, the full members have even less of an incentive to schedule these games, as upsets now might mean having to "slum it" in the World Cup Qualifier.
We also now know - sort of - how qualification for the 2019 World Cup will work. As already mentioned, the top 8 teams in the ODI rankings at a cut off point - which will be September 30 2017 - will qualify directly for the 2019 World Cup. The other two spots in that World Cup will be filled from the World Cup Qualifier, set for 2018.
That World Cup Qualifier will be a ten team affair, with the bottom four teams on the rankings being joined by six teams. How these six teams will qualify isn't mentioned in the ICC media release, but it seems likely that it will be the top six teams from the World Cricket League Championship.
There is also promotion and relegation between the ODI ranking table and the World Cricket League Championship. At the end of the WCLC, the top team will play off against the bottom ranked associate for promotion/relegation. Again, on the face of it, this seems perfectly fair. But read it again. They play off against the bottom ranked ASSOCIATE. Ireland and Afghanistan could be secure in the top 6 and still face relegation.
The ICC claim this is part of a "fully meritocratic pathway". But a system whereby some teams position in a division is protected at all costs can not possibly be described as "fully meritocratic". Quite the opposite in fact. The old divisions based on membership status are still there. The ICC is an organisation set up to protect its full members, and so it remains.
So, what will happen with the WCLC now that Ireland and Afghanistan are no longer in it? They are being replaced by Kenya and Nepal, who finished third and fourth respectively in the recently concluded World Cricket League Division Two tournament.
Whilst this is undoubtedly great news for Kenya and Nepal, it smacks of changing the rules of a tournament after its completed. I had previously received confirmation - and ICC press releases said as much - that only two teams would be promoted from WCL2. Now it's four, and it takes away from what was a thrilling last day of round robin play at that tournament as the teams battled it out for promotion.
Ireland and Afghanistan though will still play in the Intercontinental Cup. This raises a number of potential scheduling questions. The WCLC has previously been intrinsically linked with the Intercontinental Cup, with matches in each competition taking place on the same tours. This is now impossible, and could lead to a rise in costs for the six teams playing in both competitions.
We will of course see how this all plays out over the next three years. Some of this news is good, some of it is potentially good if other things go right, some of it raises questions and some of it is bad news. A mixed bag for sure, but when did the associates get anything else?
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