I don’t know where ICC CEO Dave Richardson was as John Mooney top edged the winning boundary last Monday morning but I suspect that he wasn’t clapping enthusiastically. Yet another Irish World Cup triumph over a Full Member has sent a tremor through the establishment of which Richardson is the public face.

This result has a different dimension to it compared to the wins in 2007 and 2011 and therefor has the potential to derail the carefully developed political strategy to shunt the top Associates into a siding while trying to convince them they were aboard the luxurious Orient Express.

The ICC spin doctors tried to portray the wins against Pakistan and England as isolated events that were more the result of conditions in the case of Sabina Park and a freak innings by Kevin O’Brien in Bangalore. However, in Nelson, on a flat wicket and a small ground a top eight FM should never be troubled by a “lowly Associate nation” unless of course that nation was better organised both on and off the field. Nelson was not about the luck of the Irish but rather the cold calculated skilful demolition of a supposedly superior force that has 1124 ODI caps between them.

In the past few weeks Richardson has emerged from hibernation and has declared himself the champion of the Associate nations and the driver in developing the game globally. The reality is that he is marching to the beat of the Big Three’s drum. It was a challenge for the ICC to continually thwart Ireland’s attempt to climb the ladder but they felt that it was manageable until another pesky Associate, Afghanistan, also had the temerity to seek meritocracy in the top echelons of the world game.

Richardson was tasked with developing a different cunning plan. First off it was decided that Ireland and Afghanistan would be separated from the Associate and Affiliate herd and would have a special position within the Full Member’s club. Not a permanent position of course as they couldn’t possibly allow the delicate eco system of the feeding trough to be disturbed. But if they were to get “best boys in the junior class” recognition they should settle for that merit award and stop whinging about meritocracy.

After all didn’t they get a clear pathway to Test Cricket that could happen before the end of this decade? The fact that it is far from clear how the winner of the Intercontinental Cup achieves Test status is a minor detail. Do they have to win all four “non-Test” matches against the lowest ranked Full Member? What happens if it finishes two wins each or matches are drawn? Don’t worry you will be told nearer the time and sure won’t most of the current ICC board members be gone by then and giving lucrative after dinner speeches about how they were responsible for the global development of the game.

Now Ireland and Afghanistan are on the official ODI ranking table to be used to determine the sides that will qualify for the 2019 World Cup. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong but Ireland and Afghanistan were already on the ODI ranking table and all that has really happened here is the other Associates who have ODI status are debarred from getting onto the table for four years. Even should they win every match against a Full Member (in the unlikely event that any FM will play them) they can’t get on the table. This also applies if they were to win every match against Ireland and Afghanistan in that same period. And it is highly likely that they will play them because the two best boys in the class are not going to get many matches against the elite 10. Mr. Richardson has confirmed that he is unable to guarantee any matches against Full Members and really it is up to Ireland and Afghanistan themselves to arrange matches.

The first version of the new ranking table was published recently and has Ireland and Afghanistan in 11th and 12th place. While it is conceivable that Zimbabwe and to a lesser extent Bangladesh could be overtaken, the likelihood of 8th place West Indies being reeled in by the two top Associates is as remote as certain TV commentators doing a modicum of research prior to a commentary stint on a match involving an Associate. In fact in some cases it doesn’t even need to be an Associate.

Therefor in all probability Ireland and Afghanistan will end up in the qualifying tournament in Bangladesh with the bottom two FM’s and the top six in the World Cricket League. Which leaves them in exactly the same position as if they hadn’t been “promoted” to special status except that they may well actually play less ODI’s between now and then than they did in the last four years.

There are suggestions that there will extra finance for Ireland and Afghanistan but that has not yet been confirmed and even should it be, you can be damned certain it will only be a fraction of the funding given to the teams they are trying to catch.

For the sport’s credibility it is a fundamental requirement that the governing body is transparent and is honest in its utterances to those that support the game at all levels. In an interview with Nagraj Gollapudi and published on Cricinfo on 3rd February, Richardson had this to say about the decision to have a fourteen team World Cup.

“After the 2011 World Cup people were of the view that the structure worked well and there was no reason to change it in the short term and to give it another go: 14 teams, with two groups of seven, then the quarter-finals. The focus has been to make sure all matches are as competitive as possible. And, hence, the Associate Members that have qualified for this event we have spent a lot of time and a lot of money in putting together worthwhile preparation programs for those teams to give them every chance of giving a good account of themselves at the World Cup.” This is a spin that any politician would be proud off. The reality of course is that it was only after the concerted campaign by the Associates, led by Ireland, that the original decision to have only the ten Full Members in Australasia was overturned.

Yes there was a preparation program but it certainly didn’t include any matches against Full Members with the exception of a four match series between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan. And that was more about Zimbabwe thinking that they would get a few cheap ranking points but ended up scrambling for a two all tied series.

Richardson appears to believe that not only are Associates inferior but also have cognitive function difficulties. In defending the decision to move to a ten team tournament in 2019 he said “Every match should be very competitive and having ten teams at the 2019 World Cup will make sure that will be the case.” Events of the past nine days have already turned those words to ashes and further trashing’s of “minnows” such as England, Pakistan and South Africa can only add to his discomfort.

I wonder if he recognizes the irony of a white South African administrator championing the cause of what is effectively a cricket apartheid at the behest of a body whose most influential member is comprised of players whose skin tones would have prevented them playing international cricket in South Africa for decades.

Both in 2007 and 2011 Ireland rightly were praised for their competitiveness but within a relatively short period of time the plaudits had dried up in parallel with a paucity of meaningful fixtures. However there is now something of a sea change as the Associates have participated in more competitive matches than those exclusively between FM’s. Now serious voices such as Sachin Tendulkar, Mahela Jayawardene, Michael Holding and numerous commentators and writers are calling for actual rather than cosmetic development of cricket as a global sport.

A petition is circulating online to pressurise the ICC into changing the scheduled ten team format for 2019. Welcome and all as this is it alone will not be anything like enough to improve the standard of Associate cricket.
Only a sustained program of matches against FM’s will bring real tangible benefits and make the crucial difference when matches go down to the wire. The confidence and experience generated by regular top level matches would surely have seen Afghanistan hold their nerve against Sri Lanka and UAE overcoming Zimbabwe.

However this is a sport where the Rupee is king and global development is a shimmering mirage in the Dubai desert. Competitiveness relates more to TV rights bids than ensuring that teams have the infrastructure to challenge for a place on merit rather than having to figure out the secret handshake that gains entry to the “club”.

If Richardson was really serious about developing the game while at the same time arguing that a ten team World Cup was the most advantage for cricket there is a way if he had the courage (or rather was allowed to have it) to pursue it.

There are currently sixteen teams with ODI status. There are a further four who will compete in the World Cricket League alongside the bottom four ODI sides. If those other four were also granted ODI status the potential exists for every ODI played from the end of this World Cup until the end of 2018 to be truly meaningful. Associates crave equality of opportunity and while things will never be truly equal in terms of finance and resources all they want is the right to develop the sport in their own land.

The method of determining the Ryder Cup teams could be adapted to decide which ten teams compete in England in 2019.

In the qualification period for the Ryder Cup everyone starts from zero. Only points gained during the qualification period count. It doesn’t matter if on the first day of the period you are Rory McIlroy and are number one in the world or are 500th you start from the same position. One of the European stars at last September’s victory was the Frenchman Victor Dubuisson. Exactly one year before the tournament he was in 103rd place in the World rankings yet the points he accumulated during the qualification period enabled him to make the team.

Just suppose that the ranking table for qualification for the next World Cup had 20 ODI teams in it and every team started from zero. Only ODI’s played from now until 2018 counted and the table was determined by the percentage points won by each team to establish the top ten. At a stroke it would force the Full Members to play matches against Associates otherwise they risk not making the top ten. If for example they were to continue to largely ignore Ireland and Afghanistan it would leave the two leading Associates playing matches mostly against their peers and in all probability would accumulate sufficient ranking points to qualify.

If this system had been used to qualify for the current World Cup and if it had been only ten teams it would have sent shockwaves throughout the cricket world.

The following table covers all ODI’s since the conclusion of the 2011 World Cup up to the start of this current edition. It was calculated on the basis of 2 points for a win and 1 point for a tie or no result. Only teams that played a minimum of 20 ODI’s in the period were analysed which is the reason that UAE were excluded as they have only played 6 matches.

INDIA 64.36

This would have meant three Associates qualifying with three FM’s losing out. Without doubt it would have led to a significant increase of matches between the lower ranked FM’s and Associates. Will this method of qualification ever be adopted? Almost certainly not as it far too radical and meritocratic for Dave Richardson and his cohorts but every single win for an Associate in the future will pile on even more pressure and at some point the dam will break and cricket will become a truly global sport.