At some stage over the next few weeks ICC is going to break its silence over the furore about the 2019 ten team World Cup. It will ensure that sufficient time has elapsed so that it might be forgotten that eminent figures in the game such as Michael Holding, Sachin Tendulkar, Michael Vaughan and Kumar Sangakkara are insistent that Associates are included by right in future editions.

It will believe that the romanticism over the colour and excitement brought to the Tournament by the Irish, Scots, Afghans and the Emiratis will have dissipated sufficiently to confirm the original decision. The announcement will most probably come in the form of a press release without the opportunity for questions.

There are many reasons why they will be adverse to answering questions but one in particular stands out above all others. One of the so called Big 3 will not have the slightest interest in trying to defend the indefensible. Giles Clarke’s England has left with their tail between their legs, emulating their football brethren, in departing a World Cup before the knock-out rounds.

Oh how Giles must at times wish he had the powers of Kim Jong-un. He could shut down all other media and announce on State television that England had stormed to the final after a world record 500 from 84 balls by true patriot Jos Buttler supported by 10 for nought by the yeoman James Anderson. Unfortunately for Giles he lives in a democracy (mostly anyway) and the only place open to him to exercise dictatorial powers is in the palatial offices in the Dubai desert.

It is likely that Giles and Dave Richardson will argue that two Associates have the opportunity to qualify for 2019 and indeed Ireland and Afghanistan have been upgraded to the top ranking table. However the route is so torturous that the Twelve Labours of Hercules might seem like the easier option.

While petitions may have some impact only cold hard indisputable facts allied to the support of those eminent figures have any hope of dragging a modicum of real meritocracy from the manicured fingers of the elite. It is really unfortunate that Afghanistan, Scotland and UAE were unable to take the scalp of a Full Member despite their best efforts.

But the almost total absence of fixtures against them meant that the senior teams were able to win the key moments in matches because the Associates lacked the experience when it really mattered.

However there certainly no shame in their performances as Scotland gave a better account of themselves against the runaway train that is New Zealand than did England while they piled up 318 against Bangladesh. Kyle Coetzer made 156 against Bangladesh which was the sixth highest individual score while Josh Davey’s fourteen wickets are bettered only by Trent Boult.

Afghanistan and Scotland produced one of the most exciting matches of the tournament while the Afghans also pushed Sri Lanka all the way. They also had in Hamid Hassan a fast bowler who would grace the ranks of any nation. Despite fears that they would be well out of their depth UAE could have beaten both Zimbabwe and Ireland and Shaiman Anwar has been a revelation with the bat. His five innings to date has brought him 309 runs at an average of 61.8 which are the sixth and tenth best respectively of all batsmen in the tournament. However if the ICC continue with their plans none of these players will be seen again at this level.

However, as it was in 2007 and 2011 it is Ireland who is providing the ICC with the déjà vu from hell. Irrespective of the result on Sunday, Ireland has already provided incontrovertible evidence that they deserve to be here on merit and what is more that their fellows Associates also deserve to get a proper chance. In their three World Cup’s the Irish have shown that experience, hard work, skill and good governance has produced a package that is the equal of at least half the FM’s and this despite a dearth of fixtures and a seam bowling attack that is going through a period of severe transition.

To put Ireland’s performances into context consider the following. In their three World Cup campaigns they have won five and tied one match against Full Members. In those same three campaigns against FM’s, Zimbabwe has lost every match while Bangladesh has four wins and most intriguingly England has just four wins and a tie.

Should Ireland beat Pakistan on Sunday that would also put them ahead of West Indies who currently have six wins in the past three tournaments, which of course has seen Ireland beat all of the above listed teams.
Ireland has demonstrated their batting consistency and ability over the past four weeks when measured against the other thirteen teams.

Only Australia and South Africa can equal their record of every one of the top seven batsmen scoring at least one fifty while their thirteen partnerships in excess of fifty is the best in the tournament, Sri Lanka’s twelve being second. In addition the Irish fielding is on a par or better that most of the FM’s. It is true that the seam bowling is weak at this point in time but the batting prowess continues to make them genuinely competitive which is after all the criteria insisted upon by the anonymous Dave Richardson. Some of the matches this past few weeks between FM’s have been spectacularly uncompetitive.

While Ireland as a unit has the worst economy rate with the ball at 6.68 runs per over, Afghanistan at 5.62 is better than Zimbabwe (6.21), Bangladesh (5.67), Sri Lanka (5.88) and West Indies (6.17). They are also equal with Australia and only marginally behind England (5.61). We have now reached a point where the bottom five Full Members and the top Associates have little to choose between them and with more exposure to regular ODI’s there will soon be no gap at all.

There is a sense that the tide is turning in favour of global development over quick profits but it will depend on true cricket lovers and commentators, particularly in India, to heap the pressure on the BCCI and Star TV or this will be the last true World Cup.

So to Sunday and yet another most important match in Ireland’s history. There is no doubt that Ireland can win this match and stay in Adelaide to take on Australia in the quarter-final. Much will depend on the bowling effort which for most of the tournament has been found wanting and it is the superb batting that has rescued the team. As noted above Ireland has the worse economy rate of all of the teams with India leading the way 2.2 runs per over better with the ball, which equates to 110 runs per match. By the same token Pakistan start 68 runs better off which puts even more pressure on the batters.

Alex Cusack has been a shining light in the bowling darkness taking six wickets while only conceding 4.69 runs per over. I’m quite happy to hold my hand up and confess that I was very wrong in believing that his career was over. All of the great batting would have meant nothing if Alex had not taken the vital wickets against UAE and especially Zimbabwe.

The three spinners Andy McBrine, Paul Stirling and George Dockrell have all conceded less than six runs per over which in the context of this high scoring tournament can be rated a success. The real issue has been with the rest of the seam bowling which generally  has been clattered round the park. John Mooney, Stuart Thompson, Max Sorensen and Kevin O’Brien have gone for a combined average of eight runs an over although in fairness Thompson has only bowled six overs and he has actually reduced the economy rate.  Even though his bowling and indeed his batting for the past nine months was at a level that led to bewilderment when he was selected for the squad he at least has brought a bit of extra pace to the attack.

After his nerve riddled first over against India he subsequently returned and bowled with rhythm and a bit of shape away. He also produced several deliveries in excess of 135k which were a couple of k’s quicker than Max Sorensen managed in earlier games. There is no point in rehashing the Craig Young issue again here as there is nothing more to add since my last article. The final verdict can wait until Ireland departs the competition. It is inconceivable, given what has happened, that Young will play on Sunday and the only possible change could see Andy McBrine replacing Thompson.

The reality about Sunday is that the batsmen will almost certainly have to deliver a three hundred plus score for the third time. A key to that may well be Paul Stirling who has produced a couple of scintillating centuries against Pakistan in the past and against India on Tuesday he looked in great touch until a careless shot undid him. The one issue for him is that he has been vulnerable in the past to left arm seamers, of which Pakistan have three, and he will need to be cautious until he settles as he is well capable of picking up his pace later.

It would also be a boon if Kevin O’Brien could produce another batting performance as he did in the tied match against these opponents in Dublin in 2013 when his 47 ball eighty four culminated in sweeping the last ball of the match to the boundary.  Kevin appears to be suffering with confidence despite a couple of good knocks and I suspect that his profligate bowling is weighing heavily on his shoulders. He was shell shocked when he completed the penultimate over of Zimbabwe match.

In my preview of the tournament I wrote this about Kevin’s bowling “His canny variety of seamers and slower balls has broken many partnerships but it is also important to recognise when the batsmen have lined him up and he needs to be out of the attack.” I believe that he never expected to be bowling more than five overs in an innings but the change of tactics by Phil Simmons has left him vulnerable and uncharacteristically unsure of himself. A top class innings may also be the catalyst over a short sharp profitable bowling spell.

It was in the second match of that Dublin series that Ed Joyce looked in a different class with an unbeaten 116 having arrived at the wicket in the first over of the innings. When the stakes get higher Ed tends to get into the zone and given the situation in relation to 2019, about which he has been very vocal, no one will be surprised if he delivers another iconic performance to ensure that this is not his last hurrah in the World Cup.
Anything can happen on the day but there has been a steely determination in this group of players to get to the knockout stage. The one thing for sure is that no group of players could be prouder in representing their country than William Porterfield’s men.