This week the ICC announced changes to the ODI rankings system, allowing Afghanistan and Ireland to join the 8 Full member sides in the qualification system for the 2019 World Cup. They also announced changes to the World Cricket League Championship, replacing the Afghans and Irish with Kenya and Nepal, who finished 3rd and 4th in WCL2 last week. On the face of it, these are positive changes for the development of the sport, but as always with ICC press releases, the devil is in the detail.
The ICC say that on 30 September 2017 the top 8 sides in the ODI rankings will qualify automatically for the 2019 World Cup, while the bottom four will join the 10-team 2018 World Cup qualifier to determine the final two spots. (I assume the other six teams will come from the WCL Championship but the press release doesn’t confirm this). Finally, a promotion and relegation structure has been introduced. The lowest ranked ODI associate will play off against the winner of the WCL Championship to decide the team for the next rankings cycle.
So, let’s delve into this a little bit. Adding Afghanistan and Ireland to the ODI rankings seems fair; they are the two most successful Associate sides. Where this falls down though is the current Future Tours Programme. Ireland and Afghanistan struggle to get ODIs against Full Members now – with this system in place I can’t see FMs falling over themselves to schedule ODIs against them. The risk of defeat and falling outside the top 8 in the rankings will deter them. A regular schedule of matches must be put forward for this to be fair. Warren Deutrom, CEO of Irish Cricket, seems confident this will happen; others do not.
This move is, of course, a little unfair on the other leading Associates. There are four other teams with ODI status (Scotland, UAE, Hong Kong and PNG) who remain outside the ODI rankings. Expect them to have no ODIs outside WCLC in the next four years.
The decision to introduce promotion and relegation again, seems on the fact of it a good idea. But the ICC have fudged it by making the lowest ranked Associate who has to play off. So Ireland or Afghanistan could finish in the Top 8 and would still be faced with the threat of relegation. Nonsensical. If the ICC just made it the lowest ranked team regardless of status that would gives their claims of a ‘full meritocratic pathway’ more validity.
Promoting Kenya and Nepal to the WCLC is great for those two teams and their supporters and good luck to them. But making this decision only days after the conclusion of WCL2 has tarnished the value of that tournament. I posted about how exciting the conclusion to the event was – knowing now that 4 teams were in effect going up anyway makes a bit of a mockery of the whole thing. I bet Namibia and the Netherlands feel their achievements in winning promotion on merit are slightly belittled now too.
Of course with all of this the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If Ireland and Afghanistan get a lot of fixtures against FMs then that would be a positive step forward for the sport. There are some good, sensible proposals here that with a bit of tweaking would have been even better. My overriding feeling with ICC structural changes is that they never quite go far enough and do too much to appease the Full Members, who in turn do all they can to play the game amongst themselves. Let’s hope, for the growth of the sport, that this does not happen.
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