As Ireland cruised in their chase of 305 to beat the West Indies in Nelson yesterday, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised. And judging by the tweets and comments I was seeing from other viewers, not many people were. Herein lies the conundrum of the Cricket World Cup and cricket at large.
Although the bookmakers still, rather foolishly, made Ireland outsiders at 7/2, many within the cricketing fraternity gave Ireland a more than even chance of causing an ‘upset’. I use the word upset extremely tentatively here, as I said, I actually made Ireland favourites heading into the game and therefore it wasn’t an upset at all.
When we expect associate members to beat full members, it surely makes a mockery of these groupings and renders them arbitrary in their nature. Indeed, the only difference in the two sides on the field yesterday, was that one side was more professional and one side were better funded. The intriguing point is that these differences belonged to opposing teams. In the FA Cup when a lower league side is causing an upset, the commentator will often talk of not knowing which side is the Premier League outfit. The same sentiment was true of the Ireland match yesterday. Ireland’s professional and dominant performance belied their status as an ‘associate’ member.
What even is an associate member anyway? It can no longer be argued that they are sides who are markedly less skilled than those ‘full members’. Ireland go into this World Cup tipped by many to make the quarter finals and could easily beat most full members in the ODI format. The terms ‘associate’ is simply used to belittle emerging cricketing nations and to justify the pitiful funding they receive.
Even when faced with a chase in excess of 300 and with the difficulties of batting second, which I discussed on this blog yesterday, you still fancied that victory was well within Ireland’s grasp. While this is in part down to a terrible malaise that has struck West Indies, it also testament to Ireland’s tremendous skill.
Scyld Berry argues in today’s Telegraph that the West Indies demise is due to ‘lack of ICC investment’. While in relation to the ‘big three’, the West Indies are left to fight for relative scraps, for an example of what can be done on a shoestring budget they need look no further than their conquerors in Nelson.
While I’m sure the WICB and many notable Caribbean legends will bleat on about the amount of money that cricket in the region is receiving, they should not focus all their effort in lobbying the ICC for more money. A whole plethora of issues are at play that are undermining cricket in the Caribbean, including but not exclusively limited to, the rise of Soccer in the region, failure to capitalise on the 2007 World Cup and the increasing riches on offer in far-flung franchised T20 leagues.
In truth, there are many similarities between both Ireland and the West Indies. Both sides are shorn of their brightest talents, albeit due to differing circumstances. If Ireland were in a position where they cold retain their best players, England’s captain Eoin Morgan could easily have been lining up for the boys in (very luminous!) green. Until they can stop the talent drain to county cricket and the England side, then they will suffer as a consequence. The only way to make that happen is to introduce a local First-Class structure and to secure Test status, both of these would require investment and benevolence from the ICC; something they are loathed to give away to those outside the chosen few.
For the West Indies, a series of internal struggles have left them devoid of two world-class all-rounders at this tournament. The omission of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo was made on supposed ‘cricketing’ reasons, but this does not wash with many cricket viewers, myself included. More likely is that both players are being punished for their leading roles in the walkout during the India tour late last year. But the WICB are simply shooting themselves in the foot, excluding these players is only going to increase their desire to seek riches in the IPL, BBL and other T20 leagues.
So will Ireland’s victory open the door for associate nations? Depressingly the answer to that question is, for now, all too easy to answer. The ICC is run like a members club and as such would need to approve the inclusion of any new ‘full members’. By elevating Ireland or any other associate to full membership, they would be jeopardising their own seat at the table and lessening their slice of the financial cake. There are many reasons why associate sides are not being elevated, but good old-fashioned self-interest is the chief factor.
Even if Ireland continue to cause ‘upsets’ at this World Cup and do make it to the knockout stages, they are not guaranteed to attract the congratulations of the ICC. On the one hand, a strong run at the tournament may convince the administrators that associate sides are too good to exclude from the World Cup, and as such the 2019 edition should be expanded rather than reduced. However, I fear the far likelier scenario is that the ICC will fear the skill of the associate nations and worry that it could mean one of the big three, in particular India, being eliminated earlier, and as such vastly reduce potential revenue.
For now, Ireland and the other associates will continue to fight for the scraps they are given and to press their case for elevation to full member status and to expand the World Cup. The problem is just how do they do it? A good start would be for Scotland to get one over on the co-hosts tonight in Dunedin and continue to advance the associate cause.