Doesn’t anyone love the underdog anymore?

April 7, 2011

It is said that everyone loves the underdog. You can’t fault Ireland if they disagree.

Days after cricket’s showpiece event ended, the game’s governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced its decision to trim the next two World Cups to just 10 teams and throw out the associate nations from the 2015 edition, featuring only its 10 full members. The 10 spots for the 2019 edition will be determined through qualification.

“This is not a World Cup, it’s a glorified Champions Trophy,” said Ireland’s captain William Porterfield, after the ICC’s decision to trim the 2015 World Cup that will see associate teams like Ireland and Netherlands miss out on the chance to rub shoulders with the best of the cricketing world.

Ireland's players run as they warm up during a practice session before a World Cup match in Bangalore March 5, 2011. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/FilesPorterfield has a point there. Given that much of the excitement and drama of the initial group stage games of the recently concluded 2011 edition — hailed by some experts as “the best World Cup of all time” — was provided by his brilliantly spirited and gutsy  team, it is difficult not to agree that Ireland may have been hard done by. Associate member nations will now have to wait until 2019 for a chance to compete again.

Without Ireland, the 2015 edition could play out rather flatly — and more worryingly — predictably. Without Ireland, we would not have witnessed one of the greatest one-day innings of all time in the form of Kevin O’Brien.

Without Ireland (and the other associate teams), the 2015 World Cup will be reduced to the status of a league of extraordinary cricketers battling it out for glory.

In 2007, we witnessed the dullest World Cup of all time. Australia came, saw and conquered. It was a foregone conclusion even before the tournament began. What made it even more unbearable was the fact that the teams had to play a second round of unending, insipid group stage games — the Super Eights, as it was called, which was anything but super — after the first round was done and dusted with and the tournament’s biggest draws, India and Pakistan, had been sent packing.

However, what lit up the tournament for one brief, flickering moment was when Ireland shocked the world with a famous victory over 1992 world champions Pakistan. Everyone rejoiced when Trent Johnston smashed Azhar Mahmood for a six to complete one of the most remarkable World Cup victories.

One wonders how many more of their talented cricketers will do an Eoin Morgan, and defect to the English team if the ICC keeps denying them a chance to shine for their own country.

Cutting down the length of the tournament to make it more interesting is a good move by the ICC. But doing so by brushing aside the minnows? Cricket will be poorer for it.

Outside the sub-continent and Australia, the game hardly has an audience. Football, tennis and rugby are universally more popular across the globe. Chopping out the associates will only alienate viewers in countries like Ireland, where Ireland’s victory over England was celebrated and splashed all over the local media.

The ICC needs to find a way to attract more eyeballs for the 50-over game and include the associate teams in the fray while doing so. Take for example, the world’s most popular game — football. The Football World Cup is undoubtedly the most watched sports event in the world.

And here’s the thing — 32 nations compete in the tournament and yet the entire event is wrapped up in a month’s time.

Despite corruption allegations against them, FIFA’s reasons to take the World Cup to South Africa and Qatar are entwined in nobler causes. Through South Africa and Qatar, FIFA has made the effort to explore new horizons and expand football’s reach beyond traditional boundaries.

The ICC has clearly bowed to protests to shorten the tournament. Having two matches per day, instead of just a game per day as was seen in this edition, would reduce the length of the tournament considerably.

What makes matters worse for Ireland is the fact that they’re currently ranked above Zimbabwe — another non-test playing nation — in the ICC ODI cricket rankings at number 10. But due to the ICC’s rule on excluding all associate nations, Zimbabwe, which is a full member on the ICC, will still get to play in 2015.

The ICC would do well to address such discrepancies in the rules.

On Tuesday, Ireland’s cricket chief Warren Deutrom told Reuters that his country would fight the ICC’s decision to shut them and the other associates out of the World Cup.

“Some action is definitely required. What way, shape or form that will take, it’s difficult to say but action will come. We are simply going to have to examine all the possibilities,” he said.

Only time will tell if the ICC rethinks its decision and lets Ireland have a chance to compete with the game’s best in four years time. Cricket needs more teams like Ireland for its own good.

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