WT20 2014 Format Is Perfect: ICC Treatment of Associate Teams Is Not

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WT20 2014 Format Is Perfect: ICC Treatment of Associate Teams Is Not
Bikas Das/Associated Press

The formatting and scheduling of international tournaments has been a troublesome issue for the International Cricket Council since the inception of the World Cup in 1975.

More specifically, since the beginning of the sport's latest quest for global expansion in the 1990s, the handling of minor Test-playing and Associate nations at major competitions has been an uneasy balancing act for the ICC.

While the sport's governing body has wanted to provide a platform for cricket's developing countries, it has had to temper that desire against the need to maintain the excitement and the sheer spectacle of events such as the World Cup, and more recently the World T20.

Inviting a vast array of Associates to global tournaments is counter-productive if it results in a collection of severely lopsided results across an exhaustively long competition.

At the 2014 World T20, however, the ICC have got the formula right. Dividing a competition into two definitive stages has been common practice at cricket's global tournaments, but never before has it been done so effectively.

This year's event has seen the world's top-eight teams automatically qualify for the Super 10s' stage of the competition, with the two lowest-ranked Test sides (Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) left to compete against the top-six Associates for the final two spots in the Super 10s. 

Those eight sides were split into two groups, with the top-ranked nation from each group progressing after the conclusion of the first stage.

Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

While host nation Bangladesh predictably triumphed from Group A, the more-fancied Zimbabwe were beaten to the final Super 10s' spot by an exciting Netherlands outfit.

Even Bangladesh's trip out of the initial phase of the tournament wasn't completed without a scare, after the hosts were stunningly defeated by Hong Kong in the final encounter of Group A.

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More encouragingly, the opening phase of this year's World T20 saw an array of compelling exhibitions between Associate nations.

While the Netherlands' emphatic thrashing of 193-4 from just 13.5 overs to oust Zimbabwe and Ireland from the competition will undoubtedly be remembered as the highlight, Nepal's achievements and two final-ball results shouldn't be forgotten alongside the aforementioned Hong Kong victory over Bangladesh.

Any previously held concerns of the opening stage of the tournament detracting from the event's raw excitement have been quickly extinguished.

And although the frenetic and snappy nature of the World T20 has been the tournament's key selling point, this year's opening phase was a nice appetiser before the arrival of the world's heavyweights.

A.M. Ahad/Associated Press

A tournament's format, of course, cannot be judged purely by the results that transpire. It's inevitable that a far less captivating collection of matches will ensue in another edition of the World T20, should the ICC persist with the current arrangement. 

It's also worth noting that a host nation less cricket-crazed than Bangladesh is unlikely to embrace the Associates to the same degree that has been witnessed in 2014.

Yet those points do little to diminish the value of this year's format.

One of the primary concerns that this tournament has addressed is the possible glut of lopsided matches that can occur when pitting Associates against ICC Full Member nations. While many will argue that cricket's developing teams need to face the best in order to improve, there is little to be gained from demolitions, such as the one carried out by Sri Lanka against the Dutch on Monday.

In Bangladesh this year, the likes of Hong Kong, Nepal, Ireland, Afghanistan, Netherlands and United Arab Emirates have been able to compete against suitable counterparts in front of a global audience, thus increasing the reach and appeal of the sport in those countries.

Additionally, the current format provides further incentive for the likes of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe to escape the bottom-two places among the Test-playing nations in order to qualify automatically for the Super 10s' stage.

A.M. Ahad/Associated Press

However, despite the obvious improvements to the scheduling of the ongoing World T20, the ICC's latest proposals to restructure global cricket raise alarming concerns regarding the treatment of Associate nations.

In planning to allocate increased decision-making power and a larger share of cricketing revenue to India, England and Australia—as well as a revamped model for the distribution of funding to Associates—the game's expansion that was initiated prior to the turn of the century has suddenly been put in jeopardy. 

One of the key principles of the ICC's proposals is to ensure that the best Associates receive a greater portion of the game's revenue, closing the gap between the likes of Ireland, Afghanistan and Test-playing nations.

While this seems like a perfectly reasonable goal, the pecking order of the Associate nations below Afghanistan and Ireland is rather difficult to determine, given the volatile nature of both limited-overs rankings and the performances of these emerging teams.

Tim Wigmore of ESPN Cricinfo detailed the problem with arbitrary judgements of that top six, highlighting the performances of lower-ranked teams in global tournaments and against stronger nations:

Scotland were one of four qualifiers for next year's 50-over World Cup but missed out on the six qualifying spots for the first group stage of the World T20. Netherlands ended the World Cup qualification process as the ninth-placed side - and, by implication, the 19th-best ODI side in the world.

Yet they beat England in the 2009 World T20, and have beaten Bangladesh in two of their past four internationals against them. Under the new world order, their cricket development would be toast - and the same goes for Kenya, World Cup semi-finalists only 11 years ago.

Furthermore, under the ICC's new revenue distribution, cricket's bottom 90 nations would receive almost $200 million less than they would under the existing system if the next ICC rights were to be sold for $2.5 billion over eight years, as is widely expected.

To make up for that, leading Associates will be given $1 million in World Cup funding every four years and $250,000 for qualifying for the World T20. But with the World Cup being reduced to 10 teams from 2019 and the World T20 retreating from its current regularity to a four-year cycle after 2016, the opportunities for Associates to make an impact at global tournaments is actually set to decrease.

Michael Steele/Getty Images

The organisation's vision of transforming the game into a truly wide-reaching global affair appears to have been discarded. By stating an intent to draw an arbitrary line on the top six Associates, the ICC is essentially signalling an intent to make cricket a 16-nation sport. 

Along with the ICC's reluctance to take cricket to the Olympics and the lack of plans to help Associates obtain Full Member status, it appears certain that cricket's international development is set to be stunted.

Given what the game's Associates have given to the sport, and how they've greatly increased cricket's global exposure and audience, the ICC's positive treatment of the developing nations unfortunately appears limited to this World T20 in isolation.

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