Is ICC shutting Test door on associates?

The ICC’s decision to reduce the number of teams in the next World Cup from 14 to 10 teams has certainly not gone down well with the four associate countries currently participating in the 2011 World Cup in the subcontinent. All of them have expressed unhappiness over the ICC’s move and their overall reaction is that it will deprive smaller nations the opportunity to play top international sides on a frequent basis.
The ICC’s announcement came a day before the ongoing World Cup kicked off in Dhaka with a clash between Bangladesh and India. ICC’s chief executive Haroon Lorgat was quoted as saying that the ICC wants to cut the numbers because ‘it has grown too unwieldy’.
Lorgat said the World Twenty20 would be increased to 16 teams from 12, while the 50-over World Cup would be trimmed to 10.

“We have felt in the past few years that Twenty20 is the best format to develop the game worldwide and it provides a better environment for competition. The 50-over format is more skill-based and suitable for the top teams,” he said.
No sooner the ICC announced its decision Netherlands gave them a fitting reply by scaring the wits out of England in their tournament opener. Riding high on Ryan ten Doeschate’s all-round heroics,brilliant 119 and two wickets, the Dutch almost floored England scoring an impressive 292-6. England managed to scrape through with only eight balls to spare.
Doeschate did not hide his disappointment over ICC’s move and urged the game’s governing body to reconsider its decision.
“It is a major disappointment that we might not be in the next World Cup. So, I think we really have to enjoy the five games that are left and at the same time, try and change opinion of the ICC by playing good cricket,” he said.

Dutch coach Peter Drinnen has already vented his anger at the decision and said the only way associate teams can prove ICC wrong was by putting up some impressive performances in the present tournament.
“It (the decision) is not in our hands. What we can do is prepare well and give the top teams a good fight in the coming matches. It will encourage other teams to play us more frequently,” Drinnen said.
Cricket Kenya chief executive Tom Sears said the ICC would not be acting in the interests of the game if the smaller teams were locked out of the next World Cup. Kenya became the first non-Test playing team to reach the semi-finals in 2003, and Ireland produced their biggest upset over Pakistan in the 2007 tournament in the West Indies.

Kenya’s senior cricketer Steve Tikolo said, “Sri Lanka weren’t a top side in the world but once they got opportunities you can see what Sri Lanka is today. Bangladesh, they were not a strong side but once they got Test status you see what cricket they are playing right now. It’s about playing more games at the top level and playing against better opposition that makes you better.”
Canada also voiced its concern when their captain Ashish Bagai said, “Everyone from the associate world including players from Test world has said it’s a real shame for the game. If they want to play Test series, fine, but a World Cup should involve as much of the world as you possibly can. It’s a shame and very disappointing for players like us who were looking for opportunities to play against the best in the world. That’s the only way to improve as cricketers and as nations. It’s really going to hold back the growth of the game. If they want to keep it to 10 teams, which they want to do, that’s fine, but it’s never going to be a global sport.”
Bagai stated further that the ICC’s decision to include more associate member teams in their World T20 would not help them in their cause to push for Test status. “You can see where ICC is headed and the direction they think cricket is going. It might be a commercial move because T20 probably sells the best globally. They made that clear that T20 is the way forward to make money. I don’t think it’s going to help many countries produce top level Test cricketers,” Bagai said.

However, cricketers from the Test playing nations are divided in their opinion of the ICC’s move. “Why would you want to take the world out of the World Cup?” queried England off-spinner Graeme Swann. He was joined by Australian fast bowler Shaun Tait, who said, “to play against the best players and sides in the world is massive and I wouldn’t want to take that away from anyone.” South Africa wicketkeeper AB de Villiers, who saw value in the smaller nations’ involvement in major tournaments, said, “It makes it more colourful and it’s good for the growth of the game.”

Sri Lanka vice-captain Mahela Jayawardene stated, “It’s going to be a tough call for associate members should be around. Sri Lanka was an associate not long ago. In 1975 and 1979 we played in the first two World Cups as associate members. We need to give them the opportunities if not they got to play more regular cricket probably with the top nations maybe on and off. They need to organise everything so that their cricket can be improved. Cricket is a global game and we need to try and make sure that everyone plays and try and come to those standards hopefully one day.”

Australian captain Ricky Ponting is reportedly in favour of reducing the number of teams playing the World Cup and the Champions Trophy to ten from 14 at present. He believes the ICC’s decision in this regard is justifiable.
“I’ve always been a bit unsure if World Cups and Champions Trophies are the right place to do that,” Ponting said. “The major reason for that is I’m not sure how much the [smaller] teams actually learn when they’re getting hammered like they tend to do in some of those contests. It would probably be a better tournament if there were fewer teams…”

The moot point here is whether playing in the World T20 and not the fifty overs-a-side World Cup help associate countries to gain Test status unless the ICC is happy with the number of countries playing Test cricket and wants to keep it that way.