x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Cricket's minnows deserve the opportunity to improve their game

But instead of being encouraged, teams like Ireland are being told that they do not belong, that they should be content with the scraps the big boys occasionally throw their way.

In their first four appearances at the football World Cup, Mexico played 11 games and did not win a single one, scoring just nine goals and conceding 39. In 1954, South Korea played twice and conceded 16 goals, nine of them to Hungary's Magical Magyars.

Had Fifa given up on such teams then, football could have remained the preserve of a few nations in Europe and South America.

With more exposure, South Korea reached the semi-finals on home soil in 2002, while Mexico have consistently qualified for the final stages.

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Their brightest star, Javier Chicarito Hernandez, is now a crowd favourite with Manchester United in the English Premier League.

Football eventually expanded from a 16-team World Cup to one that accommodates 32. Asia and Africa get opportunities on the big stage that were denied them in the past.

Ghana's Blacks Stars dominated African football in the 1960s, but never got a chance to prove how good they were at a time when North Korea were captivating audiences in northern England (1966).

Cricket does not seem to have bought into the benefits of expansion.

Even before the four Associate nations involved in the 2011 World Cup had played, it had already been decided that the 2015 event would have just 10 teams.

With the full-member countries that have voting rights unlikely to jeopardise their places at the top table, it is hard to see how emerging teams like Ireland and Afghanistan will force themselves into that picture.

Ireland's incredible victory over England on Wednesday night was their third against Test-playing opposition in two World Cups. They also tied a game against Zimbabwe in 2007.

But instead of being encouraged, teams like Ireland are being told that they do not belong, that they should be content with the scraps the big boys occasionally throw their way.

Sri Lanka won just twice in their first four World Cups. In 1987, they did not win any of their six group games.

Had short-term thinking forced Sri Lanka out then, we would have been denied the magic of 1996, when a tremendous batting line-up overcame every challenge with flair that had seldom been seen before.

Just look at the way cricket has treated Associate nations in recent times.

Kenya reached the World Cup semi-final in 2003 and in Steve Tikolo, they boasted perhaps the greatest batsman an Associate nation has ever had.

Since then though, they have played just six games against top opposition, not counting encounters at the World Cup.

Canada's plight has been worse. In 2003, John Davison's 67-ball hundred against the West Indies was one of the highlights of the competition. They beat Bangladesh as well.

Their reward? Two games outside of the World Cup in the last eight years, both against the West Indies at King City in 2008.

The message seems to be this: we will not deign to mingle with the likes of you outside of the premier event, and when you turn up for that, we will thrash you and then talk of how your cricket is not up to scratch.

Cricket has a choice to make. It can think of lucrative short-term television deals that enrich three or four countries, or it can look to the future and having more teams of comparable standard.

Ireland's Kevin O'Brien, who hit the fastest century in World Cup history - from just 50 balls - on his way to scoring 112 in the victory over England, lost his contract with Nottinghamshire, the English county side, in 2009 and has since been playing league cricket in Leinster in his home country.

Rest assured they do not pay Indian Premier League (IPL) salaries there. If he did not have this World Cup to look forward to, what possible incentive would he have had to go on?

No one is asking that Associates be given free passes to the World Cup, but there are so many ways to improve their standard of play.

The easiest thing to do would be to invite them to participate in domestic one-day tournaments that scarcely create ripples of interest.

How many Indians know that Jharkhand, the state that MS Dhoni plays for, won the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the inter-state one-day competition, earlier this week? How many care?

What would it cost the Indian board to invite Afghanistan or Ireland to take part?

Irish and Dutch players have already spoken of how much they've benefited from playing on the English county circuit.

How much better would they be if they had experience of varied conditions worldwide?

Kenya and Namibia could play in South Africa's one-day competition, and there could be invites from Australia as well.

Talk of Test status for Ireland is just foolish. Let them consolidate in the one-day and Twenty20 arenas first.

The Champions League T20 would be an ideal platform too. Irish or Dutch participation would generate even more interest in those countries, and could pave the way for the odd game against the established teams.

But with the game being run solely for profit and a World Cup designed to make sure that India progress as far as possible, don't hold your breath.

 

sports@thenational.ae