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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 26 May 2018

As WCL Division 2 has shown, the ICC Cricket World Cup should be inclusive, not exclusive

For proof that global cricket has not been spared such evils as income inequality and entrenched special interests, one has only to look at the number of teams set to compete in the 50-overs World Cup next year.

They call it the World Cup, which is funny because only 10 nations will have the right to fight for the title when they gather in England during the summer of 2019.

It certainly is not amusing that, with eight teams having already qualified for the competition by virtue of their one-day international ranking points, the remaining two spots – yes, just two spots – are fought between several lesser-rated sides in two stages.

There is also the unfortunate likelihood we will not see any of the second-tier Associate teams in action at the game’s flagship tournament.

Take Nepal and the UAE for example: by virtue of topping the ongoing World Cricket League (WCL) Division 2 tournament in Namibia on Wednesday, they got through to the next stage of qualifying – the World Cup Qualifier, which will be held in Zimbabwe next month. But once there, they will be up against four Test sides (West Indies, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland) and four fellow Associate-level teams (Scotland, the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong).

On paper, at least, beating the likes of two-time world champions West Indies would be considered a genuine upset. That is not to say it won't happen, but the Associate teams will surely have their backs to the wall. And whatever the outcome of the final stage of qualification, it will be a shame to not see some of these teams in action on the big stage, and on television.

For starters, several players have exhibited plenty of spunk at the WCL tournament over the past week, UAE fast bowler Mohammed Naveed being a case in point. As a result, a few of the games turned out to be absolute nail-biters.

"A heart-attack game" was how Sandeep Lamichhane described Nepal's last-ball win over Kenya on Monday. Just four days earlier, they beat Namibia by one wicket. One day before that, the hosts edged Oman by two wickets.

Also on Monday the UAE defeated their Gulf neighbours to the south by 46 runs. While the margin of victory does not reflect how tense the game was, it was electric given that the vanquished team – in this case Oman – were going to be knocked out of the competition, their cup bid consigned to the dustbin of history.

Talking of income inequality, some of the world’s top teams are full of millionaires, even as nearly every player at the Associate level plays with his livelihood on the line. This is not an exaggeration. Just read Paul Radley’s report from Windhoek.

The World Cup means the world to the game's biggest stars, so we can only imagine what it must feel like to be in the shoes of, say, a UAE player. It is that feeling which inspired Kenya to beat West Indies in 1996, and pushed Ireland to upset Pakistan in 2007 and England in 2011. We will be denied such fairy tales.

A decision taken by the International Cricket Council (ICC) three years ago to reduce the number of teams from 14 to 10 for the 2019 and 2023 editions is rooted in the consolidation of power and resources at the hands of a few (read India, England and Australia).

It reduced its allocation of funds to Associate teams and increased the same to the "Big Three". Even more disturbing is it came shortly after the ICC reportedly generated profits of US$900 million (Dh3.3 billion) between 2007 and 2015. They are predicted to double between 2015 and 2023.

The ICC's stated mission is to spread cricket, making it the “world’s favourite sport”. But by taking away from emerging teams a fair chance to compete on the biggest stage – not to mention refusing the offer to be a part of the Olympic movement – it has opted to make the game the preserve of the select few.

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