How does the World Cup work?

As this year’s Cricket World Cup draws to its conclusion, looks at the Associate Nation system that determines who can qualify for the tournament, and why it is holding back a potentially global sport

Given Ireland’s win over the West Indies in this year’s Cricket World Cup, their third scalp in as many tournaments, including their win over England in 2011, an outsider would be forgiven for thinking they’re a very good cricketing nation. And they could be. They certainly made a better effort at it than the English this time around, who fell at just about every hurdle imaginable.

Ireland’s captain, Will Porterfield, would fit handsomely in some of the more prestigious One Day squads who needed a bit of fire power in the middle order. Boyd Rankin – hailed as England’s fast bowling saviour for all of a week – is also Irish, having changed allegiance when he realised he could bowl in a straight line. Eoin Morgan felt the need to change nations to England he’s that good, when he isn’t too busy threatening to fall short of his potential, that is.

So why do Nations like Ireland not get the recognition they deserve?

It’s to do with the ‘Associate’ and ‘Full-member’ system employed by the cricketing world. This year’s tournament sees 10 full-members and four associate members competing for the quarter final spots. The ten full members have no problems, they’re well-funded and usually perform well in these tournaments. But what of everyone else?

Everyone else gets to play in their own league, the ICC World Cricket League. 96 teams battle it out to finish as high as they can in the hope of qualifying for the World Cup. It’s a bit like the Championship in football. Lots of teams, small chance of success, but a huge pay out at the end.

Associate members have been claiming victories over so called full members for years now. Ireland are the prime example, but the Netherlands have beaten Bangladesh and England (why is it always England?) in the past few years.

So the ‘lesser’ teams are clearly capable. In other sports, they’d have the same status but just be called the underdogs. The archaic, hierarchical system employed by the ICC ensures that the best remain the best and the rest rot in unspoken tournaments, with the occasional team clawing their way into full member status. Margaret Thatcher would love it.

What’s wrong with having continental qualifiers like everyone else does? I, for one, would love to see the Asian qualifiers. Afghanistan are starting to break through, the UAE have just qualified for their second World Cup all whilst India were starting to look less invincible than usual until this World Cup, and Bangladesh are just plain rubbish now.

Of course, the same countries would likely come through in each instance. Maybe one or two different teams each year, but without the incentive of qualification countries simply won’t invest in cricket. It’s taken the Irish twelve years for the ICC to realise they might do alright as a test nation. Who is to say there isn’t another team like them out there?

It could be argued that you can’t give cricket to nations that don’t express the interest. But conversely, how can you expect them to generate an interest when the only teams they could watch their team play are Bermuda, Oman or Tanzania.

The entire system needs changing and, credit to the ICC, they’ve realised that. How they’ve changed it, however, is catastrophically stupid. They’ve decided to make the World Cup smaller. The biggest stage in cricket (aside from the Ashes but the spaces are kind of set in stone for that one) and they’ve made it less accessible. Tron would have a fit.

If they made the groups smaller, but had more groups, you could get the group stages out of the way quicker whilst still expanding the competition. You might limit the countries in which you can hold the tournament due to the infrastructure and number of stadiums you’d need, but the World Cup has been well established for a while and the time for expansion is now. No one is too bothered about where the tournament is held, especially if their country is competing.

But as long as the Associate/Full-member system is in place, this won’t happen. There was talk of it being scrapped, and there’s nothing better that could happen to it. The hierarchy isn’t killing cricket, it’s been effective for a long time now but watching the same 10 or 12 teams every World Cup is a little bit tiresome. Excellent to watch, but you wonder who else could be there if given the chance. I’d love to see the day that South Africa line up against Burkina Faso. It’d be either brilliant or hilarious, but you’d watch it either way.

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