Associate cricket washed out it in every way.

11 March 2016

Associate cricket washed out it in every way.

Irelands participation ended in a damp squib in Dharamsala as their second match against Bangladesh was washed out with the points shared a result that leaves Ireland unable to progress. Whilst their opening match defeat to Oman was not fatal it left no room for error and unfortunately the sub-continental weather was the final nail in Ireland's coffin.

The Netherlands suffered a similar fate earlier in the day and you could only have sympathy for their great servant Peter Borren to see his international career come to end in such circumstances without having the opportunity to recover from their defeat to Bangladesh. It does bring into question how the organisers cannot come up with some sort of backup plan that could at least create a reserve day in the event of weather washouts particularly in the 20 over format when two matches can be facilitated in a day and playing back to back days is physically possible.

The warm up qualifying tournament with two places on offer for the world cup proper was in reality a token gesture towards the ICC "associate" members and fails to appreciate the massive sport promotional benefits that countries like Ireland get from being on the big stage. The financial investment into countries like Ireland in trying to create a pseudo "first class" or competitive programme below international and above club cricket is laudable but it is irrelevant if the senior international team cannot get more competitive fixtures at the international level.

I watched the post match coverage with Kyle McCallen and Ed Joyce lamenting that Ireland will now have little international matches against the worlds top nations in the coming years and as ex-international players they know that irrespective of how the associates perform they are starved of the quality international match programme that could see them progress. The protected status that Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and to a slightly lesser extent the West Indies are afforded is a glass ceiling that will curtail the progress of Ireland, Netherlands, Scotland, Afghanistan and the others.

The tournament schedules are an issue and long drawn out competitions that include meaningless matches are not good for promoting the sport, however, surely a format can be thought up to allow the lesser nations to have a real competitive chance against the 4 lowest ranked protected test countries and the successful nations to progress.

We all thought Ireland's heroics in 2007 would be a catalyst to encourage the ICC to invest and believe in developing the associates to try and extend the game of cricket beyond the 10 test nations, however, in the decade since we are no closer to getting competitive fixtures for the test nations against associates. Not just Ireland others have produced great displays against the odds in major tournaments be it 20 over or 50 over format, and even matches between associates have produced fantastic contests.

When other sports like football and a similar sport like rugby trying to expand its global footprint are looking to expand their world events cricket has adopted a different strategy in not just limiting the sides able to compete but genuinely facilitating a meaningful international match programme for the associates every year. Only then can the countries adequately prepare for major tournaments and develop their players so they can compete with their international peers.

Today was a sad day for cricket, not just the weather but it just about summed up the tokenism towards the lesser nations. In truth, Ireland were outperformed by Bangladesh. The lower ranked test nations should speak up and support the associates getting the same opportunity that they received in the past 20 years and not try and suppress them.

Hopefully there is a rethink in the ICC strategy and in the interests of developing and expanding the game we see real opportunities for countries to progress. Whilst money talks in reality compared to the monetary power of India in the cricketing world we are all minnows !

J. Steven Hiles

11 March 2016

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