Uh-oh, just when we were getting set for some electric World Cup action comes another controversy: should second-tier teams be playing in the tournament at all? Although people have debated this for a while, it has sprung to life now, what with the West Indies’ pace legend Michael Holding and Australian captain Ricky Ponting wading into it, hollering ‘No!’
Critics apparently want these teams to have a chance to compete on the biggest stage, so that it will encourage cricket in these countries. After all, didn’t Sri Lanka — India’s ‘whipping boys’ in the 1980s — go on to win the 1996 World Cup, and Kenya — considered a joke — bring down the mighty West Indies and reach the semi-finals in 2003?
But this overlooks the fact that Sri Lanka were an experienced team that had played with top touring sides for years when they entered the first class arena. And Kenya has yet to erase the flash-in-the-pan tag from its Windies win. The Cup’s four groups each has two strong and two relatively weak teams. This does introduce — at least on paper — a surprise element where a minnow could shock an established side. But if the ICC is so keen to develop cricket into a truly international sport, it should have a ‘B’ tournament. With fewer countries on the main circuit, there would be more rest for players, and fewer injuries.
There is no denying that the inclusion of teams like Scotland, Holland, Ireland and Bermuda may only serve to lengthen the tournament. Never mind that the ICC probably prefers the longer format with an eye on the revenue and television coverage.