Once upon a time not too long ago, India were minnows, as were Sri Lanka. They got a chance to play the ODI World Cup with the worthies. Today, they have three WC trophies between them and are in the midst of a campaign to add to the silverware.
The preamble above is necessitated by the ICC's decision to reduce the number of participating teams to 10 in the 12th edition of the World Cup in 2019. Is it a move forward or regressive?
My view is it is regressive and any move to popularise the sport worldwide will suffer if Associate nations are not allowed to compete at the grandest stage of them all - the World Cup.
Well, I have Sachin Tendulkar in my corner. He has pitched for making the 2019 World Cup even more inclusive by having as many as 25 participating nations.
To enable an analysis with clear perspective, let us focus on the right numbers.
The first four World Cups from 1975 to 1987 had 8 teams, while the 1992 edition had 9.
The number of participating teams rose to 12 in 1996 and 1999, while 2003 saw a jump to 14.
The 2007 World Cup saw another rise to 16 teams under a new format, with 4 groups of 4 teams each and only 2 from each proceeding to the next stage. (India and Pakistan tasted shock defeats and failed to make it to the last-8)
The 2011 World Cup had 14 teams, as does the ongoing one.
Before proceeding, a glance again at a few relevant numbers.
The first two WCs had 6 Test playing nations (ICC members). Sri Lanka played in both, while East Africa and Canada played in 1975 and 1979, respectively.
1983 saw Sri Lanka as a full ICC member and Zimbabwe qualified for both 1983 and 1987 World Cups.
In 1992, South Africa made their World Cup debut and Zimbabwe qualified for the third consecutive time. 1996 saw Zimbabwe as a full ICC member and three other teams -Netherlands, UAE and Kenya - qualified.
Scotland and Bangladesh entered in 1999, while Kenya continued.
2003 saw Bangladesh as the 10th automatic qualifier, while Namibia made their debut. Bermuda made their debut in 2007.
There were no debutants in 2011. The 2015 edition has Afghanistan.
Within the existing framework, it is understandable why the ICC wants to reduce the number of 'inconsequential' matches.
But is the 'inconsequential' argument even valid any more?
For instance, if Ireland do not make it to the event in 2019, will it not be unfortunate?
Ireland have successfully chased a 300-plus score in the ongoing World Cup against a so-called superior opponent and also put up a 300-plus score.
They have displayed skill and are no longer the team identified only with Kevin O'Brien, the man with the fastest World Cup century - in 50 balls against England in the 2011 edition.
Chasing 328 for win, the Associate team tottered at 111 for 5 at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, but O'Brien exploded and how.
In 2003, South Africa, West Indies, New Zealand and England did not find a place at the semi-finals high table with Australia, Sri Lanka and India. It was Kenya who earned that right.
It took arguably one of the best opening pairs of all time, the peerless Tendulkar with 83 and Sourav Ganguly with an unbeaten 111 to bat them out of the game. Even so, India scored 270/4, a score which most teams will not be too worried to chase against any opposition these days.
So-called minnows have given us very interesting performances throughout the history of the World Cup.
In 1979, Sri Lanka defeated India comfortably by 47 runs. In 1983, the islanders beat New Zealand. Their progress continued and in 1996, Sri Lanka went all the way to become World Champions.
The 1983 World Cup also saw Zimbabwe beat Australia (Player of the Match - India's current coach Duncan Fletcher).
In the same edition, Zimbabwe reduced India to 17/5 before Kapil Dev came up with that incredible 175. And, if we stretch logic a bit by using a writer's poetic licence, wasn't India a minnow too in the 1983 edition? Us defeating the mighty West Indies to become World Champions is rightly the stuff of legends.
In 1992, Zimbabwe gave us a 300-plus score, a rarity in those days and that game witnessed an unbeaten ton from Andy Flower. Surely, Andy Flower would have walked into most teams of even champion cricketing nations.
In 1996, Kenya stunned West Indies, dismissing them for 93 while defending 166.
In the 1999 edition, Zimbabwe beat India and even South Africa, which had the fearsome Allan Donald and Lance Klusener.
2007 saw Bangladesh beat India and Pakistan lose to Ireland.
Not to labour the point, teams that are weaker on paper have given us some fantastic individual performers such as Andy Flower, Ryan ten Doeschate, Steve Tikolo, Maurice Odumbe, Neil Johnson (who scored a ton against Australia in 1999).
If the World Cup is reduced to 10 teams, we may not see the birth of such stars.
Despite beating established Test-playing sides in 2007, 2011 and 2015, Ireland may not be there in 2019. I believe allowing for this possibility is unfair.
If the flair displayed by Afghanistan's pacers Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran and Hamid Hassan is not allowed to flourish on the big stage, won't it be unfair as well?
Yes, there have been one-sided games against unfancied teams, but many have involved established teams too.
That the World Cup is a long-drawn affair, in my view, is incorrect. It is only important that the champion team has the ability to run the marathon as well as the sprint, which essentially means the knockout games.
For those who need shorter tournaments, there is the Champions Trophy and even the T20 World Cup. Please let the 50-over format stay with the participation of at least 14 nations, not 10.
(Views expressed by the writer are personal. If you want to share your thoughts on the game, mail your write-ups, with a picture and brief bio, to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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