We are well into the qualifying stages of the 2016 World T20 and after two rounds of matches, including the washed out matches in Dharamsala, three teams have been knocked out of the competition. The format of the qualifying stage is very tough and teams getting knocked out is an inevitability, but the ICC should have done a better job at giving these sides a fair chance to be a part of the main tournament.
It was disappointing, almost heart-breaking, to hear an emotional Peter Borren at his post-match press conference after the Netherlands were knocked out of the tournament because their game against Oman was washed out without a ball being bowled. He pointed out that the Netherlands, along with five other qualifying nations, went through a gruelling 14 nation pre-qualifying tournament in Ireland and Scotland last year. After all the hard work that the Netherlands put in throughout the last year with the limited resources that they had, it only took a narrow loss and a washout to end their dream of qualifying for the Super 10 stage, the main event of the World T20.
Preston Mommsen’s post-match press conference was equally demoralising for a cricket fan. Preston, the Scotland captain, highlighted the constant challenges that the associate nations face with every game; playing for money, board funding or an opportunity to qualify for a global tournament.
It was staggering to hear that the Scotland captain has played only one ODI since the 2015 ODI World Cup because the associate nations don’t have the opportunity to play bilateral series, and the few competitive matches that they are able to play have huge stakes associated with them. One can’t expect these nations to improve and perform against higher ranked sides if they are not given adequate opportunities to play as a team.
The ICC’s stance on the game of cricket has been hypocritical to say the least. On the one hand, it talks about expanding the game of cricket to unchartered territories, while on the other, they are enforcing measures to reduce the number of matches between the associate nations and the Test playing nations, both in the 50 over World Cup and the World T20.
The ICC could have easily deployed a 16 team format with four groups of four teams each, doing away with the qualifying stage and thus giving the lower ranked nations an opportunity to play at least two games against top ranked sides. If not that, they could have at least kept reserve days for the qualifying matches, considering what one washed out match could mean for these sides.
The earlier the ICC realises that they are going in the wrong direction, the better this beautiful game will become. They need to start giving opportunities to associate nations and do away with the theory that matches between test playing nations and associate nations are boring, as proved wrong in the 2015 ODI World Cup, or we will never see cricket gain the kind of popularity that football enjoys throughout the world.
By Manish Tewani