As I mentioned in last week's column, the ICC had several meetings in Dubai recently and made several announcements, some of which impact directly on associate cricket. On the face of it these announcements - confirmation of the pathway for the first ever 20 team T20 World Cup in 2024 and women's ODI status for a number of associate sides - are positive. As always though, the devil is in the details.
Women's ODI status for associates
Starting with the announcement that women's ODI status will be extended to a number of associates. This is obviously as a result of campaigning from the Cricket Association of Thailand after the unsatisfactory conclusion to the women's World Cup Qualifier last year when rankings were used after the tournament had to be abandoned due to the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
However, the release makes no mention of how many teams will be given ODI status, nor how this will be decided. Thailand would seem to be certain, but who else? The other associates at the qualifier - USA and Netherlands - will be at the front of the queue as will Papua New Guinea who had to pull out of the tournament due to several Covid cases in their camp.
That's just three teams though, so what about other high performing associates who missed out on qualifying for the global qualifier? Nepal, the UAE, Scotland and Namibia have been either pushing towards this level or recently at this level in recent years and could also make a decent argument for ODI status.
And then there's the question of what the teams will be able to do with their ODI status. As the associate men's teams that had ODI status from 2006 until the World Cricket League Championship started, having ODI status doesn't necessarily mean playing more games. There is nothing in the media release about anything like a second division to the ICC Women's Championship.
And what are we to make of the details of the pathway to the next Women's World Cup in the ODI format? The (yet to be confirmed) hosts of the tournament plus the next best five teams in the ICC Women's Championship get automatic entry. The remaining Women's Championship teams plus two teams from the ODI ranking will play in a qualifier for the final two places at the World Cup.
There is no mention of any places from regional qualifiers for this qualifier. It seems that the ICC are cutting off access to the 50 over format for all but a select few women's teams. This seems to be the exact opposite of the "growing the game" things we hear from the ICC.
Maybe I'm being overly cynical and this will just be temporary until the ODI Women's World Cup expands to ten teams. History suggests being cynical should be the default choice when it comes to these sort of things.
Men's T20 World Cup pathway
The expansion of the men's T20 World Cup to 20 teams was a very welcome development when it was announced a while ago. We finally got details of how the pathway will work last weekend and, as always, there is a bit of a sting in the tail.
First;y it was confirmed that both hosts - West Indies and the USA - will get automatic entry. This will be welcome news for 2027 men's World Cup co-hosts Namibia and Zimbabwe as well as co-hosts of the 2030 men's T20 World Cup Ireland and Scotland. These will be joined by the top eight teams from this year's tournament, followed by up to three teams from the rankings and 8 regional qualifiers - 2 each from Europe, Asia and Africa and 1 each from the Americas and East Asia Pacific regions.
The rankings are the first problem here. Two spots will be available, unless the West Indies are in the top eight in which case it will be three. The ICC don't seem to have considered the possibility of the USA making the top eight of the tournament.
I've written before about the various issues with using rankings for tournament qualification. I won't repeat them in detail here, but they include the ease at which the rankings are gamed, the lack of inter-regional matches for associates and the lack of opportunities for associates to play full members.
Make no mistake though, these places available on rankings are solely to ensure that the big guns don't have to sully themselves by having to slum it ins regional qualifying should they fail to make the top eight at this year's World Cup.
It is rather reminiscent of the recent announcement by UEFA that two places in the Champions League will be reserved for teams with good historical records that miss out on qualification through their national leagues. Both are as a result of big teams (and in the case of cricket this is by no means limited to the "Big Three") objecting to qualification on sporting merit and wanting their places in major tournaments to be secured in perpetuity.
The decision to have these teams qualify on rankings makes allocating the regional places much more difficult than it would be should there be 10 or 11 places to distribute. The ICC want to have representation from every ICC region, which has led to some imbalances.
For example, unless Ireland's T20I form turns around spectacularly in the next seven months, they will drop down into regional qualifying alongside Netherlands and Scotland. Last year's tournament was the second consecutive one at which all three participated but there will only be two of them able to qualify for 2024.
The Americas region meanwhile, which has never had an associate qualify for the T20 World Cup, gets an extra qualifying place on top of automatic entry for the USA, leading to that region being over-represented in the tournament.
Asia will be similarly poorly served by the regional place distribution. As the rankings currently stand then only two of Nepal, UAE and Oman will be able to qualify.
I don't think that it's necessary for a 20 team World Cup to feature the best 20 teams in the world as would likely happen should there be a global qualifier to lead in to the World Cup itself. A World Cup is arguably more of a celebration of the sport than it is a contest to find the best teams. But this distribution could still stand to be improved.
A simple change would be to ditch the places available on rankings. ICC development head Will Glenwright has stated that he wants the regional events to have a higher profile. Having full members involved in them would certainly do that. Giving an extra place to each of Europe and Asia, plus a repechage tournament for the best non-qualifiers (the Americas winner should arguably go into the repechage instead of the World Cup) would seem on the face of it to be much fairer.
In addition, if the regional events are to feed directly into the World Cup, the quality of the ICC.TV streaming service needs to be upped considerably. Production quality needs to extend to having more cameras. Simple errors such as displaying bowling figures as runs-wickets instead of the standard wickets-runs need to be fixed. The ICC website and social media profiles need to promote the web streams better.
Most importantly, the streams need to be made more stable. There is no point having higher profile regional events if most people watching them are greeted with a screen stating "We'll be right back".