Did you turn on the T20 World Cup, and then look up where Namibia is on the map? Do you remember the time when Eoin Morgan used to play for Ireland? Have you heard about the village in Papua New Guinea that provides most of the players for both their men’s and women’s teams? Have you heard that Oman were playing on cement pitches just a few years ago?
You’re not alone if you’re thinking, who are these nations, some of whom are playing in the “important part” of the T20 World Cup? Who watches Scotland vs Namibia? Is it a waste of a Wednesday night? You probably didn’t watch much cricket last week—why watch a qualifier? It wasn’t a qualifier, it was “Round 1” of the World Cup. Then how come those Round 1 countries didn’t play warm-up games, while everyone else did?
It was a qualifier, in all but name, for these “Associate member countries”. They’re not counted as “Full” members, and the name seems to suggest inadequacy, just because they don’t qualify to play Tests yet. But listen to their stories.
Scotland would have looked at their game against Namibia in the Super 12 and thought, “points”. No, actually, more. “Points + USD 40,000!” Because that’s what each win in the Super 12 is worth, and that can mean more contracts for a country like Scotland. It can mean the difference between a professional cricketer and a salesman who plays cricket on weekends. Instead, they ran into a red hot spell from Ruben Trumplemann, and were three down in the first over. Game over. For some, cricket career over.
Namibia might not be in the Super 12s but for two bad decisions: In their Round 1 game, Ireland chose to bat first on a chasing pitch, and limped to just 125. Then, with Namibia captain Gerhard Erasmus batting on 2, an LBW appeal that would have been out was not reviewed. Erasmus anchored the chase with 53*, and denied Ireland an assured USD 70,000, which teams get for qualifying to the Super 12. It also meant Ireland would have to qualify for the 2022 T20 World Cup from scratch, while Namibia booked a spot.
Ireland earlier did to the Netherlands what Namibia did to Scotland. With his double hat trick, Curtis Camphor set the Netherlands up to be winless in Round 1. A single win would have earned the Dutch USD 40,000.
So when people say these countries can play freely because they have nothing to lose at World Cups, it makes me laugh. They’re only at a World Cup because they’ve played too many matches where they have everything to lose.
Remember that spell that Shaheen Afridi bowled, which gutted India’s batting and set up a crushing defeat? Imagine that one loss meant that India can’t provide contracts to anyone except their top five players for the next three years. One loss, one good day for the opposition, and you’re losing players and playing more qualifiers. Welcome to Associate cricket.
You might remember these bizarre qualifiers from the last T20 World Cup, five years ago. But their provenance probably lies in the ODI World Cup in 2007. India were knocked out of that tournament with defeats to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A World Cup without big draws is not lucrative for advertisers, meaning broadcasters lose money, meaning the ICC loses money. So to ensure only the most “evenly matched” teams make it through, we have qualifiers (and England bowling out West Indies for 55).
By this point you’re probably thinking there’s some ICC bashing coming up. But the ICC is the good guy in this story. Without ICC funding, Associate cricket wouldn’t exist. The ICC fund Associates in two ways: Scorecard and Competition funding. Scorecard funding is provided for structural ticked boxes: domestic participation numbers, facilities, income generated, etc. Competition funding is what we talked about before.
Case in point: Namibia are lighting up this tournament because they earned ODI status in 2018 and therefore secured funds to contract 17 cricketers. Before that, they had three contracted cricketers. With the mini-windfall from these two T20 World Cups qualifications, they could now invest in spreading the game beyond the African nation’s minority white population.
Blessedly, the next ICC events cycle finds a healthier structure. From 2024, the ICC T20 World Cup will expand to 20 teams, the most ever. In four groups of five each, Associates who qualify will finally be on equal footing to “Full” members. More egalitarian, more unpredictable, which is what sport should be.
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