Even though associates like Ireland have managed to beat West Indies and might even make the QFs, the fact is that they aren’t equipped to challenge Oz, SA or India on a regular basis as they’ve hardly played them since the last World Cup, writes Aakash Chopra
The great Allan Border called the recent league match between Ireland and West Indies “the tie of the tournament”, and rightly so. Ireland, like other associate nations, are fighting against all odds to compete at the highest level and that alone is a big reason to celebrate every match they win. Still, a question that begs to be asked and probed is — if this win was a result of their growth or the decline of West Indian cricket?
While Ireland’s evolution must be celebrated, West Indian decline must be mourned too, for that simply explains the game’s dwindling fortunes.
Ireland players celebrate a WI wicket during their opening World Cup match at Saxton Field in Nelson, New Zealand on Monday. Pic/Getty Images
In my humble opinion, the erstwhile champions of international cricket — West Indies have reached its nadir, and the worrying bit is that they may have reached a point of no return — at least for a long-long time. Since the last World Cup in 2011 West Indies has played 53 games against top 6 teams (India, Australia, South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan) and have managed to win only 15. Their insipid presence at the top has forced people to think that Ireland’s win over them isn’t an upset, and they are probably right.
While West Indian cricket has plummeted, Bangladesh cricket has refused to grow. They are playing one-day cricket for the last 28 years and Test cricket for the last 14 but they are yet to be taken seriously at the top level. Since 2011 their record against the same six sides (the ones mentioned above) is even more pathetic — only three wins in 21 games. As full members both West Indies and Bangladesh get a direct entry into the World Cup, and that makes for a lopsided first half. While the problem of too many weak teams in the World Cup can be sorted by making a two-tier system, the bigger problem of the state of international cricket needs closer scrutiny.
There was a time when Zimbabwe was a strong nation, Kenya used to not just participate but compete in most tournaments and the early signs of Bangladesh were promising too. But now, the world of cricket has shrunk to only 6-7 good teams.
Decline in standards
Ideally the advent of T20 cricket should’ve meant new territories opening for world cricket but that hasn’t happened. If anything, it might have led to the decline in the overall standard of international cricket, for even most of these so called ‘good’ 6-7 teams are good only at home. ICC has floated a thought that the next World Cup would feature only 10 teams, which would mean a tighter and more competitive tournament. While they are absolutely right in contemplating such a move, the need of the hour is to find a way to ensure that these smaller teams are not mere pushovers by 2019.
The cricketing growth of a country is directly proportional to the infrastructure available in that country and the amount of cricket it plays, especially against better teams. You cannot be talking about their lack of experience once in four years without doing anything about it in those four years.
Even though Ireland has managed to beat a Test nation and might even make it to the final 8, the fact remains that they aren’t equipped to challenge Australia, South Africa or India on a regular basis. The answer to their predicament lies in the number of times they’ve played against these three sides since the last World Cup. No prizes for guessing — they haven’t played against these teams even once in four years.
The shrinking world of international cricket is crying out for the development of the existing sides, for introducing new nations to mainstream cricket is tougher than ever. In the 70s-80s the top nations also had a head start but catching up was still possible and plausible but in today’s day and age it’s likely to take a lot longer. The new commercial world of sport won’t have such patience.
Number of matches Ireland have played against Test nations since 2011 World Cup