Will lesser teams in World Championships restrict cricket to be a ‘South Asian’ sport?

(Representational Image)&nbsp | &nbspPhoto Credit:&nbspGetty Images

Key Highlights

  • World Cup match wins meant test status for associate teams, which now don’t get slots of qualify
  • Even test-playing teams find hard to qualify for leaner cricket world cups of late
  • Choice between spreading reach of cricket versus getting sponsors for tournaments

Cricket fans will have to settle for watching just 12 teams compete for the upcoming T20 World Cup. Even test playing nations like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will have to compete with 6 associate teams to qualify for the 4 slots, while the 8 top-ranked teams get a free entry.

However, this hasn’t always been the case. The format has been truncated since the 2014 T20 Cricket World Cup, which featured 16 teams. Even the 50-over format till 2007 had 16 teams, and the number has been steadily reducing in successive world cups to maintain viewership and sponsorship.

All teams which secured the coveted test status in the past 4 decades got it after upstaging an established opponent in a world cup. Sri Lanka defeated India in the 1979 cricket World Cup, Zimbabwe defeated Australia in the 1983 World Cup, Bangladesh defeated Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, and Ireland defeated Pakistan, England and West Indies in successive World Cups to attain test status. 

Member of India’s world cup winning team in 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 50-over format Cricket World Cup, speedster S Sreesanth pitches for an Olympic-like format where every nation gets an equal footing to compete, as opposed to the current format where only top 8 teams automatically qualify.

However, former Indian cricketer and commentator, Atul Wassan feels otherwise. He supports the current leaner format, pointing to the football World Cup where an Indian team doesn’t get to play a top-ranked Brazil or Argentina.

Citing the example of Kenya which couldn’t get test status due to lack of cricket infrastructure despite reaching the semi-finals of the 2003 world cup, Wassan said that it is better to bring teams through qualifiers so that only the best of the lot play India or Australia to keep the competition exciting.

Wassan feels that there is no use in keeping a long drawn format that won’t get eyeballs, rather he pitches for growth in infrastructure and interest amongst the public for growth of cricket amongst minnow teams instead of mere world cup exposure.

However, the reach of cricket doesn’t seem to be expanding. In the 2016 T20 cricket World Cup, 41 South Asian players formed a part of the 165 squad members of 11 non-South-Asian teams. It not only demonstrates the craze for the gentleman’s game amongst the South Asian diaspora but also shows the need to take the sport to new audiences and countries.

But there’s a ray of hope for the associate teams vying for the upcoming world cup slots. Sreesanth is of the view that club cricket allows players from non-cricketing nations to hone their skills to strengthen their national teams to compete for world championships.

Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands and Namibia have players who have played club cricket for years and do stand a chance to show their mettle and widen the world cup’s reach in the championship starting next month.