In Kathmandu, Nepal, thousands if not millions, celebrate gaining ODI status for the first time. Cricket is the 2nd most popular sport in the country of 29 million people and despite the fact less than a handful of their games have ever been broadcasted, their following of the sport rivals the likes of Australia and England. Nepal won’t be playing in the 2019 world cup, in fact they were quite far away despite having their most successful tournament in their cricketing history.
The 2019 world cup will only be 10 teams, down from 14 in the past two additions (2015, 2011) and down from 16 in 2007. That tournament was famous or possibly infamous for the shock result of Ireland defeating Pakistan and Bangladesh defeating India, leading to both the Asian powerhouses to miss the quarter final stage and the ICC missing out on millions of dollars. Since then, the ICC (pushed by India, England and Australia) have been on a crusade to extend the ODI world cup longer and longer while reducing the number of teams. thus leading to a 10 team world cup next year.
When the 10 teams arrive in England next year, they will be guaranteed nine group stage matches (1 against every other team) before the knockout stage begins. This means in theory, a team could lose their first 4 matches and have no chance of progressing to the next stage but will still have five matches left that will be dead rubbers. This is all done to make sure a repeat of 2007 doesn’t happen and that India are guaranteed nine matches on TV.
The World cup qualifier on the other hand, while still being 10 teams, has two groups of five for the first stage then a super six stage where the points against the other two members of your group that make it through carry over. Incredible results have occurred through this such as Afghanistan edging out Nepal and Hong Kong by a small net run rate (NRR) advantage. Scotland and hosts Zimbabwe tieing and putting themselves on an odd number of points to everyone else and Zimbabwe overcoming Afghanistan by two runs early in the tournament. While Afghanistan themselves, having lost to Scotland, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe defeated the West Indies in their first super 6 game.
On top of the 10 teams fighting for two world cup spots, ODI status is on the line in the tournament for the next four years for associate member, not only giving teams the ability to play against higher quality teams but extra funding, more matches and a bigger guarantee of making tournaments like the Intercontinental Cup and the World Cricket league which are not only vital for regular competition but qualification for the next world cup qualifier and progression to test status as seen by Ireland and Afghanistan. For some reason unknown, the ICC restricts the number of teams with ODI status at one time to 16 (the 12 full members plus the four with temporary ODI status) meaning a single win or loss can decide a countries cricket for the next four years.
As good as the world cup qualifier has been, it doesn’t excuse the fact that only two spots are on offer. The gap between bottom full members and top associates has never been closer. The Windies, once a dominant force in cricket winning the first world cup, recently lost to Afghanistan one of the new boys in the full member club. Afghanistan aren’t invincible either, they lost to Zimbabwe, Scotland and Hong Kong who themselves lost ODI status just a few days later.
Nobody expects the likes of PNG, Nepal and Hong Kong to take down India and England and win the world cup but they won’t be trounced like maybe 20 years ago either. Despite regular funding cuts and little media attention, associates are improving rapidly however the fear of relegation always exists. One bad match or even rain at the wrong time can send a nation down the ladder of funding and opportunity. It’s this consequence of losing and dream of competing against the best that makes this level of Cricket so fascinating. While Australia or India could lose all nine matches at the upcoming world cup and continue to get the same funding and opportunity as they always have, the ones below have their career in the balance in every single match.