On 4 April 2011 the ICC Executive Board talked glowingly about the World Cup that had concluded in Mumbai two days earlier. Among their remarks:
"This ICC Cricket World Cup has been very successful and memorable....
"...the event was the most successful in history.
"The tournament reinforced the attraction of 50 over cricket and showed the enthusiasm and excitement generated by nation v nation cricket.
"There is no doubt that this event has been a great advertisement for ODI cricket.
"Financially the tournament has been an outstanding success;
"The quality of cricket was exceptional."
So if the 2011 World Cup was such an outstanding success, why are they changing the format?
A further announcement, in the very same ICC media statement, tells us that:
"The Executive Board confirmed their decision made in October 2010 that the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 in Australia and New Zealand and the ICC Cricket World Cup in England in 2019 will be a 10-team event. The Board agreed that the 2015 World Cup will comprise the existing 10 Full Members, however, they gave notice to all Full Members that participation in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup will be determined on the basis of qualification. It was also agreed that post the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 there will be promotion and relegation introduced in the ODI League."
That's all the detail we've been given so far, and we can only guess at the underlying reasons, but we do know that the ICC now plans for its 2015 World Cup (to be staged in Australia and New Zealand) to involve ten teams - its "Full Member" entities. No team from outside the Full Members will be allowed to qualify for inclusion. Not even Ireland, who defeated England in this year's World Cup and who for most of the past four years rated ahead of Zimbabwe on the world ODI rankings.
To put this into a bit of perspective, this will be the first men's Cricket World Cup which will not include teams from outside the Test-playing/Full Member arena. A quick historical background on the size and composition of each World Cup appears at the foot of this blog post.
Despite the self-serving pomposity of the ICC Board calling the 2011 tournament the best ever, it was anything but. Bloated at 42 days long, teams having to wait up to eight days between matches, and a month of league matches in two groups before the number of competing teams could be cut back from 12 to 8. Many one-sided matches, including a few between Full Member teams, but every team was guaranteed a part to play, no matter how bad or good they were, up till Week Five.
Would these people be so euphoric if India hadn't won, or (as in 2007) India and Pakistan hadn't met at least once?
The fact is that the World Cup, whilst having some great matches, was seriously flawed in structure, but it can never truly be called a World Cup without giving all of its World some sort of opportunity to take part.
The World Cup of 2015 should, in my view, consist of twelve teams. The ten current Full Members plus the two finalists of a qualifying tournament held no earlier than six to twelve months prior to the World Cup (not two years as been the case in the past, and to the detriment of Afghanistan this time around). Two groups of six, thirty games in twenty days, best eight teams into knockout quarter-finals. Whole tournament over with in 37 matches in 31 days spanning five weekends - making it exactly the same duration as the FIFA World Cup. (And 10 games out of 37 involving those pesky minnows compared to 22 out of 49 in 2011.)
Achievable? Profitable? Inclusive? Surely all of those things.
In closing the 2015 World Cup off to Associate and Affiliate member nations, ICC Board has made a decision contrary to the greater good of the sport for which they are its custodians. It is a decision which must be reversed, and soon, for the sport's governing body to maintain any credibility. All national associations that supported this decision deserve their share of condemnation. This is how cartels behave, not responsible sports administrations.
The Cricket World Cup 1975-2015: Its expansion and contraction:
1975 - 8 teams. All six full active members of the ICC at the time (Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies) plus Sri Lanka and East Africa (comprising Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania). South Africa were barred because of their nation's apartheid policy.
1979 - 8 teams. Six ICC full members, plus the two finalists from the ICC Trophy (Sri Lanka and Canada).
1982 - 8 teams. Seven ICC full members with the inclusion of Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe played as the winner of the ICC Trophy.
1987 - 8 teams. The seven ICC full members plus, again, Zimbabwe as ICC Trophy winners.
1992 - 9 teams. Originally set for eight (seven full members plus ICC Trophy winners Zimbabwe again), South Africa was belatedly added after their readmission to full membership in 1991.
1996 - 12 teams. Nine ICC full members with the readmission of South Africa and the admission of Zimbabwe. Also including the top three teams from the 1994 ICC Trophy (United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Netherlands).
1999 - 12 teams. The nine ICC full members plus the top three from the 1997 ICC Trophy (Bangladesh, Kenya, Scotland).
2003 - 14 teams. Ten ICC full members with the admission of Bangladesh. Kenya, because they had held official ODI status since 1997. The top four teams from the 2001 ICC Trophy (Netherlands, Namibia, Canada).
2007 - 16 teams. The ten ICC full members plus Kenya, then the top five teams from the 2005 ICC Trophy (Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Bermuda, Netherlands).
2011 - 14 teams. The ten ICC full members plus the top four teams from the 2009 ICC World Cup Qualifying (Ireland, Canada, Netherlands, and Kenya, who were forced to qualify again).
2015 - 10 teams. The ten ICC full members only.