Should they stay or should they go? Sadly not an incorrect reference to The Clash but rather to the situation of the associate cricket playing nations. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has decided that for the next World Cup no associate nations will be allowed to take part. There has been a steady scaling back of associate participation, in the last World Cup there was six associates in this current one there are four and if the ICC has there way then there will be none which will be a horrible shame in my eyes. There is much arguing that this has come about due to Indian cricket board objecting due to India and Pakistan being knocked out in the last World Cup in the group stage while associates advanced. With the Indian board being the most powerful in the world they were able to influence a change in structure making the World Cup less associate friendly as they had to play more games it meant they were less likely to cause more than one upset and get through as they had been able to do in the past.
The associates are the teams which make World Cups memorable sure not always specifically in results but in moments of greatness. Associate sides often contain only few professional cricketers meaning the rest of their side is made up of part timers who are taken time off from their regular jobs (in fact the Irish players had to seek extra leave from their jobs when they got past the group stage in the last World Cup). These are truly everyday people living the dream of playing in a cricket World Cup and I often rank their achievements as more enjoyable than say a Ross Taylor century or Jamie How managing to get past 20. For example who could forget regular prison van driver Dwayne Leverock taking a flying one handed catch to dismiss Robin Uthappa in the last World Cup, or say the Irish taking a wicket and performing the chicken dance (I'm not even too proud to admit that I joined in a few times). These people are what makes cricket great, they looked amazed to be on the same field as some of the people that they follow fanatically, I have even heard stories of associate players asking for autographs of other players.
This World Cup these associate players seem to have made it their mission to prove the ICC that they should stay and to be honest they have performed admirably. Ireland in particular have made an impressive case, they won two and in the other three they were only outclassed completely against South Africa who are serious contenders for champion. The Netherlands have been next best but rather disappointingly have not won a game although they have produced some fighting results. In fact one associate player (Ryan Ten Doeschate) has two individual hundreds which is the same amount as the whole New Zealand batting line up and two more than the whole Australian batting line up. Kenya and Canada have both been disappointing but as the tournament has gone on they have improved and seeing the Canadian top orded going at ten an over against Australia was a definite highlight and even Collins Obuya being disappointed at ending up 98 not out against Australia rather than just elated that he got past fifty was great. Both Canada and Kenya managed to bat out their full allocation of overs against New Zealand and Australia respectively showing that frequent exposure to top teams causes definite improvement.
We all know that playing the best makes you far better for example whenever New Zealand would play Australia and they would rack up three hundred we would manage to somehow pull it out of the bag and win miraculously just to get the thrill of beating the best. This is what drives lesser teams, to be the best you have to beat the best and I'm sure that is what was going through Kevin O'Brien's head as he struck that magnificent fifty ball century against England. For the associate teams to improve they need to consistently be able to get to play top ranked teams, the ICC always say this will occur after a World Cup but only lasts a few months and then suddenly they are back just playing associate games. If we get the associate teams put into the Future Tours Program then they would receive regular games against proper ranked teams and would therefore be able to create more of a cricket culture in their countries and start a base of young players as has been a major case in Bangladesh where they have gone from no hopers to beating all full strength teams at least once.
Now I'm not saying that the ICC is entirely wrong in removing some associates as clearly they create unnecessary games and more often than not has produced very one sided results for very few upsets so despite amazing wins such as Ireland's over England we are all too often shown 250 run wins to full nation teams. To combat this I think there should only be two associates and at this time they would most definitely be Ireland and the Netherlands. At this stage they are the two associates who are up to international cricket and would benefit greatly from playing full strength teams. If the ICC does completely remove the associate from the World Cup they will essentially be making it the exact same as the Champions Trophy and effectively taking the world out of World Cup. So ICC give the associates a chance to get some regular games against strong teams and who knows in 2015 in New Zealand and Australia I could be cheering for Ireland in the final.
P.S Sorry for the lack of posting recently very slack on my behalf so I will try to make sure that doesn't keep happening!