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The International Cricket Council revamp introduces a chance for the teams from the lower divisions to have a shot at Test cricket. Nishad Pai Vaidya examines the potential of this move.
The International Cricket Council’s (ICC) recent revamp has caused quite a storm. The takeover by the “Big Three” has disappointed most cricket lovers as they lament at the risk of losing the pristine charm of their game. It is that very facet that has caused quite a bit of heartburn, some fearing for the future of Test cricket. However, one of the most interesting features is the one that helps the Associate teams have a shot at Test cricket. The winner of the ICC Intercontinental Cup will now compete with the lower ranked Test sides in a bid to don the whites.
Firstly, such a jump would be a giant leap for some of these sides. These teams, however competitive they may be in limited-overs cricket, do not have an established First-Class structure. The only First-Class cricket they play is against the fellow Associates in tournaments such as the Intercontinental Cup. Thus, by winning such competitions, they will then directly battle for Test status. And, if they are able to succeed, they will get it. A rapid promotion may entail a quick establishment of a First-Class structure in those nations.
One thing that strikes you is that only two sides have dominated the Intercontinental Cup in the recent past. While Kenya has declined as a force, Afghanistan has emerged as a strong team. Ireland though are the champions of the Associate world and these two sides are a cut above the rest. Yet, when they face the bigger sides, there is a clear gulf in quality. As mentioned earlier, they can be competitive on occasions and may lack the class to maintain consistency at the highest level.
The Associates and Affiliate nations do have a future, but they need to take it step by step to get through to the highest level. Kenya had impressed one and all, especially when they reached the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup. Yet, their structure deteriorated and they fell by the wayside, languishing in the lower division as of today. It is that case which does serve as a warning as attempts to fast-track a side may not get the necessary results.
Plus, one must also ask the question, what if there is an expansion in the Test pool? Afghanistan may come into the fold and may even beat the lower ranked Test sides. The next year, you will have another country coming through and if they too are successful, it may open the door for others. Thus, there may be a danger of diluting Test cricket. While you do want more countries to play the classical format, getting them to come in one after the other may be a recipe for disaster.
The ICC may have to be very cautious while taking the move of blending in the Associates for higher honours. It would be encouraging to see them develop, but with the passage of enough time.
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