Cricket really does know how to stuff things up. Even while a sixth of the world’s population was basking in the glory of India’s victory in Mumbai, it was announced that the big boys had ring-fenced the 2015 World Cup. This, as you must know by now, means no Ireland. Thanks in part to Twitter, cheap outrage spreads more quickly than ever before. But so does genuine outrage. And, bar a few men in suits, that is where the cricket community finds itself.
The ICC has been getting the blame, which is largely fair (but only tells part of the story). Their chief executive Haroon Lorgat tried to explain the decision to limit the next World Cup to 10 teams by saying Kenya and Canada had been a let-down. I remember that logic: my 26 secondary-school classmates and I were all made to sit through a detention once because two pupils, who refused to own up, had been making animal noises in a PE lesson.
But Worldcup2015-gate (come on: it was a matter of time) is more than simply another reminder that the ICC is alarmingly content to preside over foul-ups. It is depressing proof that the ICC is curiously unreal – little more, as we’ve always known, than the sum of its parts. If the big boys say jump, the ICC jumps with them, then has to put a brave face on when it breaks its ankle rejoining terra firma.
No, the real crooks in all of this are the full-member nations who greedily ushered through plans to limit the next World Cup to the Test-playing teams. Now, I can see the logic of a tournament of 10 teams, because it means fewer mismatches and less opportunity for football-obsessed newspapers to yawn condescendingly. But to scrap any form of qualification is myopic, idiotic and self-destructive. How other sports must be laughing at us.
Two sops have been handed out, both with glaring deficiencies. The 2012 World Twenty20 will contain 16 teams, which means 20-over cricket will become the default format among Associate members (the consequences hardly need spelling out); and the riff-raff will be allowed back into the World Cup proper in 2019, assuming a) 50-over cricket still exists by then and b) the Associates haven’t lost all their best players to other countries, or even professions, that, y’know, actually value them.
In the meantime, we will have to make do with a vision of cricket which is scarily redolent of life in the 21st century: while the rich feather their own nests and those of sycophants around them, the poor bed down for the night on a piece of cardboard. And the poor being poor, there is little chance for redress.
Even so, this decision isn’t entirely about money. After all, TV and the sponsors would presumably be more attracted to Ireland, everyone’s favourite underdogs, than Zimbabwe. No, this is just as much about politics: Zimbabwe and Bangladesh both have full voting rights, and both are in India’s pocket. You don’t become the world’s most powerful cricket nation without knowing how to play the game off the field too.
Three years ago I spent an enjoyable two days in Jersey, soaking in the sights and sounds of the ICC’s World Cricket League Division 5, part of the labyrinthine structure that exists beneath Test level and once provided a route to World Cup qualification. The cricket wasn’t always of the highest standard, but it was inclusive, well-organised and had meaning. The distant dream of the 2011 World Cup underpinned everything.
That meaning has gone now and all for the sake of cash and votes. This week, cricket feels a little greedier and meaner.
Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail and you can sign up here for his weekly newsletter ‘the Top Spin’, which was named Online Column of the Year at the 2010 Sports Journalists’ Association awards. He has also been named as the next editor of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack