Most cricket fans would be currently following the World Cup, whether through TV for those lucky enough to have pay tv (apparently Channel 9 thinks us so parochial as not to warrant bothering to broadcast matches not involving Australia) or through the various websites that carry coverage and ball-by-ball commentary.
This iteration has not been without its great moments, and there has been something for everyone: exhibitions of captivating batting and some truly masterful spells of bowling. It may just be me, but this feels like one of the more open World Cups in a long time. Four or five teams are genuine chances of lifting the trophy at the end.
The pointy end?
There would be those who would say that the "real" tournament is only just beginning now that the Associates (and England) have been winnowed away like the chaff from the wheat. And, there is no doubt that the teams that have gone through are worthy contenders. While New Zealand are my pick for the eventual champions, India remain formidable. Their pace attack has always been their weakness but now their combinations look the real deal, and fast. Also, Australia may not be the champions of yesteryear but you'd be a fool to take them lightly.
On their day the West Indies can beat anybody. And the only predictable thing about Pakistan is their unpredictability. And, Sri Lanka? Well, Sangakarra is all class, the best Sri Lankan batsman I have seen and possibly their greatest ever. This is highlighted by the fact he performs as well away as he does in the sub-continent lifting him above the others. We have some great cricket ahead.
But for me, my favourite part of the World Cup is over. The part time cricketers are packing their bags and heading back to their jobs and families, and taking much of the joy that comes from cricket for cricket's sake with them. But, despite their elimination, the Associates leave behind some wonderful memories—and the obligatory upset we love to see.
It seems that it isn't a real World Cup unless an Associate manages to topple a Full Member. As much I am a fan of the Calypso Kings I was thrilled to see Ireland beat them. Of all the Associates, Ireland seem the one on the cusp of being real contenders, held back only by the lack of cricket they get against Full Member nations, and the constant drain of talent gravitating towards their more established neighbour. One can't help but think that if Irish cricketers had more of a chance to play at the highest level they might not be so quick to leave for England to try and make it there.
But, it isn't just the wins that matter. After, there were a number of games, even against the mighty Kiwis, where the rub of the green going a different way might have seen more upsets, a catch held here or a bail coming off there. But, for me, it is the unabashed joy that these cricketers bring to the World Cup that brings me so much pleasure to see. While they are no doubt all more talented than anyone you or I would ever play with or against, there is a touch of the club cricketer about them. For most of these guys, cricket is not a career, they go back to jobs nursing their bruises and have to find time to train and play outside their day to day routine.
But, more than that, it is their wide-eyed excitement at being on the big stage and rubbing shoulders with their cricketing idols that I identify with. How would your average suburban cricketer feel bowling to Brendon McCullum or Chris Gayle? Who would like to face Mitch Starc or Jerome Starc. But these players do, and you can see that there is no cynicism or sense that it is just about the money for them. They are there because they love the game, and who can't be moved by that?
That is not to say that there aren't some very good cricketers amongst them. There are players we might have already been familiar with like Porterfield or Joyce or Taylor, but what about Shaiman Anwar from UAE, with 311 runs at 51.83, or Samiullah Shenwari from Afghanistan, with 254 runs, at 42.33 (Speaking of Afghanistan those who are aware of their story must have celebrated with them as they experienced their first World Cup victory—if they didn't have a rock in place of their heart)? People have said with good reason that a team made up of the best of the Associates would be very competitive indeed.
With all that in mind, why is the ICC keeps trying to streamline the World Cup and give these teams even less of a chance to play on the big stage?
Cricket before coin
There is really no excuse. You might say that a World Cup with the Associates it dilutes the standard of cricket and creates lop sided results, but plenty of Full Nation teams get flogged all the time, and many of the Associates have been as competitive as their more established rivals. You could say that getting them to play too early, before they are established enough, damages their confidence, but it seems clear to me that the way for the "lesser" nations to improve is to play more cricket and at a higher standard. That's the only way they get better. Bangladesh was once considered a minnow but is getting better and better every year, and were good enough to knock England out this time. Sri Lanka were once minnows, but now they are on par with every one else. Even South Africa were once England and Australia's ugly cousin. History has shown teams only get better by playing better teams.
The ugly truth is that it comes down to money. The World Cup is designed to prevent the big teams from getting knocked out to early because that is where the revenue comes from. The Associates are dispensable, a country like India is not. If they need to cut out games it won't be the one that 1.2 billion people will watch. This has been reflected in the recent deal in international cricket that saw the Big Three (Australia, England and India) take the choicest scheduling while everyone else got what was left over.
The ICC need to find of a way of continuing to expose the Associates to more cricket against their senior competition if they want them to improve. Whether it is a two tier Cup with a promotion relegation system, or a 25 team Cup as the Little Master has suggested, I don't know. But, whatever it is, the ICC need to remember that they serve cricket, not the Big Three or the mighty dollar, and do what is best for the game. Otherwise, not only will cricket never be more than a niche sport played seriously by only a handful of countries, but something pure and beautiful will be lost. A World Cup where we don't see the likes of Ireland stunning giants, or Shapoor Zadran celebrating his nation's first win with a completely unselfconscious sprint of joy, will be much poorer without—as will cricket itself.
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. He is a cricket tragic, running a cricket club and a cricket association, while attempting to hit sixes and bowl legspin as often as possible
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html