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ICC wary of expansion but keen on cracking US frontier

Sydney: International Cricket Council chief executive David Richardson has warned of the dangers of the game "spreading itself too thin" but said officials were still keen for the sport to fully establish itself in the United States.

The 2019 World Cup in England is set to feature 10 teams, four fewer than are taking part in the ongoing edition where co-hosts Australia and New Zealand will contest Sunday`s final in Melbourne.

This has led to complaints from non-Test or Associate members of the ICC that they risk being frozen out from the sport`s showpiece tournament, with potentially damaging consequences for the future of cricket in their countries if they don`t have a realistic chance of appearing at a World Cup.

But Richardson, speaking during Australia`s semi-final win over defending champions India at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday, said: "I think there`s a slight change in strategy amongst our board in that we`ve been through a phase of trying to grow the game from 44 members playing to 106 members.

"Now we realise, let`s not spread ourselves our too thin, we`ve got Full Member (Test) countries, Zimbabwe being one, West indies maybe, where we`ve got to be careful that they don`t fall off the ship.

"I think the focus is on trying to consolidate."However, the former South Africa wicket-keeper`s words drew an angry response from Ireland batsman Ed Joyce, whose Associate nation side beat both the West Indies and Zimbabwe -- two of cricket`s 10 elite Test teams -- in the pool phase of this World Cup.

"`Let`s not spread ourselves too thinly`!!!!! That`s the attitude that`ll make cricket a truly global game. Blood is boiling @ICC", Joyce posted on Twitter.

However, Richardson -- who said the number of teams taking part at the 2019 World Cup in England had yet been set in stone -- defended the ICC`s plans for cricket`s global future by saying: "We might have a pool of 10 teams that are reasonably competitive at the moment, so we are trying to grow that pool."

Administrators in various sports have long contemplated the prospect of gaining a foothold in the lucrative US market, where the indigenous sports of baseball, basketball and American football, as well as ice hockey and the respective college versions of the four sports still hold sway.

Cricket`s oldest international contest took place between the United States and Canada in 1844 -- more than 30 years before Australia and England played the first-ever Test, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

But after its mid 19th century boom, cricket`s popularity in the USA declined sharply.

However, the presence now in the country of many immigrants from cricket-playing countries has led to talk of a revival, although US cricket has been rocked by a series of administrative rows in recent years.

"USA as an example, is a country that has enormous potential," said Richardson.

"There are more players playing cricket in the USA than Zimbabwe, and I think very close to the number playing in New Zealand.

"If UAE can qualify for the World Cup then there`s no reason why USA shouldn`t. So that`s going to be a focus for us in the next few years."

Richardson added: "It`ll be challenging because they don`t have the necessary administration and infrastructure in place.

"But I think if we can get them playing good cricket with good infrastructure, that might be the opportunity and the time."

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