Small fish in a big pond!

Nishad Vellur

Kenya did it yet again! Hardly a week after being whipped by the Black Caps in their opening fixture, they stuttered to Pakistan, by huge margins of 10 wickets and 205 runs respectively.

This comes in the wake of ICC contemplating reducing the number of participating teams from 14 to 10 in the next World Cup. The move was more or less justified by the so-called minnows` performance in the ongoing mega event, with Canada crumbling to Sri Lanka.

As per ICC`s decision, a ten-team event promises more excitement and competition, thereby bringing down turkey-shoot matches. At the same time, ICC increased the number of participating teams in the 20-over tournament to 16 instead of the present 12. Australian skipper Ricky Ponting also backed the 10-team tournament in 2015. He said, "We understand the responsibility to keep the game growing.”

“For that, you need to bring on some of these small nations into the world of cricket. We want to see the game develop and blossom around the world. I have always been unsure if the World Cups and the Champions Trophy are the right place to do that. And I am not sure as to how much the teams actually learn when they get hammered in these contests," Ponting added.

But England`s Andrew Strauss is not ready to jump into conclusion. He said, "My view on this is to let the tournament finish first and then draw any conclusions that need to be drawn."

The debate was all but over. But the Netherlands` Ryan ten Doeschate ignited hopes of the minnows with his brilliant century and all-round display against England (119 runs and 47 for 2), and deservingly claimed the Man of the Match award. The century against England by ten Doeschate was the first ever hundred by a Dutch batsman against a Test-playing country in the World Cup.

The fact that the South Africa-born ten Doeschate`s knock was against a better opponent like England shows there is no dearth of talent in a team like Netherlands, but the latest ICC verdict on the associate nations prove otherwise. If the game has to grow in untested territories, the team and the players need a platform to showcase their talent. The idea of increasing the number of teams in World T20 tournament was to help the minnows perform and showcase their cricketing skills on the world stage, but whether it is the right platform for cricket to grow is debatable.

In the words of Steve Tikolo, the veteran Kenyan batsman, "Sri Lanka was not a top side and an associate team not too long ago. But once they started getting more chances, see what happened. See where they are today. It`s about playing more games at the top level. You only get better when you play against opponents, who are better than you."

Rightly so! For, these teams would hardly get to play matches against the Test brethren between two consecutive World Cups (2011-2015).

ICC`s decision would ultimately mean that associate nations like Canada, Kenya, Ireland and the Netherlands would lose out on the chance to play against bigger opponents. For instance, New Zealand and Kenya, other than the recently concluded match, have met only once in the 2007 World Cup with the former winning by 148 runs at St Lucia. However, no team can take them lightly.

In the past, they have staged upsets in the World Cup. In unprecedented fashion, Ireland showed that they could bite by beating the former world champions Pakistan and advanced to the super eights in the 2007 World Cup.

Kenya did a step better in 2003, reaching the semi-finals. Though these are once-in-a-blue moon incidents, it remains undisputed fact until they are exposed to bigger challenges and opponents, these teams would fail to climb the rungs in international cricket.

To improve the standard of the game of the associates, keeping them out of the 50-over format is not a viable option. By straitjacketing their participation in mega events like the World Cup, these teams would not only lose their perspective to play on the bigger platform but also would struggle to shrug off their minnow tag. And if not the World Cup, an equivalent tournament for the associate nations with a good amount of attention from ICC would do them a world of good.

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