World Cup Qualifiers: Bleak future beyond the dreams

While one of Netherlands and Scotland are set to book their ticket to India, the next four-year ODI WC gives very little hope for them and other other associate members
World Cup Qualifiers: Bleak future beyond the dreams

CHENNAI: On Thursday morning, Netherlands and Scotland will walk into Bulawayo continuing to dream of a place in cricket's highest table — a place in the 10-team winter World Cup in India. On Thursday night, for one of those teams, that dream will see the light of day. For the other, the dream will have died a violent death.

While this sort of winner-takes-all battle adds a definite edge to the match-up, it could easily have been avoided had the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided to expand the World Cup to 14 teams from this edition (the 2027 installment will have 14). But the ICC — one of the very few global sporting bodies who have preferred to ringfence its biggest property — have continued to opt for minimalism over expansion. Considering that is the case, it's remarkable that one of the Netherlands or Scotland will fly the flag for the Associates (a welcome return considering there were none in 2019 when the ICC reduced it to a 10-team event to suit the interests of a few nations).
During the World T20 in 2016, Scotland's then captain, Preston Mommsen, in one of the most brutal press conferences, lifted the lid on what it was to be a member of an Associate nation. "In general, it's tough to attribute our lack of getting over the line," he had said when speaking about the team's capacity to finish on the wrong side of close matches. "Since the 2015 World Cup, I have played one ODI... 12 months. So you tell me how I'm going to improve my skills and develop as a cricketer.
"Playing under pressure, being exposed to a higher level of skill... it all adds up. Every little percentage. Unfortunately that's just the way it is. I am not sure people realise the pressure. Every time you take the field, you are playing for funding. We don't have bilateral cricket. Associate cricket is about winning at all costs and unfortunately that's just the nature of the beast and it is a beast." 

Seven years later, Scotland, who lost all six of their group games in 2015, are less than 24 hours away from the promised land. But they are children of a lesser God.

Over the next four-year World Cup cycle, Scotland are not scheduled to play a single bilateral ODI against any Full Member nation. It's the same with the Netherlands. Considering the approach ICC have taken towards the game, it's not a surprise that these two nations have been shunned in this manner by Full Members in the next Future Tours Program.
While people mourned the loss of West Indies, the bigger story continues to be the step motherly treatment being meted out to these teams. Sumod Damodar, one of the elected associate member representatives and a part of the 20-strong ICC Chief Executives Committee, says this (these two nations have zero matches against FMs in the next FTP) could yet change but expressed his concern. "Because the ODI structures are set on a long-term basis with FMs automatically being in the fray, the fixtures are set much easier.
However, due to the upwards and downwards movement of AMs based on the standing in the Cricket League & Challenge, the AMs do stand to lose out as such. However, with the new high performance framework being finalised, hopefully, that shortcoming can be overcome. It is important to attempt to get fixtures for AMs who qualify for a CWC, to play FMs ahead of the event and outside the warm-up matches just ahead of the CWC."    
Forget the funding. For teams like Scotland, attention also has to be paid to repair basic equipment. On Wednesday, pacer Chris Barclay Sole, who picked up three wickets against Zimbabwe on Tuesday, raised a query on Twitter. He wanted his blasted spikes to be replaced 24 hours before a game that could decide how much money they have to play with in the next four years.
"We knew there were going to be tough games and come to a stage where we would be in a must-win game," said their captain Richie Berrington after the win over Zimbabwe. "We did well but it's a quick turnaround to the game against the Netherlands. We will take a lot of confidence but it's going to be a tough game. We take a lot of pride in playing for Scotland."
The Netherlands are in a similar position.  "The culture that we have built and the learnings we have taken through the last 18-19 months," was what Logan van Beek had said after the nail-eating win over West Indies. Now we have a chance to go to the World Cup in India and that is really huge.”

The stakes could not be higher. But it needn't have been like this.

Separate FTP for associates on cards

The ICC is considering a separate Future Tours Programme for Associate Members having ODI status which will be discussed at the meeting that is scheduled to happen this weekend in Durban. They, however, haven't set a fixed timeframe to ratify this.

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