ICC is curbing Irish World Cup dream, says Andrew White
As soon as it was known that the decision to make the next World Cup in England a 10-team event was not even discussed at last week's ICC Annual Conference, the tweets started to come in from 'angry of Ireland'.
Kevin O'Brien, who hit the fastest ever century in the event's history in Ireland's stunning victory over England in 2011, led the way: "Will the ICC try and take away my world record? #closedshop #eliteclub #tenteamworldcup," he wrote.
Andrew Balbirnie, who at 24-years-old played in all six World Cup games this year, added: "Playing in #cwc15 was a dream come true & the best two months of my life. Why are you taking that away from young cricketers #ICC?"
It seems inevitable that the decision will now be rubber stamped and announced at the next ICC board meeting in October with the 'get-out' clause that there will be a qualifying tournament for the event in which two of the 10 Full Member nations will also have to compete.
But as Andrew White, a veteran of Ireland's first two World Cup finals, says: "Suddenly our appearance at future events is more difficult to achieve."
He describes the ICC's decision as short-sighted.
"It's disappointing for someone who has been part of the journey and when you retire your hope is that the people coming behind have the same opportunity that I had," said White.
"It doesn't rule us out of the World Cup - so it's not all doom and gloom - but the barriers in place are tough ones and while we all believe we can get through to the finals again, it is disappointing after all the work that has gone on in the last 10-12 years to be put in that position where in any other sport we would be there.
"Every other sport is expanding and how ICC cannot see the benefits that Ireland in particular have brought to the last three World Cups is beyond me. We have lit up all three with the support we brought, never mind the players, so at the end of the day if Ireland are not at the next World Cup it is ICC's loss."
White played all but one of Ireland's nine games at their first World Cup in 2007, bowling the final over which earned them a tie in their debut game against Zimbabwe which made the tournament sit up and take notice, but it was the only two games he played four years ago in Bangladesh and India that he sincerely hopes the players coming through have a chance to emulate.
"The memories I have taken from my two World Cups are lifelong. It is the pinnacle of any player's career and it is a sad day when the ICC try to prevent other players trying to achieve that dream," said the 34-year-old who retired from international cricket last year.
"The two games I played in the 2011 World Cup were against the host nations and being out in the middle waiting for Sachin Tendulkar to come to bat in Bangalore, the atmosphere was just spine-tingling."
The ICC have dangled the carrot of Test cricket in front of Ireland and the other seven leading Associates - the winners of the Intercontinental Cup will play a four-match series with Test status as the prize - but White says it should not be seen as a consolation.
"The avenue to the top tier should not be straightforward but it should certainly be easier than it is, especially as Ireland and Afghanistan have proved over a period of time they are, by a distance, the two strongest Associate nations. A two-tier Test system should be an option ALONG WITH more teams in the ICC World Cup and more in the World Twenty20. It's not difficult to organise!"
The qualifying tournament for the World T20s is Ireland's next assignment but even though it is a case of when (not if) they make the finals this month, it only gets them to the first stage of the tournament against two other Full Members. They then have to win three matches to get into the tournament proper alongside the top eight, something they failed to achieve last time.
"There's plenty to play for but we have to be good enough and we have to prove that. The other Associates are getting better and it's going to be a test and we have to make sure we are there," added White.
IRELAND play warm-up games against UAE and Oman on Monday and Tuesday afternoon (2.15pm) at Stormont ahead of the first of seven group games, on Friday July 10. A full preview will appear in these pages next week.