Impressed ICC chief fuels Irish hopes for the future
The head honcho of the International Cricket Council was in Dublin yesterday and although he all but confirmed that the next ICC World Cup would be a 10-team event, he did offer Ireland hope that they would get more fixtures against the top teams.
The last time Dave Richardson was in Malahide was two years ago when he was among the 10,000 people who watched the one-day international against England.
This time he was taking in the qualifying tournament for next year's World Twenty20 in India, with about one-hundredth of the capacity in attendance watching the first play-off game between Hong Kong and Afghanistan.
The former South Africa Test batsman/wicket-keeper, though, was unstinting in his praise for the venue and admitted Ireland had done everything asked of them as they continue their climb up the world ladder.
"They are superb cricket facilities and venues in Ireland, and Scotland, and they haven't let the tournament down at all. The best judges in these competitions are the teams and we have had no complaints from them," said Richardson.
Ireland have already qualified for the finals in March by finishing top of their group on Sunday, but the six qualifiers will only play in the first stage alongside the bottom two ranked Full Members, a format which Richardson insisted worked well last time.
"It ensured the best teams are playing in the second round and gives every chance for games to be competitive in that second round," he said.
But when asked why the ninth and 10th Full Members are not taking part in this tournament rather than wasting money, effectively having another one in eight months' time, he said: "The rankings will determine who plays in the qualifier and who goes to the event. But the format of future World Twenty20s is not cast in stone. It might change with the first round not being a qualifying round."
But, for now, money talks and that, Richardson explained, is why the 2019 World Cup will have four less teams than the last two successful tournaments in 2011 and 2015 and six less than 2007.
"We have gone to market based on a 10-team World Cup, and although there will be an opportunity to discuss it at the next round of meetings (in October) I don't want to build hopes up," the CEO said.
"The bottom line is we have sold the rights based on 10 teams but the increase in revenue is significant and everyone will get the benefit. It looks very difficult to change that for 2019."
But with Ireland and Afghanistan promoted to ODI ranking status, they now have to set up their own fixtures against the Full Members and Richardson confirmed they will receive support from their potential opponents.
"The Full Members have all indicated a willingness to schedule matches and it is a fact that even series between the lower ranked Full Members don't make a profit or, if they do, it is a very small profit.
"So one of the suggestions - and we are having a joint meeting between the chief executives' committee and the board in October, which includes six Associate representatives (including Cricket Ireland chief Warren Deutrom) - will be that Full Members take responsibility in scheduling fixtures against Associate Members and if finance is a problem we will think of introducing an ODI fund."
And Richardson went further. He said: "Very long-term, the distinction between Full Member and Associate Member will disappear.
"But for the moment, we have Full Members for a reason; they satisfy the criteria of culture and have first-class competitions.
"However, the ideal is to work to everybody satisfying the same criteria so countries like Ireland can be a Test country because for Test cricket to survive going forward we need more members who can play Test cricket so that would be an objective.
"And if Ireland go to the lengths of creating a first-class system and eventually qualify to play Test cricket, there would be very little to justify them being distinguished in any way from Zimbabwe (currently the lowest ranked Full Member)."
Crumbs of comfort for Ireland's players, but at least it has been said from the very top.
Ireland to face the Netherlands
Ireland will meet the Netherlands in Saturday afternoon's second semi-final at the World Twenty20 qualifying tournament after the Dutch beat Namibia by four wickets in Malahide yesterday.
It puts them through to the finals in India where they will be joined by Hong Kong, who caused a shock in the first play-off game when they scored 16 off the last over to beat Afghanistan and set up a semi-final against Scotland.
Babar Hayat hit the winning two from the last ball.
Scores: Afghanistan 161-7 (N Mangal 53) Hong Kong 162-5 (20 overs). Hong Kong won by 5 wickets. Namibia 135-6 Netherlands 137-6 (19.2 overs). Netherlands won by 4 wickets.
Tomorrow's fixtures: (Malahide) Papua New Guinea v Afghanistan (10am), Oman v Namibia (2.15pm)