Yes, having to eat one’s own words is one of the greatest things about the risky business of predicting results in sport. More so, when the proverbial underdog springs a stunning upset, riding on the back of a spectacular assault by one batsman as Kevin O’Brien did for Ireland against England in Bangalore on Wednesday evening.
On a show on All India Radio’s FM Gold, I had said England would win its ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 group B match against Ireland quite comfortably. In fact, I had even said that I wish this was a football contest between teams from the two nations. And that sounded a darn good thing to say when Ireland was down at 111 for five in the 25th over, chasing 328 for victory.
What a lovely innings Kevin O’Brien then played, unleashing some wonderful strokes that took the England attack apart with a century off just 50 deliveries. And what wonderful support he had from the likes of Alex Cusak and John Mooney as the team coasted home with five deliveries to spare. Ireland, epecially Kevin O’Brien deserve all the praise for that the stunning performance on Wednesday.
Yet, when I read that the victory sends a message to ICC around its decision to reduce the number of teams in the next edition of the World Cup to 10, I cannot help smiling. Ireland made it to the Super Eights in the World Cup in 2007 on the basis of its victory over Pakistan and a tie with Zimbabwe. In the Super Eights, it beat Bangladesh and lost six games.
I have maintained that the minnows have watered down the quality of cricket and lowered the brand equity of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Of course, the Netherlands put up a gallant show against England — what is it about England that it has made each of its three games in the World Cup memorable? — but the minnows have only been bringing up the numbers rather than be competitive.
Sri Lanka became the first associate member of ICC to beat a full member in the World Cup when it defeated India by 47 runs at Old Trafford, Manchster, in 1979. We know that in two and a half years’ time, Sri Lanka was playing its Test match. And, we know how well Sri Lanka has evolved as a Test team. Can the same be said of Bangladesh? The 2003 semifinalist, Kenya, is also case in point. Instead of progressing, its standards have only been on an eternal slide.
What of Ireland since its victory over Bangladesh in the 2007 World Cup? Going into this year’s edition, it has played all of 42 ODIs in four years, including two against the West Indies and just one each against Australia, England, India, New Zealand and South Africa and none against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Is that how much exposure a team must have before it steps into the World Cup cauldron?
The Cricket World Cup should not be the platform on which teams like Ireland and the Netherlands, Canada and even Kenya gain exposure. If the ICC is really keen on developing cricket in these lands, it must ensure that their teams get to play a lot more at home and away — against the big sides and even their A teams. Else, we will only get to see an upset once in a while. And one Swallow never makes a summer, does it?