The cricket world cup is going on at the moment, and with it has come a discussion on the number of teams involved in the tournament that I feel shows something fairly depressing about the way the sport is structured at the international level.
You see, the group stages feature a number of teams (such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Kenya) which do not currently play test cricket. Yet because they are being beaten consistently by the major cricketing nations, there have been calls to reduce the number of teams involved in the tournament to just ten, presumably consisting of Australia, New Zeeland, South Africa, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, England, the West Indies (which only ever exists to play cricket, but there we go) and one other.
Aside from the rights and wrongs of this individual situation, I feel it is indicative of a wider problem in the attitudes of the game. Cricket is currently run as a sort of private club, focussing primarily on those nations considered good enough to play test cricket. Those nations receive a large share of TV revenues, and get a considerable say in the way the game is run.
They also get a lot of control over whether another nation gets to join them, and that process has become less about the standard of cricket in a country than about the politics of the ICC. Bangladesh's failure to win a game for many years when they were first given that status (and their current wins come, if I'm not mistaken, over Zimbabwe in the years before it withdrew from tests and the West Indies at a point where their first team was on strike) can be seen as evidence that they were given that status too soon largely to prop up a bloc of votes from the subcontinent.
Now we see moves to exclude other 'associate' members from even the major one day tournaments. This seems at odds with any desire to genuinely spread the game, and does significant harm to those countries on the cusp of that level of attainment. Many Irish cricketers, finding that they are of a standard to compete at or near the top level, yet lacking the opportunity to do so, have set about qualifying for England. Ed Joyce has played for Ireland, and then England, and then Ireland again. Dirk Nannes' Dutch passport lasted only so long as the Twenty20 cup before last did, before he reasserted his Australian credentials.
For examples on a national level, look at the Irish team as a whole. There was a burst of enthusiasm for the game there after the last world cup, with the result that several of their players could turn pro for the first time. Participation was up, yet they cannot go any further in cricketing terms than they have. Or take Kenya, which reached the semi finals several world cups ago. They went nowhere from there, and have now subsided back to minnow status. This is usually blamed on internal problems, but given the difficulties that routinely beset cricket boards the world over, that hardly seems to be sufficient. Instead, at least some of the blame must fall on lack of opportunities at the international level. If a child knows that he or she can go nowhere in the sport, why will they take it up?
The long term effects of this will be simple. The game will not grow to be a major sport in any country where its international players are treated as second class citizens by the game's ruling body. As other sports achieve prominence in traditional test nations that hitherto focused solely on cricket (and the effects of American sports on the various islands of the West Indies shows that it will happen) the game will decline. And all because a few members of the existing club want to keep it to themselves.