Stuart Hess.
JOHANNESBURG 
 Ideally, there should have been 16 teams at this year's edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup.

That would have reflected cricket’s growth as a global sport. But cricket’s not growing.

When South Africa made their debut at the World Cup 27 years ago, there were nine participating nations. Having just 10 teams in the 2019 version  the 12th edition of the tournament  is a reflection of the administrative greed that has been so corrosive in the sport.

Many have said that they have enjoyed this year’s format because of strength versus strength and all that.

And when Afghanistan were copping some big losses  especially the one against England  it was said that was proof that the ICC were right to reduce the number of competing teams from 14 in 2011 and 2015 to 10 this year.

Well, those commentators and analysts are all wrong.

Where is cricket’s growth?

Having qualifying events is not enough. A truer reflection is expansion in its most widely watched event and as we see this year, there’s been a reduction.

It’s easy to blame the lack of improvement among the minnows, but what role do the bigger teams play in aiding those lesser nations and improving them?

Afghanistan have faced the West Indies, Australia, India, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Africa a grand total of 24 times - ever.

Nearly half of those matches have been at the World Cup in the last two tournaments.

The West Indies are the only one of those sides to have faced Afghanistan in a three-match series, while they also played twice in the World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe last year.

More recently, Afghanistan have also participated in the Asia Cup.

Take Afghanistan’s 24 matches against those top-tier teams and compare that to the following: Between the end of the 2015 World Cup and the start of this year’s tournament, England have faced Australia in 18 one-day internationals; Australia have played India 18 times as well, and South Africa have faced India 12 times.

So who does the problem really lie with? Certainly not Afghanistan.

You cannot be praising this year’s World Cup system for being strength versus strength and then bemoan the lack of impact of minnows like Afghanistan, when the likes of England, India, Australia and South Africa only face them at a World Cup.

Under these circumstances, there is no way that Afghanistan will improve and therefore there is no way that the sport will expand, allowing for a more competitive World Cup.

Talk about cricket entering the Olympic Games has remained just that  talk.

If the race for the World Cup semi-finals this year pans out as seems likely, it will be the "Big Three" and one other  a devastating, almost disgraceful outcome for cricket given the way the sport’s finances are distributed.

Cricket isn’t a sport that wants to grow. Its administrators talk about "growth and expansion" to new countries, but they’re not serious. The gap between the Big Three and the rest is now larger than at any point in cricket’s history.

Go ahead and enjoy this particular World Cup format. But it would be better to call it the Commonwealth Cup because "the World" certainly ain’t playing, nor will it if the ICC keep this up.

@shockerhess


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