Namibian cricket excelled to qualify for the ICC Intercontinental Cup but their achievement was subsequently rendered somewhat hollow when the International Cricket Council inexplicably changed the rules.
Before the tournament we were told that the top two countries would qualify for the Intercontinental Cup and the World Cricket League (WCL) Championship, which would create the pathway to possible Test cricket in future and qualification for the 2019 World Cup.
With an added financial incentive of more than N$3 million annually for the next two years, a lot was hanging on the outcome of the six-nation tournament which saw Namibia competing against the Netherlands, Kenya, Nepal, Uganda and Canada.
The competition was fierce and not much separated the teams. After a good start with wins against Kenya and Uganda, Namibia suffered their first defeat against Nepal, who also beat the pre-tournament favourites the Netherlands.
Namibia however reached the final when they beat Canada, but the second qualifying berth went down to the wire in spectacular style. Nepal seemed sure to qualify but they lost their last match against Kenya while the Netherlands thrashed Uganda to finish second and pip Nepal by the smallest of run rate margins.
The Dutch went on to beat Namibia by eight wickets in the final, but it was their brilliant performance against Uganda that was the highlight of the tournament and ensured its success.
As the two finalists, Namibia and the Netherlands had secured inclusion in the World Cricket League Championship and the Intercontinental Cup where they will play against Division 1 stalwarts UAE, Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea.
Kenya and Nepal, who finished third and fourth would remain in Division 2, while the bottom two teams, Canada and Uganda would be relegated to Division 3. Or so we thought…
Barely a day after the final, rumours started surfacing on Facebook that Kenya and Nepal would also be allowed to participate in the Intercontinental Cup and this was confirmed by the International Cricket Council on 28 January.
In a strange ruling they said that the top Division 1 teams, Afghanistan and Ireland would join the top ten Test-nations in a rankings-based qualification system for the 2019 World Cup.
As a result, Ireland and Afghanistan will no longer play in the WCL Championship and their places have now been taken by Kenya and Nepal.
One wonders why the ICC had this sudden change of plan and how transparent it has been, coming now after completion of the Division 2 tournament. Or, as a fellow cricket scribe Peter Della Pena wrote on cricinfo.com it has been a slap in the face for Namibia and the Netherlands.
“No one will be unhappy about more opportunities for more teams to be involved, least of all Kenya and Nepal. It’s a wonderful chance for Nepal, the fastest growing Associate, to continue developing. But the decision to include the third and fourth-place teams at Division Two should have been made before the tournament began. It cheapens the hard work done by Namibia and Netherlands to finish in the top two.”
He further notes that Ireland and Afghanistan’s elevation to the ODI rankings table has also created a schism amongst Associate members, which will make it more difficult for the others like Namibia, UAE or Scotland to qualify for the 2019 World Cup.
Since last year’s notorious split in the ICC, with the ‘Top Three’ Test nations, India, England and Australia effectively taking over the running of the game, the future of the smaller Associate nations has been quite confusing.
On the one hand the ICC has promised more opportunities and finances for the top performing Associate nations, but in reality, their opportunities are being curtailed, with the 2019 Cricket World Cup having been reduced to 10 teams from the current 14.
This was done to ensure more income from television and sponsorship rights, and more competitive matches at the World Cup, but that denies the great victories of Associates like Kenya, the Netherlands and Ireland at previous Cricket or T20 World Cups.
Of all the leading sports in the world, cricket is the only one that is reducing the number of teams at its showpiece event, which does not bode well for the development of the game globally, while making it even more difficult for the likes of Namibia to qualify for the World Cup.