Scotland's historic win over England highlights the flawed 10-team World Cup format

 
Felix Keith
Scotland v England - ODI
Scotland produced an excellent performance to beat England by six runs (Source: Getty)

If you turned on the television on Sunday afternoon you would have been treated to a blue-clad batsman flaying five red-wearing bowlers around a picturesque outfield.

Knowing that the match in question was between Scotland and England, you might assume the batsman entertaining the enthusiastic Edinburgh crowd by laying waste to the bowling was from south of the border.

You’d have been wrong. That batsman was Scotland’s Calum MacLeod, of Kent Premier League side Bexley CC, and the bowlers were Mark Wood, David Willey, Liam Plunkett, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid of England, the No1-ranked one-day side in the world.

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MacLeod, of the 13th ranked side, plundered an unbeaten 140 from just 94 balls. He clobbered 16 fours and three sixes by showing aggression, picking the gaps and sweeping the spinners.

His innings helped Scotland post a whopping 371-5 from their 50 overs before a nerve-wracking, see-sawing run-chase saw England fall six runs short and prompt wild celebrations and a pitch invasion at The Grange.

It was an instant classic and a famous victory for Scotland – and yet strangely it was tinged with disappointment.

This time next year the Cricket World Cup will be in full swing in England and Wales, with 11 grounds playing host to games. It’s an exciting prospect – but only for the select few.

The International Cricket Council has determined that for the cricket to be at its best only 10 sides should be permitted to compete. There will be 48 games over 46 days to appease broadcasters, sponsors and venues, but there’s no room for anyone other than the elite.

The top eight ranked one-day teams qualified automatically, while the rest were forced to scrap it out at a qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe in March.

Scotland v England ODI
Calum MacLeod plays his domestic cricket for Kent Premier League side Bexley CC (Source: Getty)

In the end, the ninth and 10th ranked sides, West Indies and Afghanistan, made the cut, but only just. Afghanistan lost their opening three matches before recovering, while West Indies benefited from some good fortune in umpiring decisions, with no technology available to reprieve their opponents.

Hosts Zimbabwe, new full ICC member Ireland, previous World Cup attendees Scotland and Holland, and rapidly-improving nations like Nepal, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong were all left by the wayside.

The 2019 World Cup will be the first edition without an Associate nation’s involvement.

As football’s governing body Fifa expands, moving towards a 48-team World Cup, cricket is contracting. The big three nations – England, Australia and India – hold all the cards and it is in their interests to play in a 10-team format.

This is despite Associate nations showing they can mix it with the big boys. And this is despite some of the best World Cup moments having been provided by the smaller nations.

A pink-haired Kevin O’Brien of Ireland scoring a wonderful century against England in Bangalore in 2011; Dwayne Leverock of Bermuda taking a magic catch against India in Trinidad in 2007; there will be no such moments in 2019.

Ireland's cricketer Kevin O'Brien celebr
Ireland's Kevin O'Brien smashed the fastest hundred in World Cup history against England in 2011 (Source: Getty)

“Scotland [are] proving yet again that reducing the World Cup to 10 teams is absolutely bonkers,” former England captain Michael Vaughan tweeted on Sunday. He’s right.

Scotland are a perfect example of a side thriving despite – not because of – the hand they’ve been dealt by the ICC. As Sunday’s game showed, they have improved dramatically, but they won’t be at next year’s World Cup because of a rain-affected five-run defeat by West Indies in March.

And while England are gearing up to begin a five-match ODI series against Australia this week which will take the number of times the two sides have played each other in the last eight months to 17, Scotland have to fight to host just a solitary match.

Ireland and Afghanistan achieving Test status, and their form since, has rightly been celebrated as a step forwards. But the difficulties the likes of Scotland have to overcome just to compete on the field shows there is a long way to go.

“It’s fantastic for Ireland and Afghanistan to become full members,” Cricket Scotland chief executive Malcolm Cannon told Sky Sports. “It’s lifted that lid and shown that the ICC are open to new members. That’s our ultimate goal and it would make a huge difference.”

But in the meantime Cricket Scotland is forced to work with one hand tied behind its back. In the last year Scotland have beaten Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and England, but how can they continue to improve if they are starved of opportunities?

“We’d love to be the masters of our own destiny,” Cannon added. “But owning broadcasting rights and big commercial deals is out of our remit at the moment. We’re working very hard to get that back under our control.”

Scotland v England - ODI
Scotland's win prompted a pitch invasion from the home fans (Source: Getty)

As Safyaan Sharif’s yorker thudded into the toes of England’s last man Mark Wood to seal Sunday’s victory over the World Cup favourites, thoughts quickly turned to the future.

Asked about the disappointment of not going to the World Cup, Sharif wouldn’t be drawn. “I’m not going to say anything,” he said. “They [the ICC] have seen it all today.”

Scotland’s players may have been diplomatic post-match, with none taking the opportunity to criticise the powers that be, but as they drifted off the outfield to celebrate, a refrain from the home fans did their talking for them.

“Are you watching, are you watching, are you watching ICC?”

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