Millmow: Cricket's minnows are closing the gap but will be missing from the next World Cup

MIGHTY MINNOWS: Dawlat Zadran of Afghanistan celebrates the wicket of Sri Lanka's Lahiru Thirimanne during Sunday's ...
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MIGHTY MINNOWS: Dawlat Zadran of Afghanistan celebrates the wicket of Sri Lanka's Lahiru Thirimanne during Sunday's surprisingly thrilling clash at University Oval in Dunedin.

OPINION: 

The minnows are punching above their weight at the World Cup.

Ireland have claimed a scalp, Scotland are fit and focussed and Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates have taken higher ranked teams to the wire.

Perhaps the thought of returning to their desks and routines of life is spurring the associate lineups.

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Or perhaps the resources injected into the minor countries and the exhaustive qualifying programme to reach the main draw has prepared them better than before.

What ever the answer, their competitiveness has been a feature of the first week or so of the tournament.

Ireland chased down 304 against the West Indies and might yet be quarterfinalists. Scotland only went down by three wickets to New Zealand and of all the associates look by far the sharpest in the field.

The UAE consist mainly of ex-pat Pakistanis and Indians, who are living and working in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. They posted 285-7 against Zimbabwe, who took 48 overs to run it down.

Afghanistan are here against all odds and were mighty against Sri Lanka. Twice they were in the box seat, only to concede defeat with 10 balls remaining.

These plucky showings from the minnows are a far cry from previous World Cups when they were outclassed and out of shape.

Ireland aside, you often got the impression players were taking a month's leave from their office jobs, putting on some coloured clothes and playing for their country.

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The irony is just when the minnows look as though they are narrowing the gap, the International Cricket Council is planning to take the sword to them.

The 2019 World Cup in England and Wales is earmarked for 10 teams, the top eight ranked one-day teams (which must include the host) and the top two from a qualifying tournament.

It is therefore possible that none of the associates will make it, should Zimbabwe and Bangladesh be those final two qualifiers.

The associates have not been cut completely. The ICC's plan is to open up the Twenty20 World Cup to as many as 16 teams but narrow down the 50 over tournament to avoid a drawn out process to find a predictable quarterfinal lineup.

The reaction has been mixed. Some cite the Rugby World Cup, which gives everyone a go, others cite the 1992 Cricket World Cup as the best format, where the nine teams played each other to find semifinalists.

It is difficult to settle on the right answer. The likes of Scotland will improve with exposure against the higher teams but then these tournaments turn into a marathon instead of a foot race.

 - Stuff

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