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West Indies, rivals scramble for 2019 lifeline

Harare, Thursday @Peoplesports11

Multi-millionaire and self-proclaimed ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle will rub shoulders with a battalion of teenage leg-spinners and a part-time bat designer when the 2019 World Cup qualifying tournament gets underway Sunday.

It’s the modern phenomenon of the globalisation of sport, although not in the manner that the likes of Gayle, and his estimated annual income of $7.5 million (Sh750 million), would normally recognise.

The West Indies, world champions back in 1975 and 1979, were the biggest casualties of the International Cricket Council’s controversial decision to shrink next year’s World Cup to just 10 nations.

Sixteen teams took part in the 2007 edition but just 14 graced the 2011 and 2015 tournaments. India, the sport’s financial powerhouse, played just three games in the 2007 competition, a woeful performance mourned by millions of fans and legions of business executives across the sub-continent.

Now, a differently-formatted 2019 and 2023 World Cup guarantees teams at least nine matches. However, only the top eight nations were guaranteed places in the 48-game, 47-day marathon in England and Wales next year.

So the West Indies, no longer in the world’s top 10, must rough it with newly-minted Test nations Afghanistan and Ireland as well as hosts Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, the Netherlands, United Arab Emirates and Nepal in a three-week qualifier from which only two will make the finals.

The ICC has long argued that a trimmed down World Cup with 10 of the best, only two more than the first edition back in 1975, is the sensible way to grow the game. But not everyone is convinced.

When the decision was announced three years ago, Sachin Tendulkar called it a “backward step”, even suggesting that the finals should feature up to 25 teams.

Interestingly, 2019’s other global team tournament, the Rugby World Cup, will welcome 20 nations to its finals in Japan, from a starting base of 16 at its inaugural 1987 showpiece. -AFP

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