At the half-way (ish) point in the World Cup Qualifiers out in Sri Lanka, the two groups are exactly where you would have predicted them to be: South Africa and India out in front, followed by the other two “Championship” teams, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with the “full-time amateur” sides – Zimbabwe, Scotland, Papua New Guinea and Thailand – propping up the bottoms of the tables.
And in the middle sit Ireland and Bangladesh – the two ODI countries which are not part of the Women’s International Championship circus. As we’ve already seen in the 10-team World T20 last year, these two are effectively in a group of their own – they cruised through the qualifiers for that tournament (which didn’t include any Championship sides) but struggled against the Championship teams when they actually got to India.
Caught in a Catch-22, their exclusion from the Championship means that they don’t get enough cricket against the top teams to really improve; but unless they can improve, they will never break into the Championship, in its current 8-team format, to get that cricket.
Ireland in particular are so close to being good enough right now – on their day, in home conditions, they could beat Sri Lanka and Pakistan, as well as Bangladesh, who they defeated in the final of the WWT20 Qualifiers; but for economic and scheduling reasons, these qualifiers seem mainly to be played in the subcontinent – the Irish players face wearying jet-lag, oppressive heat, and unfamiliar pitches, loading the dice against them.
Equally, if Ireland do pull it off – beat Pakistan and Bangladesh in the Super Sixes, and qualify for England 2017, which would see them play in the Championship for the next four years; that would leave one of Pakistan or Sri Lanka excluded, just as Ireland have been – it might even be the death of the women’s game in that country.
Rumour has it that the ICC were discussing the option of expanding the Championship to 10 teams, giving Ireland and Bangladesh a route forwards. Nothing seems to have come of it; but what we’ve seen in Sri Lanka proves that they have to go back and reconsider.
It isn’t too late to do the right thing… and the right thing would be to expand the Championship to all 10 ODI teams, including Ireland and Bangladesh.