The ICC has come under fire after the cancellation of the World Cup qualifiers meant Thailand missed out on a place in the next cycle of the ICC Championship – the “Future Tours Programme” for women’s cricket, which ensures that everyone plays everyone else over the cycle leading up to the World Cup, with the top sides getting direct qualification to the next tournament in 2025.
While is it is possible that Thailand might not have gone on to qualify for the for the ICC Championship, they were top of their group with 6 points from 3 wins when the tournament was abandoned, so they were in a very strong position; but with the cancellation the ICC fell back on ODI rankings, ignoring the most obvious problem with this – Thailand don’t have an ODI ranking, essentially because their men’s side aren’t good enough to merit full membership of the ICC. So it was crushing disappointment for Thailand, while Ireland celebrated joining the ICC Championship as the 9th-ranked ODI team.
In terms of making this particular decision, the ICC were in a tough spot, albeit one of their own making – they had to do something, and short of drawing lots they didn’t have a lot of options; but the decision to use the ODI rankings was particularly bonkers, given that they have T20 rankings, which do include Thailand.
Whilst the decision to use ODI rankings was manifestly unfair, it is worth pointing out firstly that this isn’t Ireland’s fault – the ICC made this decision, and Ireland have a right to be delighted. More pertinently, had the ICC made the more rational decision to use the T20 rankings, Ireland (ranked 10th) would still have qualified ahead of Thailand (11th).
Thailand aren’t the only ones to have suffered – Sri Lanka also have a right to be unhappy, because regardless of who is (and is not) in it, the ODI ranking system is broken anyway. Sri Lanka are currently ranked 10th, based on the last 5 matches they’ve played, which were against England and Australia. Bangladesh meanwhile are ranked 5th, above New Zealand (6th) on the basis of the last 5 games they’ve played, versus Zimbabwe and Pakistan. So Bangladesh are off to the World Cup, whilst Sri Lanka are not.
This is obviously crazy, but it is what happens when you take a ranking system designed for men’s cricket and impose it on the women’s game; and that’s the real moral of this story. When men’s cricket took over the women’s game 20 years ago, the women were often given nice new kit. But the problem was that it was just small-sized men’s kit, which didn’t really fit. Eventually, everyone accepted that the women needed kit designed for women, and we now have shirts and trousers that fit properly.
The same is true of governance. Interestingly, one of the ICC’s current stated aims is to promote women’s cricket globally, with the USA being singled out as a particular target for growth; but what happens if women’s cricket does explode in the States but finds itself excluded from tournaments and governance structures because the men’s team hasn’t enjoyed the same trajectory? It is clearly an untenable situation.
We are where we are, and there is no going back to the days of the IWCC; but the ICC need to start accepting that men’s governance doesn’t fit women’s cricket any more than men’s shirts do.