Champions Trophy misdirection opens window for the Dutch

The surprise restructuring of qualification for the ICC Champions Trophy offers the Dutch an opportunity to secure more fixtures against the top ranked sides

It was such a bizarre series of events you might have thought it was a practical joke. The sudden revelation that the qualifying procedure for the ICC Champions Trophy had changed, at least from the general expectations of the majority of the cricketing public, caught most off-guard.

In a nutshell, qualification for the ODI tournament, scheduled for February 2025 in Pakistan, was expected to feature the hosts and the next seven ranked sides on the ODI rankings at a cutoff date in late 2024. Instead, the ICC’s chosen structure is the hosts and the next top 7 sides at the ongoing Cricket World Cup. A strange decision to make the ICC’s flagship trophy a qualifier for a lesser event, but still likely an upgrade from the ranking system.

This announcement, coming 60% of the way through the de facto qualifying tournament, shocked and surprised most. But even more surprising was that this decision was made at an ICC board meeting in late 2021, but the decision was so poorly communicated that even the majority of teams were unaware of the criteria before yesterday’s announcement. In fact it took a throwaway comment from Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan in a press conference before anyone joined the dots and started asking questions of the ICC.

The cause of this communication breakdown is unclear. The decision was made at an ICC board meeting meaning representatives of the full members should have been present and able to communicate back to their boards. Were all the boards represented? Did they forget to minute the meeting and circulate the outcome? Were the larger boards so hubristic that they assumed they would qualify anyway? Perhaps we will never know, but the decision certainly wasn’t communicated to fans and journalists at the time, and many of the players and coaches at the World Cup didn’t know either.

The consequences of the World Cup being the qualifying tournament for the Champions Trophy are nonetheless far reaching. For teams such as the West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland, who did not make the World Cup, any hopes of qualifying on rankings, no matter how slim, were instantly dashed. Whether or not they knew before their elimination is unclear but the teams and boards will no doubt feel aggrieved by the announcement and its timing.

In the context of the World Cup, the effect of the announcement adds some extra drama to the final third of the group stage. With two semi-finalists as good as locked in, and five teams all but out of the running, the extra level of qualification effectively removes a number of dead-rubbers that would have plagued the final two weeks of group games. It means that England and Bangladesh, who have had particularly underwhelming tournaments, need to raise their level in their last three games if they are to qualify.

But this is most important for the Netherlands. Sitting 8th on the table at the time of writing, the Dutch have an opportunity to qualify for yet another ICC tournament after two wins in their first six games.

The scrapping of the ODI Super League left the Dutch cold. They played 24 ODIs against full member nations over a two year period, but were all but left off the 2023-2027 Future Tours Programme in its absence. Their appearance at the World Cup are therefore the last ODIs against the top teams the Dutch have scheduled in the next four years.

Qualification for the Champions Trophy would be a seismic achievement for the Dutch, offering a minimum three ODIs against the top teams they would otherwise struggle to schedule. Their success may even encourage the major nations to schedule bilateral series against the Netherlands at home or away, outside the current FTP. Most of all, it would act as a symbolic blow to the ICC’s structures which appear designed to make it as difficult as possible for associates to break into.

For the Netherlands to qualify, it would likely take one more win from their remaining three games. With high-flying Afghanistan, and table-toppers India still to come, their match against a struggling England side in Pune may be an effective qualifier for the Champions Trophy.

As is becoming customary, if the Dutch are going to do it, they’re going to earn it out on the pitch.

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