Women’s ODI Status: The ICC’s token gesture

Is the conditional ODI status more than a token gesture?

Last week at the ICC annual general meeting, the governing body announced that it would upgrade several Associate women’s teams to ODI status.

On the surface, this looked like a progressive move. However, the announcement comes with so little substance that it appears to be little more than a token gesture.

Regular readers of Emerging Cricket are likely to be familiar with Thailand’s plight in the last six months. Thailand arrived at ICC Women’s World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe not only with a strong shot of making the world cup itself, but were evens – if not better – to qualify for the Women’s Championship for 2022-25, which would have guaranteed them 27 ODIs against top opposition over the coming three years.

Thailand, like the two other Associate teams in the tournament – Netherlands and USA – came to the event expecting all their matches to have ODI status as part of the tournament as a whole. However, their temporary status was inexplicably rebuked mid-tournament, and all their matches downgraded.

Nevertheless, the Thai women made a blistering start, beating two full members who held ODI status in Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. The had qualified for the Super Sixes with at least two points carried though. At this point the tournament was curtailed by the Omicron outbreak.

The three spots to the World Cup, and the two further berths to the Women’s championship, were then decided by the ODI rankings from two months prior to the tournament. This mean that Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh – the latter of whom Thailand had already beaten in the tournament – qualified for the World Cup. Sri Lanka and Ireland qualified for the Women’s Championship.

Thailand did not have ODI status, which meant they were not eligible for an ODI ranking. To have achieved ODI status, they would have needed to earn it at the preceding World Cup qualifier in 2017. It therefore follows that qualification to 2022-25 Women’s championship was based on results over four years old.

With their fate sealed by decisions out of their hands, one might have asked what could be done to make sure these circumstances never arise again. Awarding more teams, Thailand included, with ODI status would seem appropriate, such that all the relevant teams have an ODI ranking should a qualifying tournament ever need to cancelled in the future. And the Thailand administration certainly thought so: they petitioned the ICC for special dispensation to be awarded ODI status, but were initially denied.

The news that the ICC will award a number of Associates with ODI status does look like a good move. But there are several, large, caveats.

First of is the use of these rankings to determine who makes the World Cup qualifier. The ICC rankings are a famously poor system, both void of any mathematical nous, as well as being easily gamed to promote or protect a team’s ranking.

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The fact that there are no plans for an expansion of the Women’s Championship to accommodate these new teams, either though expansion of the existing tournament or by the addition of a 2nd division, is also an alarm bell. Having gained ODI status in 2017, but not reaching the Women’s Championship, Ireland played three ODIs in four years between 2017 and September 2021. These three ODIs came at the goodwill of New Zealand, who were also touring England. The cash-strapped Full Member simply couldn’t afford to organise more ODI fixtures, choosing to focus on the more tangible and accessible T20I format. If it’s hard for a Full Member, what chance does as Associate have?

Perhaps most glaring though is the total absence of detail behind this announcement. How many Associates will receive this status? Who will they be? And why will those specific teams gain status?

The who, and particularly the where, is important to how easily teams are actually able to play ODIs. Since many of the larger teams will focus on their Women’s Championship campaigns, Zimbabwe, Thailand and the other members will be reliant on the good favour of their neighbours, and each other’s already-stretched finances to play.

Let’s focus on the who: based on their recent record in T20Is and 50-over cricket, Thailand should be a slam-dunk to gain ODI status. After that it gets trickier. The next highest team on the T20I ranking are Scotland, who have proved competitive against the like of Thailand and Ireland in recent times. However, they did not play last-years ODI qualifier, after being eliminated in regional rounds which were played in T20I format.

Behind Scotland on the T20I rankings come PNG, UAE, Nepal and Samoa, who all have ratings of 125+. Each could make a case for ODI status based on their T20I ranking, particularly PNG who would have played at the ODI qualifier if not for an ill-timed COVID-19 outbreak.

But what of the Associates at the ODI qualifier? Netherlands and USA have both played 50-over cricket more recently. They too have a case to be upgraded to ODI status, even if they have lower T20I rankings (20th and 27th, respectively). Since the ICC has published no criteria for ODI status, who is granted it remains a mystery.

Where the teams who are granted ODI status are is equally important in the absence of a structured tournament. For instance, if Scotland and Netherlands were both awarded status, their geographically proximity to each other, and to Ireland. This means it would be easier to organise bilateral fixtures between the teams at a relatively low cost. The UAE may potentially benefit from being a major airline hub. However, the geographical isolation of the likes of Zimbabwe, USA, or Samoa relative to potential other ODI teams means these teams may find it difficult to organise fixtures on slim budgets.

In the absence of a proper structure for these teams to be included in, the ICC’s decision to award ODI status to a number of Associates feels like an empty gesture. It appears to be designed to sedate Thailand after they were cruelly denied a shot at earning their status at the ODI qualifier. To really offer change and growth for the Women’s game, these teams need to have a tournament.

A second division to the Women’s Championship would take very little effort or budget to create and would provide context and meaning to the decision to award status. A tournament paralleling the men’s Challenge League would be an excellent place to start. For example, up to six teams playing regular single-venue tournaments. This would give each team an equal amount of contextual cricket, which could be used to determine which teams advance to the global qualifier. To be even more ambitious, two groups of 5 teams could give even more teams the opportunity to develop skills in the longer format.

Unless they offer genuine substance, the ICC’s decision to grant ODI status to Associate teams will remain little more than a token gesture.

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