One outcome from this weeks ICC's Annual Conference appears to be limiting the number of participants in the One Day and Twenty 20 to 10 team's with the 8 highest ranked teams in the world qualifying automatically for both competitions and the remaining 2 places being earned through qualification competitions.
All of this makes Irelands stated aim of being ranked in the top 8 of world ODI cricket by 2015 even more important. While in principle I have no major issue with the equity of such a qualification system (though I do believe the Twenty 20 competition should include 16 teams) the current fixture list makes changes in rankings between positions 12 and 8 and more especially 10 and 11 in ODI cricket about as likely as penguins migrating to Mexico or Bangladesh for that matter.
As long as Ireland and other associates are only scheduled to play themselves and rely on full member nations to accept fixtures which may impinge on their own funding or ranking, breaking into the top of eight of either game format will likely prove an impossibility for associate nations. What I'm referring to indirectly is the unwillingness of lower ranked full member countries to grant tours or host tours with associate nations which may have a detrimental effect on their own rankings and cases for future ICC funding. An example of this behaviour would be the Bangladesh Cricket Board's refusal in 2012 to include ODI's in their tour of Ireland and their outright refusal in 2013 to tour Ireland despite a gap in international fixtures of almost 6 months. Zimbabwe for their part have also consistently refused to tour or host Ireland an inexplicable situation given their own lack of fixtures on the future tours program. Cricket Ireland judging by the confidence expressed in their own media releases on the subject appear to have had the phone ring out one time too many when it comes to arranging fixtures with the two full members mentioned above.
A solution to the impasse which may suit full members and associates alike would be for tours with sides immediately above or below a ranked side to be mandatory within a 2 year period. These tours could be scheduled each August (when the ICC rankings are updated) but not necessarily in August with tours in the first year being given to sides ranked in even numbers and tours in the second year being given to sides ranked in odd numbers. A minimum of three ODI matches and one Twenty 20 International could be the suggestion with these mandatory fixtures occurring in years where major ICC one day competitions are not scheduled (eg. 2017,2018,2021,2022).
The carrot for a nation like Bangladesh would be that with breaking into the top 8 becoming more and more important fixtures against the team ranked directly above them could prove invaluable. Currently Bangladesh are not scheduled to play the West Indies the 8th ranked ODI side till 2018. For Zimbabwe the opportunity to move up through the rankings should they improve sufficiently should on paper at least prove attractive. For the ICC such a series could prove more attractive than some of the one sided games currently arranged while also making their rankings system a little more liquid and tournament qualification paths a little more principled. Unfortunately for the ICC it may also press a certain associates case for full membership.