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FROM THE BOUNDARY: West Indies should play to qualify for the Champions Trophy
published: Tuesday | October 3, 2006

Tony Becca

The fifth International Cricket Council (ICC) Champions Trophy limited overs tournament gets under way in Jaipur, India, on October 15 and the world, including the ICC, is hoping that it will be an improvement on the previous three.

The brainchild of India's Jagmohan Dalmiya - then president of the ICC, the Champions Trophy was founded in an effort to spread the game in the so-called third world countries and to find money to fund the game in countries that needed help to develop the game.

Apart from the first tournament which saw bumper crowds attending the matches in Dhaka in 1998, however, the other three in Kenya, Sri Lanka and England have been disappointing both in attendance and in the standard of play.

Poor standard of play

In fact, the standard of play has been so poor, the attendance so low and the interest so marginal that in comparison to the World Cup, it has been like an orphaned cousin.

The only ones who seem to remember it are the winners.

For those who do not remember, the first ICC Champions Trophy was won by South Africa with the West Indies finishing second; the second one was won by New Zealand with India finishing second; the third one was shared by India and Sri Lanka after flood rains had washed out the final on two occasions; and the fourth one was won by the West Indies with England finishing second.

Founded also to fill the gap between World Cups, the Cham-pions Trophy has changed its format three times. The first two times it was a straight knock out from start to finish and the third and fourth times it was a group format leading into semi-finals and a final.

In its bid to cut out the number of one-sided matches, to make the tournament more exciting and to convince India - which had threatened to withdraw from the next one because they saw it as a waste of time - to stay in the fold, the ICC, this year, has limited the number of teams involved to eight - the top six in the ICC limited-overs ranking up to April 1 and, after a play-off among themselves, the top two from the bottom four in the ranking.

Among the bottom four are the West Indies; the other three are Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and they will play each other once with the top two joining the big six and the bottom two going home.

Although the West Indies, even at their worse, should defeat both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and move on regardless what happens in their match with Sri Lanka, West Indians are unhappy, very unhappy, that the West Indies have to play these matches in order to qualify.

According to them the West Indies are the defending champions and should qualify automatically.

The strong becomes weak

While it is true that they won the tournament last time out in 2004 and while it must hurt them to know that the West Indies, the once mighty West Indies have to qualify for a cricket tournament, it is also true that two years is a long time - enough time for the strong to become weak.

And there can be no question about that. Even though they surprised the world and won the trophy in 2004 when they were just as weak, the West Indies, based on their performance and their position in the rankings, are weak.

Should the West Indies have gone through automatically as the defending champions?

I do not think so. Two years is a long time and although, as the West Indies did last time out, the weak can get up, perform and win it, if the tournament is for the best plus a few others who have to qualify, then the West Indies, as Brazil in the recent World Cup of football, have to qualify.

Times have changed and although in many respects it does not seem to believe so, it is good to see that the ICC, as FIFA did, has recognised that and has decided, at least this time around, to move with the flow.

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