Ireland relief after World Cup U-turn
IRELAND got more than they could have dared hope for yesterday when the International Cricket Council (ICC) not only reversed its decision to omit the smaller nations from the 2015 World Cup, but also expanded the tournament to 14 teams.
It had been expected that the ICC executive board would relent and allow the non-Test playing teams a chance to qualify for 2015, while sticking with its decision to reduce the number of teams taking part in Australia and New Zealand to 10.
That would have meant Phil Simmons' Ireland having to get the better of either Bangladesh or Zimbabwe -- and all the Associate nations -- to qualify, but by going back to the successful format of this year's World Cup, Ireland now only have to prove themselves one of the best four Associate members.
Although qualification -- likely to be held in Scotland in 2013 -- is by no means guaranteed, there was no hiding the delight of Ireland's players and management when the news filtered through from the ICC's meeting in Hong Kong yesterday morning.
"This is great news and a big relief too," said Paul Stirling, the exciting 20-year-old batsman who became the youngest centurion in the World Cup's 36-year history in March.
"To get a taste of playing in the World Cup three months ago and then realising we might not be back until I was nearly 30 wasn't good. All we wanted was the chance to qualify -- and that's what we've got."
It wasn't all good news for Ireland, though. The ICC have confirmed that the 2019 World Cup will be a 10-team tournament -- with only two qualifying places -- and the next two World Twenty20 events, in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, will feature 12 teams, instead of the previously proposed 16.