Associate member country players in action during 2015-2017 cycle of ICC Intercontinental Cup - Images by ICC/Getty Images

The sporting pinnacle of cricket, Test Cricket, which is played over a period of 5 days, is something every cricketer wishes to have played before they hang their boots into retirement. Well, it’s definitely the dream of every cricketer, but players who belong to the 12 countries who get to play them currently, are the ones that can dream of achieving their ultimate goal of playing the format for their country. So, what about the ones who don’t have that luxury? For starters, there are officially 93 other countries who play the sport in two formats (50-overs and T20), but the chance to play the purest form of the game remains elusive. Has always been and will most likely be the same in the future as well.

Before Afghanistan and Ireland’s elevation to Full membership status in 2017, the last country promoted to full membership was Bangladesh in 2000. So, there was a healthy gap of 16 years in-between. What transpired in this period was the programme designed by International Cricket Council to prepare other top-ranked countries in the Associate circuit for eventual test status. The Inter-Continental Cup, a 4-day format for Associates, which was granted First-Class status played over a cycle of 2 years was fully into effect, which since 2005 was won mostly by Ireland (four times) and Afghanistan (two times). 16 Associate countries have taken part in the competition, which ran for seven editions, with the 2015-2017 being the last held edition.

Outside of Ireland and Afghanistan, Scotland are the only country to have won the title (the inaugural edition held in 2004) and finished as runners-up once (2009-2010), while Canada have finished as runners-up twice (2004 and 2006-2007) and Kenya (2005), Namibia (2007-2008), Afghanistan (2011-2013) and Ireland (2015-2017) finishing once as the runners-up in the tournament. Namibia, in fact, have the best win % (44.1) in the event (among all countries who have played minimum of three editions of I-Cup) in 34 matches played over seven editions of the tournament, after Afghanistan and Ireland.

Top Run-Scorers in ICC Intercontinental Cup (All Editions combined)

PlayerCountryTotal Runs
Steve TikoloKenya1918
Arshad AliUnited Arab Emirates1756
William PorterfieldIreland1743
Khurram KhanUnited Arab Emirates1730
Saqib AliUnited Arab Emirates1620
Gerrie SnymanNamibia1595
Andrew WhiteIreland1552
Mohammad ShahzadAfghanistan1457
Niall O'BrienIreland1386
Kevin O'BrienIreland1384

ICC issued a media release in 2018, asking for an expression of interest from teams who have competed in previous editions of the tournament. An ICC spokesperson said in 2019 that there were expression of interest coming from a few ICC Members, but it’s under consideration and discussion to see how the feasibility of the next ICC I-Cup may look like. In other words, pretty much doubtful at this point of time, if the hosting of matches has to be in a cost-sharing model between ICC and cricket boards participating in the tournament. A shame rather, as many deserving players in the Associate circuit will no longer have the opportunity to have played First-Class status games. A cricketing career with First-Class matches in the records is something an Associate country player could be well content with to retire with, rather than being known only as a white-ball cricketer or an ODI/T20 player for his country.

Top Wicket-Takers in ICC Intercontinental Cup (All Editions combined)

PlayerCountryTotal Wickets
Trent JohnstonIreland91
Umar BhattiCanada78
Hiren VaraiyaKenya77
Louis KlazingaNamibia74
Dwayne LeverockBermuda71
Kola BurgerNamibia67
Ahmed RazaUnited Arab Emirates67
Mohammad NabiAfghanistan66
George DockrellIreland66
Henry OsindeUganda62
Majid HaqScotland58

In a scenario where a country-level competition or model does not suffice and the I-Cup never takes off again, the next possible solution that ICC can offer or develop is the concept of GDS (Global Development Squad). The WGDS (Women’s Global Development Squad) programme has been a successful one so far, with players from Associate member countries getting the opportunity to play the top franchise squads from Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League and England’s KIA Super League. A similar programme for men’s with the top players in the Associate circuit (selection completely at ICC’s behest) getting the opportunity to play First-Class cricket against some of the domestic sides across the globe once or twice a year (2 or 3 matches in the tour) wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about for starters at-least.

Even if matches against domestic sides in Full member countries don’t work out due to scheduling issues, there is always a possibility for the team to have matches set-up against the national “A” squads. The idea at the end of the day being providing the exposure to the best of Associate member country players to learn the craft of playing the longer version of the game, if a similar structure like I-Cup for Associates does not take off in the near future. The only Associate member to have played a First-Class match last year was Nepal, when Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) visited the country and played a 3-day game. There are currently eight Associate member countries with ODI status and further 12 more countries with List-A status (though ICC Challenge League tournament), and quite more than often, the struggle is mainly with the batting departments to sustain for longer periods of time, because of the overdose of T20 cricket being at the limelight at the moment. A First-Class structure or matches with the status can do wonders for some of the players, which will rub-off when they play the longer version of the white-ball version of the game.

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