Ireland have been handed a route back into the next World Cup after the International Cricket Council today reversed their decision to omit the Associate countries.
The ICC have agreed to include four Associate nations, in addition to the 10 full members, for the 2015 tournament in Australia and New Zealand.
That means the next World Cup will remain as a 14-team competition, despite criticism that this year’s event was too long.
The ICC’s u-turn represents a significant boost for Ireland, who will now be strongly expected to qualify for their third consecutive World Cup, after establishing themselves as the best-performed Associate nation in recent years.
In addition to today's decision, which was made at the ICC's annual conference in Hong Kong, it was also agreed that the next two World twenty20 tournaments would be reduced back to 12 teams.
“The ICC executive board today reversed its previous decisions and approved a 14-team format for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 to be held in Australia and New Zealand and a 12-team format for the ICC World Twenty20 events in 2012 (Sri Lanka) and 2014 (Bangladesh),” the statement read.
“The board had previously decided in October 2010 that the ICC Cricket World Cup would comprise a 10-team event and that the ICC World Twenty20 events would involve 16 teams.”
The ICC also revealed the 2019 World Cup would be a 10-team tournament, with their rankings system used to determined the first eight direct entries. A qualification tournament will then be held to determine the final two teams to fill the numbers.
“In addition, the board confirmed that the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2019 would be a 10-team event with the top eight in the Reliance ICC rankings earning their qualification automatically with the remaining two places being decided by a qualification competition,” the statement added.
The news will be welcomed by Ireland, and fellow Associates such as Scotland and Holland, who had been left aggrieved when the ICC confirmed the next World Cup would be restricted to the 10 full-member nations.
Cricket Ireland’s public disapproval found support from large parts of the cricket community, after the Irish had proved their ability to compete on the highest stage in the sub-continent – most notably beating England.
The widespread condemnation led ICC president Sharad Pawar to call for a review of the decision at this week’s annual conference in Hong Kong.
The growing support for the Associates’ plight had meant that today’s u-turn was not unexpected, however, the allocation of four direct entry places was.
It had been thought that if the Associates were to be granted a route back into the World Cup, it would be via a qualification tournament, with the winner fitting into a 10-team tournament.
The ICC had looked determined to reduce the number of teams, and therefore matches, after criticism that recent tournaments had been too long, while some of the Associates had proved uncompetitive.
Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom applauded the ICC for reversing their decision, claiming that it was the right choice for all of cricket.
“It is a great day for Associate cricket, but for Ireland we have not yet gone through the hard yards of qualifying yet,” he told Sky Sports News.
“So until then it is guarded delight at the moment.”
He added: “The fact is the ICC board should make decisions which should promote sport globally. The directors have a fiduciary duty to do that.
“I think they understood that following the outcry after the decision they needed to revisit it. That’s exactly what they have done.”
Deutrom admitted he had been confident the Associates would be re-instated following the support they received from around the cricket world.
“What happened since the decision was made, was that a large number of people came out and expressed their own sense of indignation – it wasn’t just in the Associate world,” he said.
“There were more than 90% of ICC members, 95 out of 105, who felt disenfranchised by the decision.
“Ninety per cent of fans on a cricket website, with over 7,000 people polled, thought the decision was a disgrace.
“Ninety per cent of players in FICA’s survey, the Federation of International Cricketers, and these are guys from Test-playing nations, felt the decision was wrong.
“You had the ICC Development Committee, its Cricket Committee. There was a huge weight of opinion, not just from the Associate world, of credible expert opinion that felt the decision needed to be revisited.
“Obviously when the president (Pawar) put it back on the agenda for the board we were buoyed by that.
“Today’s decision is a vindication of all the hard work we’ve done behind the scenes.”