You see, I was looking at the three-team Interprovincial structure, and thinking what an excellent entry-level domestic structure it makes. Without the history of County Cricket, or the sprawling web of Sri Lankan clubs, or the budget of a Premier League, it managed to produce a season of good quality cricket for the players involved. The size was about right for the talent pool available, condensed enough for it to stay competitive and to be a proving ground for prospective internationals. More countries need this, but they don't have the money.
I ended up imagining the implementation of an identical structure for each of the top-eight Associates. For some it was easier than others.
An Associate player will typically not encounter multi-day cricket often or at all until they play in the I-Cup.
Canada is more difficult. Most of the top club cricketers are in the Toronto area, and any geographical divisions would likely lead to a dominant team coming from that area. But look at Leinster in the Interpros; despite having the strongest core of players on paper, they weren't unbeatable. Splitting the teams east to west seems the most logical solution, and it is already the one used by the National Cricket League. I'm just suggesting that the talent is more condensed. The numbers could also be made up by some top-end Americans or average West Indians.
In Ireland, of course, we have already seen how well it can work. This season of Interprovincial cricket was a big success, Though the North West Warriors were generally weaker than their opposition, they still managed to overthrow the dominant Leinster as the season drew to a close. Here, we have no changes that need to be made, except perhaps for the elevation of these matches to full first-class, List A and Twenty20 status.
Kenya has three key development areas: Coast, Nairobi and Rify Valley. Until they were bought up by conglomerates (somehow, the Rising Star Chuis doesn't have quite the same ring as Rift Valley Rhinos), these development areas fielded East African teams. I would advocate going back to this set-up and setting up a multi-day competition, although I also know how badly the last such attempt at a competition was in Kenya; there is no nostalgia for the Elite League Two-Day. The fact remains, though, that the standard would likely be pretty average unless some Provincial South Africans were lured in.
The Netherlands have a deceptively strong Topklasse set-up, where foreign first-class players (and even internationals, like Charles Coventry) find the cricket far from easy. I think that basing one team out of each major Dutch city (Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, all of which have at least one turf square), and allowing each a brace of overseas players, you would be able to create a reasonably strong set-up almost on a par with the Interpros. You could even make things interesting by inviting some overseas pros with Dutch heritage, like Scott Kuggelijn or the De Boorder brothers.
The final one of the present ODI countries is Scotland. To set up a competition north of the border would be a challenge, as all of the star Scottish players are to be found playing for counties south of the border. If Cricket Scotland couldn't bring them back, then the standard of the competition would be pretty weak, but if they could get all of the best Scottish cricketers together, and maybe schedule the three-day games to start on Friday so that only one day needs be taken off work, then hypothetically a decent standard could be attained.
What's to say that other Associates couldn't have first-class set-ups?
The last country in the Championship who I'd love to see with a domestic structure would be Namibia. This one is a lot more difficult, and a lot less likely. While it could be a hugely helpful way to graduate players like Shalako Groenewald from the youth teams to the national team without them spending huge amounts of time batting nine and not bowling, there is the money factor. Any such a competition would have to be played exclusively at the Wanderers, which is by far the leading cricket ground, and would have to be worthwhile enough for players to leave their places of work and set out on sometimes day-long journeys to cricket.
And how would all of this be funded? While RSA might get some exposure from their Interpro sponsorship, the fact remains that the vast majority of the structure was put into motion on the back of an ICC donation. A donation that must have been made with the utmost security on a strictly need-to-know basis, as I can't imagine the Full Members being particularly willing to hand over any of their private slush fund. To fund eight such competitions would be pretty damn difficult.
Although, there are the small matters of exchange rates, and cost of living. What might cost half a million dollars in Europe might only cost a couple of hundred thousand in Kenya, or less still in Afghanistan. Theoretically, if sponsors could be found to cover some of the competitions, the whole thing could set the ICC back less than one Ravindra Jadeja.
Some sensible management, and eight competitions could be run on less money than CSK pay Ravindra Jadeja.
Because I would do that too.
You see, by equipping these countries with first-class structures, I would be removing the main obstacle from them getting a chance in Test cricket, which some of them need. But I digress; my main point is that these competitions would be viable, and once in place, there would be nothing to stop them gradually growing. One of the arguments I often hear regarding holding back first-class status from some multi-day fixtures is to preserve the statistical record. I have three exhibits to counter that argument: Exhibit A: [LINK]; Exhibit B [LINK]; Exhibit C [LINK]. Despite all of the issues with those three particular fixtures, they all have one thing in common: first-class status.
It's time the ICC took some risks. Dish out some first-class competitions; lend a hand running them; watch those cricketing nations flourish. After all, I believe the talent is all there, but it has no chance to flourish. If the Intercontinental Cup also packs in, then hugely able grinders of runs like Rahmat Shah and John Anderson, neither of whom would be regulars in their national sides in any but the longest format, would be stripped of any chance to show their worth. Not everyone is a Twenty20 player.