In this time, the results for the associates made pretty pitiful reading:
The last edition in particular showcased everything good about ODI tournaments: a tight group stage that went down to the wire (with Bangladesh edging into the final on a head-to-head basis over India, despite an inferior net run-rate) that led to an even tighter final, with Pakistan giving fans the squeakiest of bums in a final-ball nail-biter. After a tournament as good as that, the administrators concerned could very reasonably quote the age-old adage that if it isn't broken, why fix it?
The four-nations format produced a classic tournament in Bangladesh last year.
- Of the four Asian teams in the T20 Qualifier later this year, only Afghanistan have the required combination of support and playing quality.
- The off-chance of a fluke win for a weak team over (for instance) Bangladesh could leave the Super-4s stage very lopsided and greatly reduce the watchability of the tournament. (See World Cup 2007)
- The opening round risks becoming a chore where four of the six matches played are more one-sided than a Chinese election.
So that option really isn't on the table. But it is still true that Asia now has an associate nation that is potentially able to at the very least compete: Afghanistan. Since their fairytale rise from cricketing lands of a Pitcairn-esque remoteness to ODI status in less than twelve months, they have consolidated back-to-back World T20 appearances, and have shown glimpses of competitiveness against Full Member nations. They are currently looking for more opportunities to play the major cricketing nations; what better way than to play four in the Asia Cup?
So that would be my suggestion: make the Asia Cup a five-strong event that includes Afghanistan. The ten matches and final could take place over about two weeks. The perfect balance would be struck between competitiveness and opportunity. That would be my plan, but my plan may not be the best financial option!