As a new week begins, the cricket fans are all focussed on events in Africa. Suddenly, that’s where the headlines are coming from. Only, it’s not about the cricketers who desperately deserve it.

With the events in South Africa hogging all the column inches on sports pages around the cricketing world, a few hundred kilometers away in Zimbabwe, the ICC Cricket World Cup qualifiers came to a close.

The final was between Afghanistan and West Indies; the two teams who were expected to make it to the World Cup, making it to the World Cup, but under incredible circumstances. Leading up to the final on Sunday, there was drama – cricketing drama – that made for some fantastic matches. And on the sidelines, the teams’ competitiveness made the ICC’s decision to shrink the “global” marquee event to 10 teams look sillier with every passing day.

Around the same time that South Africa were polishing off the Australian batting lineup on their way to a 322-run win, Zimbabwe’s Sikandar Raza was in the middle of an acceptance speech that should, ideally, have grabbed the attention of every cricket fan. Instead, we were busy dealing with the aftermath of an extraordinary ball-tampering scandal orchestrated by Steve Smith and his leadership group.

Raza was adjudged player of the tournament for his all-round performances that took Zimbabwe to the brink of the World Cup, eventually falling short in the most heart-breaking fashion. And when Pommi Mbangwa asked him at the final presentation, if he was happy with the award, Raza let it all out:

“Certainly, not happy at all, he started. “I think this trophy will serve as a painful reminder of the dreams that we had and we couldn’t get it done. This trophy will also serve as a reminder for the 15 million dreams that we crushed.”

“When I started playing cricket, I thought it was to unite countries, players of different background coming together to play this beautiful sport. Unfortunately, you’ll see that’s not going to happen in next year’s World Cup. It’s certainly quite a tough pill to swallow.

“This trophy will also serve as a reminder of the hard work that Peter Borren and his Dutch players, Kyle Coetzer and his Scottish players, Rohan Mustafa and his UAE players, and all the other countries that came and couldn’t make it to the World Cup.

“Yes there were some good things as well. Congratulations to Nepal and to have their ODI status for the first time but this trophy will also serve as a painful reminder that two of our brother countries lost their ODI status as well and I wish them the very best of luck. Not much to say to be honest, Pommie, just a whole lot of emotions. Just a painful reminder to be honest.”  

This. This right here should have made the cricketing world sit up and take notice. This should have made headlines. This should have come as a rude reality check for everyone who loves the game and questioned ICC. By saying he didn’t have much to say, Raza said so much.

Today, we are still questioning the ICC, but for completely different reasons. Thanks for nothing, Australia.

Ireland, the newest full-member, also missed out on the World Cup berth but they at least have their Test status. William Porterfield, the captain, doesn’t have as much to worry about, as some of the other nations. But he chose to speak up as well.

“To some extent we’re lucky” Porterfield had said. “We’ve managed to get where we are. I feel sorry for Scotland, how it ended for them. For them to progress, it’s going to be harder.”

“We’ve got our pathway, as hard as it is, to keep drip-feeding money out to keep improving facilities and things like that, from the ICC. I feel sorry for a lot of other teams that are leaving here. Obviously ourselves and Afghanistan got elevated [to Full Member status], which we’re grateful for.”

Raza and Porterfield, like so many other captains and players who spoke during the course of this tournament, sent out a clear message that these countries are standing together, having each other’s backs, because they know they are being shortchanged.

Can you imagine what must be going through the heads of Raza, Porterfield et al today? Seeing the whole world debate “spirit of cricket” while these guys debate why they are even playing the game? At a time when the gap in quality between the full-time members and associates is shrinking at a rapid rate, the disconnect between those who live for a good payday from ICC and those among the elite couldn’t have been summed up better than by the events on Sunday.

But for the ball-tampering saga, there was some hope that maybe for a day or two, the plight of the associate nations will grab the headlines. Not unlike their fortunes as cricketing nations, they, however, have become mere footnotes.