In the early group stage of the T20 World Cup, two-time champions West Indies were knocked out after losing to both Ireland and Scotland. Ireland then went on to beat England in the Super12 competition and Zimbabwe - a team who has never before reached the Super12 stage - have recently defeated Pakistan, the team with two of the highest ranking batters in the ICC rankings.
Is all this just mere embarrassment for those losing sides or can we hope that this is actually a sign of more consistent competition to come from these associate sides?
The beauty of the T20 format lies in the fact that the shortest of spells can completely overhaul an innings and reverse the course of the match - who could forget the 2016 T20 World Cup final where England were on the brink of victory, only for Carlos Brathwaite to smash Ben Stokes for three successive sixes to steal the match and trophy away?
The margin for error is so unforgiving that the simplest of mistakes by the greatest of players can result in a complete turn of fortune in a match.
The most exciting of these twists in fortune tend to happen in the games where the teams are most accurately paired in terms of ability, but what we have seen so far this tournament is that those sides further down the ICC food chain are slowly but very surely clawing their way up the ladder.
On paper, it seemed there would be no way the West Indies would be flying home as early as they did. With such talent in their squad, such as Nicholas Pooran, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph and Brandon King, it seemed inconceivable that countries such as Scotland and Ireland could compete. Yet not only did these sides compete, they triumphantly won and proved their worth on the sport’s biggest stage.
As an England fan myself, I was naturally horrified when Ireland managed to beat Jos Buttler and his side by five runs via DLS method - how could a team ranked second in the ICC T20I rankings lose to a side currently sitting 12th, a side that only received its full membership to the ICC in 2017?
But while we lament our respective cricketers for seemingly being incapable of securing what some may naively presume to be a routine win, the effects of these stupefying results are far more significant than just an apparent shock for the likes of Buttler and Babar Azam.
It is a sure sign that the development of cricket in these associate or new ICC member countries is growing rapidly and assuredly. Ireland only became a full ODI and T20 member in 2018 yet they are already able to challenge the ‘big boys’ of the sport, and have put England in danger of not reaching the semi-final.
Similarly, Zimbabwe who were as of 2022 unable to make it to the Super12 group of the World Cup, have just beaten Pakistan. Azam’s side are now fifth in their group, placing them seemingly out of the runnings for a place in the knockout stages.
In sports where the disparity between sides is so vast, the excitement levels quickly evaporate as inevitable victory for one side becomes apparent fairly soon into the match.
Formula 1 offers a prime example of how the vast imbalances in teams can result in often dull and repetitive racing or expectations - we’ve only just removed one dominant force from the top in Mercedes only to be replaced by another with Red Bull while Haas and Williams continue to scuffle away at the bottom.
Similarly, England Women are currently storming through the Rugby World Cup, beating sides by 14 tries, while their supposed peers are left with a mere five points to their name found somewhere in the Australian mud.
Cricket has been guilty of this over the years with nations such as India, Australia and England steamrolling their way through T20, ODI and Test cricket to varying degrees. However, this World Cup is expertly showing us that these days may soon be far behind us, as those less-dominant countries begin to consistently challenge the teams who may once have been their biggest idols.
It’s understandable that these smaller cricketing countries, such as Scotland, cannot repeatedly progress in the same way given the funding they receive is nowhere near the same as their more established counterparts. In fact, the majority of players in the qualifying squads have jobs alongside their cricket careers in order to pay the bills.
Former Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer worked as a coach as well as running his own equipment company called Zeus Cricket in order to afford to play cricket for his country.
In 2017, shortly after the announcement of Afghanistan and Ireland’s elevated status with the ICC, Coetzer spoke of the confusion this has now given to countries such as his own who no longer know why they are competing: "It’s as if the goalposts have changed," Coetzer said. "The whole idea of the ICC World Cricket League Championship was to get yourself into the top 12-13 nations and then you would be involved in various other ODI competitions, but with those two nations raised to full member status, it almost nullifies the competition."
However, from the raw talent and explosive results we have been treated to at this World Cup it should show not just the boards and organisations back home that there is a reason to carry on their investment - it should also remind the ICC that there are still so many more countries ready to offer their talent in response to becoming a confirmed status as a full ICC member.
If this does not take place, as Coetzer pointed out, the competition becomes flat; teams no longer know why they are struggling for places in seemingly fruitless competitions and all the work these teams have fought so hard to create in their bid to compete with those at the top quickly ceases to be worthwhile.
The prospect of underdog success is at the heart of what makes sport so captivating - take Scotland beating England in that 2018 ODI, or Leicester City winning the Premier League title with pre-season odds of 5000/1 in 2016 - and cricket broadening its breadth of genuinely competitive nations can only be a positive thing for its future.