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The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifiers are here

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ICC_Cricket_World_Cup_QualifiersFour Test playing nations. Six top Associates and Affiliates. A battle for two available spots in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup in England. Brace yourself for a highly competitive ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier (CWCQ), which will be played from March 4 to 25 in five venues across Zimbabwe.

The ICC’s decision of shrinking the 50-over World Cup to a 10-team event has given this qualifying tournament a lot of significance. Most importantly, the involvement of two-time former world champion West Indies will attract a lot of eyeballs. This is the first time a Test playing nation as well as a former World Cup winner is taking part in a qualifier.

Meanwhile, for any cricket playing nation, a spot in the World Cup is the prize. Hence, the challenge will be stiff and, in the end, the top two teams will seal their spots in next year’s mega event.

With Nepal and UAE finishing in the top two at the recently concluded ICC World Cricket League Division 2, the ten teams for this edition of the qualifiers are now finalized. These teams are divided into two groups and top two teams from each group will get a chance to move to the final through the playoff round.

Let’s take a closer look at both the groups and discuss each team’s chances.  

Group A: West Indies, Ireland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, United Arab Emirates

West Indies are definitely the most fancied team in the competition. Despite missing some senior players, the Jason Holder-led Windies are the favorites to top this group. Due to financial reasons, four top cricketers — Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard and Darren Bravo — have decided to skip this tournament to play in the Pakistan Super League. However, the team still has experienced cricketers like Marlon Samuel, Chris Gayle, Kemar Roach, Devendra Bishoo etc. to achieve the desired result.

After West Indies, William Porterfield-led Ireland are the second strongest side (on paper) in the group. They have selected an experienced outfit as eight cricketers in the 15-member squad have played 100 or more ODIs. Having attained Test status, the expectations will be high from the Irish boys. In the recent preparatory tournament, Ireland have dominated and they will be looking to carry that form to this edition of CWCQ.

Peter Borren’s Netherlands will be a dark horse from Group A. They qualified for this CWCQ after a top finish at the ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Championship. However, in Zimbabwe, they need to play out of their skins to get past the big boys.

In terms of qualification, not much is expected from Papua New Guinea and the United Arab Emirates. But on their day, these teams can be a party spoiler for the others. Don’t be surprised if they manage to pull off an upset or two.  

Group B: Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Scotland, Nepal, Hong Kong

From Group B, Afghanistan will be the team to watch out for. Fresh from their 4-1 series win against Zimbabwe in Dubai, the Asghar Stanikzai-led team should be confident about their chances of their second World Cup qualification. They have a spirited team, which has created a lot of headlines around the world in the recent past. It helps that they are very much accustomed to the conditions in Zimbabwe, where they have won a couple of bilateral 50-over series in the past few years.

In this edition of CWCQ a lot of focus will be on their spin duo of Rashid Khan and 16-year-old mystery spinner Mujeeb Zadran. Afghan fans will also get to watch flamboyant wicketkeeper batsman Mohammad Shahzad in action. After missing most of the last year due to an ICC suspension, he is making a comeback in national colours.

Hosts Zimbabwe are the second favorite team from this group. Having featured in the last nine editions of Cricket World Cup, they will be desperate to book their spot for next year’s competition. This time they will need to play their best cricket to get there.

Zimbabwe are boosted by the return of top batsman Brendan Taylor, who took a two-and-a-half-year break from internationals to feature in county cricket before coming back to the fold in October 2017. Going into this challenging tournament, the Graeme Cremer-led side can take heart from their series win against Sri Lanka last year.

Scotland featured in the last world cup in Down under, but this time things are looking quite tough for them. Kyle Coetzer's team needs to get past the mighty Afghans or the inspired Zimbabweans at the group stage in order to have a hope for a spot in next year’s World Cup. But this team has the ability to surprise opponents.

Nepal and Hong Kong are the least fancied teams from this group, but taking them lightly can be a huge blunder, as we have seen in the 2016 edition of the World T20. A lot of eyeballs will be on 16-year old Nepal leggie Sandeep Lamichhane, who recently bagged an Indian Premier League contract. Meanwhile Hong Kong will miss their star batsman Mark Chapman, who has now shifted to Auckland and already made his debut for the Blackcaps in the T20 format.

Whatever way things play out, we are in for an exciting contest and an intense battle between bat and ball.

 

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Sandipan Banerjee is a freelance cricket journalist by profession and admirer of this great sport b...

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