x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Be wary of minnows at World Twenty20 Qualifier

Teams such as Papua New Guinea and Italy may turn out to be giant killers in the tournament, which starts on Friday, writes Paul Radley.

Ireland begin their World Twenty20 Qualifier campaign on Friday as hot favourites to win the competition. Deshakalyan Chowdhury / AFP
Ireland begin their World Twenty20 Qualifier campaign on Friday as hot favourites to win the competition. Deshakalyan Chowdhury / AFP

This qualification tournament was supposed to be a foregone conclusion of Sebastian Vettel-esque proportions.

Wisdom accrued in the two previous editions of the 20-over competition, plus reams of other cricket, besides, points squarely to the fact the Ireland and Afghanistan have no serious rivals in this strata of the sport.

The only doubt would be over which of those two sides would win the final – but they were both assured of qualifying as soon as they landed on these shores.

And then Ireland – with their fully professional set-up and all their World Cup experience – went and lost a warm-up match to Papua New Guinea, of all teams, in Dubai on Wednesday.

The world has gone mad. Apparently there is a game going on in Mumbai at present – but this was the real cricket story of the week.

PNG, a country whose most significant contribution to the sport to date is as the answer to an obscure trivia question: in which country was England’s 2005 Ashes-winning wicketkeeper born?

Geraint Jones is back in the colours of his birth country for this tournament. It says much about the advance made by a country otherwise known internationally for its high levels of unemployment and petty crime that their cricket team is in no way reliant on him.

This tournament is packed with tales like PNG’s – of human spirit triumphing over logic. Like the Italian players who have to take flights to play domestic matches, given there are so few people who play the game there.

Expect Ireland and Afghanistan to fill the top two places. But cricket should get ready to welcome at least one colourful newcomer to the World Twenty20’s top table by the end of this month.

pradley@thenational.ae