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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Process is muddled but aim is clear for UAE – to qualify for the 2019 Cricket World Cup

Now there are just 14 teams left. Six – including the UAE – in WCL Division 2, which starts on Thursday in Namibia. Two advance from there to play in the 10-team Qualifier in Zimbabwe in March

Dougie Brown, coach of UAE team, during a practice session before the start of second inning of the one-day international against Ireland at the ICC Academy in Dubai Sports City. Pawan Singh / The National
Dougie Brown, coach of UAE team, during a practice session before the start of second inning of the one-day international against Ireland at the ICC Academy in Dubai Sports City. Pawan Singh / The National

Trying to figure out the complex system of how 83 teams have been whittled down to just the 14 that are left chasing the two qualifying places for next year’s World Cup can be headache-inducing.

Paras Khadka, the statesmanlike captain of Nepal, hit on a passable dummies’ guide for it this week, though. “[It is] like a Royal Rumble where every team will give their best in order to seal their places for next level,” Khadka was quoted as saying in an ICC preview to this week’s World Cricket League (WCL) Division 2.

Forget about the intricacies of an eight-division network of competitions, involving teams from Samoa to Suriname, who have often been separated merely by the vagaries of net run-rate.

It’s basically just an all-in rumble, where the last two left standing win the trip to the big show in England. And West Indies could yet be evicted over the top rope.

Scanning some of the names involved in the WCL competition structure makes cricket seem exotic and inclusive. Teams like Bhutan, Vanuatu and Ghana theoretically started out with a chance of making the World Cup – even before it was actually decided what the World Cup would even look like, and how many teams would be playing in it.

Saudi Arabia lost their way after players were refused entry to a tournament due to visa problems. Suriname failed to progress on account of fielding ineligible players. Uganda passed up home advantage for one tournament because of security concerns.

Now there are just 14 teams left. Six – including the UAE – in WCL Division 2, which starts on Thursday in Namibia. Two advance from there to play in the 10-team Qualifier in Zimbabwe in March.

Roy Cooper / The National
Roy Cooper / The National

Included in that 10 are the four lowest-ranked Full Member sides on the one-day international ladder – West Indies, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Ireland.

Which is momentous because it means West Indies, winners of the first two World Cups back in 1975 and 1979, have to qualify for an event for which they were – until now – guaranteed automatic passage.

It is undeniable that cricket’s top competition remains, more than ever, an exclusive clique. The top eight teams in the ODI standings progress straight to England, with just two places left open as a sop to everyone else. Calling it a “world” cup seems a misnomer.

That said, the WCL network can create compelling stories. Afghanistan’s rise through the divisions to the point where they were a match away from qualifying for the 2011 World Cup spawned worldwide headlines, as well as a book and a film.

None of the stories in this cycle have quite the nuance of the Afghan narrative. But if there is a Cinderella team, it is Oman, who have been promoted all the way from Division 5 to 2. Reach the final in Windhoek next week, and they will have to ask their employers for yet more time off, and book a trip to Zimbabwe next month.

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The UAE are in Namibia because they made such a poor start to the WCL Championship. Finishing in the bottom four of that meant they entered the repechage event in Windhoek.

They should be confident, though. Results improved markedly over the past 12 months, under the leadership of new captain Rohan Mustafa and new coach Dougie Brown.

The minimum aim must surely be to retain one-day international status. That would involve reaching the qualifier in Zimbabwe, and finishing as one of the top three sides there out of Scotland, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, and whoever else makes it out of Division 2. The ultimate goal, clearly, is a second successive World Cup.

“It will mean playing a lot of cricket in a fairly short space of time,” Brown said when the UAE’s place in Division 2 was sealed.

“Is it impossible? No, it isn’t. Playing competitive cricket is not something you can replicate anywhere, no matter how hard you try. Match cricket against like-for-like opposition is going to be critical for us moving into a world tournament.”

Mustafa, the captain, is optimistic. “The players are very excited to be given this opportunity to compete against such quality teams over a short timeframe,” Mustafa said.

“I have every confidence that we will do well in this tournament. It would be a fantastic achievement for us to qualify. It would a great morale boost for the team, as well as be a positive boost for the UAE’s cricketing future.”

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