x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

World Twenty20 Qualifier proves ICC is pushing the boundaries

Haroon Lorgat, chief executive of the world governing body, is proud competition is bigger, more diverse and televised for the first time.

Kevin O'Brien is one of the big-name players appearing in the World Twenty20 Qualifier. Graham Crouch / Getty Images
Kevin O'Brien is one of the big-name players appearing in the World Twenty20 Qualifier. Graham Crouch / Getty Images

DUBAI // Haroon Lorgat, the International Cricket Council chief executive, has called the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier in the UAE "the biggest development event in cricket history".

Sixteen teams from cricket's second and third tiers will play 71 matches at five venues in the country over 12 days, starting today, with two places at stake in September's main event in Sri Lanka.

The UAE tournament follows on from 12 qualifying competitions that took place in locations including Ghana, Slovenia, Nepal and Florida.

The previous World Twenty20 Qualifier in 2010 involved eight teams playing 17 matches over five days at two venues, while last year's Cricket World Cup, won by India, featured 49 matches and was spread over 43 days and 13 venues in three countries – Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka.

"The fact this qualifier's footprint, thanks to the tournament itself and the qualifying events that preceded it, touches so many places around the world is a great sign for the health of the game and interest in it globally," Lorgat said.

For the first time, a cricket tournament involving teams outside the world's top 10 will have global television coverage.

The ICC has reached agreements with its official broadcasters in Asia, Africa and the Americas to show six matches over the final three days at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

While the tournament lacks the abundance of big names the Sri Lanka competition will contain, there is a sprinkling of quality on show.

Ireland have Kevin O'Brien, who last year scored the fastest hundred in the history of the 50-over World Cup, reaching three figures from 50 balls en route to a 63-ball 113 that helped his side to a famous win over England in Bangalore.

"It is massive [for us to qualify] as people in Ireland and other countries expect us to be at every World Cup that is on," O'Brien said in the build-up to the tournament.

"With only two teams qualifying and with Twenty20 being so unpredictable, it would be stupid to rule out any team. That does bring extra pressure but we have got a very talented team and if we play to our strengths then hopefully that will be enough to come out on top."

Ireland are the pre-tournament favourites, having reached the past two World Twenty20s, in England in 2009 and the West Indies in 2010.

Their main rivals are expected to be Afghanistan, who beat them in the final of the qualifying event two years ago, Canada, the Netherlands and Scotland.

Papua New Guinea are boosted by the inclusion of Geraint Jones, the former England wicketkeeper, who has opted to play for the country of his birth.

Michael Di Venuto, the former Australia one-day international batsman, is lining up for Italy, qualifying because he has an Italian passport.

The sides are divided into two groups of eight with group A featuring Afghanistan, the Netherlands, Canada, Papua New Guinea, Hong Kong, Bermuda, Denmark and Nepal. Group B is made up of Ireland, Kenya, Scotland, Namibia, Uganda, Oman, Italy and the US with the matches being played in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, the Dubai International Cricket Stadium and two pitches at the ICC Global Academy in Dubai.