In a five-division race that began at Jersey in May 2016, six evenly matched teams are entering the final turn at this week’s WCL Division Two tournament, hoping to be one of the first two to cross the finish line. A top-two finish earns them a spot at next month’s 10-team World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, getting them one step closer to the 2019 World Cup in England, but a bottom-two finish relegates them to Division Three.
Following Division Five in Jersey, teams have had to navigate through Division Four in Los Angeles and Division Three in Uganda leading to one more World Cricket League hurdle in Namibia. Here’s how each team shapes up for the round-robin event in Windhoek:
Fifth in the WCL Championship, relegated to Division Two
Some of the east African side’s results in the WCL Championship – wins over Hong Kong and tournament champion Netherlands – show they are more than capable of being a strong competitor should they advance to Zimbabwe. However, they are playing in Division Two because of their wild inconsistency.
The biggest positive for Kenya is that they swept both matches in Namibia during the WCL Championship, giving them a leg up with their experience in local conditions. Captain Rakep Patel, Collins Obuya and Irfan Karim all scored more than 300 runs in the WCL Championship and are expected to have strong tournaments on the traditionally high-scoring pitches of Windhoek.
Sixth in WCL Championship, relegated to Division Two
The only side with ODI status in this event, UAE are under heavy pressure to make it to Zimbabwe, failing which they lose their ODI status until 2022 at the earliest. UAE struggled early in the WCL Championship trying to recover from the retirement of Khurram Khan, but found their feet midway through the competition and finished by winning four of their final six matches, including a series split in Namibia, a win over Papua New Guinea and a sweep of Nepal in Abu Dhabi. Most recently, they knocked off a target of 300 against Scotland to pull off their highest successful ODI chase.
Shaiman Anwar did the bulk of UAE’s scoring for much of the WCL Championship, finishing sixth overall with 431 runs. Adnan Mufti and Ghulam Shabber lightened the burden by coming through with big scores in the most-recent series against Nepal while Rameez Shahzad propelled the record chase against Scotland with his maiden ODI ton. A balanced bowling unit, featuring the opening pace pair of Mohammad Naveed and Zahoor Khan, makes up for the absence of Amjad Javed. The spin combo of legspinner Imran Haider, left-arm spinner Ahmed Raza and captain Rohan Mustafa completes the tournament’s most balanced attack.
Seventh in WCL Championship, relegated to Division Two
After scoring two wins at the 2014 World T20 against Afghanistan and Hong Kong, Nepal has struggled to stay afloat in the top tier of Associate cricket. Of their opponents in this event, they can take consolation from the fact that they swept Namibia for half of their four wins in the WCL Championship, though that series win was achieved in Kathmandu. They also have positive memories of the last time they were in Namibia at WCL Division Two in 2015, when they secured a spot in the WCL Championship despite a last-day stumble.
While the captain and vice-captain duo of Paras Khadka and Gyanendra Malla often get most of the plaudits for their batting acumen, middle-order finisher Sharad Vesawkar actually led the team in runs during the WCL Championship, with 415 runs at an average of 51.87. On the bowling side, spin has been Nepal’s strength over the years with the left-arm tandem of Basant Regmi and Shakti Gauchan. However, most of the attention at Division Two will be on teenage legspinner Sandeep Lamichhane, who garnered global attention last month after being taken by Delhi Daredevils at the IPL auction.
Eighth in WCL Championship, relegated to Division Two
The tournament hosts only managed to win three out of 14 games in the WCL Championship, but two of those – over Hong Kong and Scotland – had a significant impact on the final standings at the top of the table. In particular, the win in Edinburgh showcased what Namibia are capable of when operating at full strength. A rare appearance from Otago allrounder Christi Viljoen severely dented Scotland’s hopes of chasing Netherlands down for the title.
Viljoen is back again for this tournament in an effort boost Namibia’s seam bowling and middle-order batting. Stephan Baard offers an explosive weapon at the top of the order while Gerhard Erasmus’ coming-of-age against Netherlands in the final round of the WCL Championship – a fluent 52 and 81 in both innings against the champion Dutch side – shows Namibia’s batting nucleus may be hitting form at just the right time.
First in WCL Division Three, promoted to Division Two
Oman is attempting to follow in the footsteps of Afghanistan’s rapid ascent up the Associate ladder that began in Jersey at the 2008 WCL Division Five, by taking an identical journey to the World Cup Qualifiers. Oman secured three consecutive promotions beginning in Jersey in 2015 with a myriad of contributors along the way.
In Jersey, it was Zeeshan Maqsood‘s explosive batting paired with the swing bowling duo of Rajeshkumar Ranpura and Munis Ansari that took them forward. In Los Angeles, legspinning allrounder Khawar Ali’s Player-of-the-Tournament performance, including 74 and a five-wicket haul in a do-or-die showdown with Denmark, secured another promotion. At Division Three in Uganda, Khawar continued his impact with the ball but it was a host of characters led by Aqib Ilyas with the bat and left-arm swing bowler Bilal Khan who rallied them to the title.
Entering Division Two, Ranpura and Ansari have faded out of the squad, but the ICC’s revised eligibility guidelines – which allow players to represent a country after just three years of residency – have opened the doors to two key allrounders: former Sialkot player Ahmed Fayyaz and former Saurashtra player Jayesh Odedra. The lifting of the ICC’s other stipulation, a maximum of two four-year residents in a starting XI, has also allowed for the recall of tall medium pacer Kaleemullah, who troubled batsman with his height and bounce last year at the Desert T20 Challenge. The trio may provide Oman with yet more difference-makers in an attempt to vault into the World Cup qualifiers.
Second in WCL Division Three, promoted to Division Two
Much like Netherlands and Kenya, Canada is an Associate that may have once taken a place in the World Cup for granted, having qualified four times including thrice from 2003 to 2011. But Canada not only failed to qualify for the 2015 event but lost ODI status through a poor performance at the 2014 World Cup Qualifier in New Zealand. However, unlike Kenya and the Dutch, who rebounded at 2015 WCL Division Two to earn a place in the WCL Championship, Canada’s bottom-two finish three years ago dropped them back to Division Three.
It took Canada more than two years for the opportunity to climb back up, but they’ve produced a triumphant display in Uganda, propelled by the electric batting and canny medium pace of Rizwan Cheema, who was also named the Player of the Tournament. Teenage opening batsman Bhavindu Adhihetty played a strong support role, finishing as the tournament’s leading scorer with 222 runs. Adhihetty’s value to the senior side is such that he stayed away from the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand – having previously captained Canada Under-19 to victory in the Americas Regional Qualifier – so that he could be with the seniors on their Division Three warm-up tour in South Africa.
Like Oman, Canada have – for the moment – moved on from someone who helped get them to this point with Cheema not included in the Namibian touring squad. Yet like Oman, they are bolstered by reinforcements that give them an excellent chance of advancing. The recalled top-order duo of Ruvindu Gunasekera, who has spent most of the last two Canadian winters playing first-class cricket in Sri Lanka, and Srimantha Wijeratne provide a fire-and-ice combo that bridges the gap up to captain Nitish Kumar‘s class in the middle order.