10-way battle for final two World Cup berths

The Qualifiers, which will determine the final two teams to play the ICC World Cup 2019, begin on Sunday.

Rashid Khan will be key to Afghanistan qualifying for ICC World Cup 2019.   -  AFP

Ten teams will fight to occupy the remaining two group-stage spots in the 2019 World Cup in England, when the World Cup qualifier begins on Sunday in Zimbabwe. Among the teams in the fray are four full members - West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan - besides other Associate nations.

Ireland plays Netherlands in the tourney opener; both teams possess experience of playing the World Cup and facing prominent opponents. In the last few years, however, Ireland has continued to raise its bar to project itself as a worthier cricket team than a few upsets here or there. Having pushed for Test status for a number of years during which its home-grown team became a force to reckon with, it finally got the recognition as an ICC full member in 2017 (along with Afghanistan).

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

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

Three teams from each group will qualify for the Super Six stage.

Ireland is, therefore, one of the favourites to win the competition and book its World Cup berth. It retains much of the team that scripted a successful era; William Porterfield, now 33, captains the team, with Ed Joyce, Kevin O'Brien, Paul Stirling, Gary Wilson, George Dockrell and Boyd Rankin still part of the setup.

Read: WI fighting for survival in unfamiliar territory

The coach who oversaw this period of growth, Phil Simmons, now coaches Afghanistan, which begins its campaign against Scotland in Group B. Simmons has chalked out a simple approach his team would have to take - of playing "proper cricket," but with so many competitors and so few spots to grab, it won't be easy, even for a team that has garnered much success and produced superstars in leg-spinner Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi.

For Kyle Coetzer, the Scotland captain, given the situation, a high-risk approach seems necessary. “If you go aggressive, yes you might turn over a side and beat them convincingly, but also when the tight games come in, you are not shying away from situations. Staying in that frame of mind, we are going to push towards victory,” he told ICC.

He added, "Hitting the ground running is important. But it is also important to maybe remember that peaking is an important thing to get right too. If you are peaking too early you might peak out towards the end of the tournament."

Zimbabwe, the host, will be keen to move on from a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Afghanistan in February. According to batsman Sikandar Raza, for some players the upcoming World Cup will be their last. He told ICC, “A few us will be playing our last World Cup and I think the least we can do for each other is try and give everything we have in the tank for every game we play.”

He added, “If it happens, at least we can leave Zimbabwe Cricket with our heads held high. My first goal is to leave this beautiful game in a better shape than I found it in.”

It begins its campaign in the qualifier against Nepal, a dark horse in the competition but a team that has shown it can spring surprises. Sandeep Lamichhane, the leg-spinner who became the first player from Nepal to bag an IPL contract, has the capacity to dismantle opposition line-ups, an ability that was depicted in the 2016 U-19 World Cup.

From Group A, two other teams, perhaps less prominent than others, will begin their campaign. Papua New Guinea will take on United Arab Emirates, a participant in the 2015 World Cup. Asad Vallah (for PNG) and Shaiman Anwar, both relative veterans, will captain their sides.

West Indies, a two-time World Cup winner and the overwhelming favourite to win the tournament, will play its first match on Tuesday, as will Hong Kong.

Sunday's matches (1300 IST):

  • Group A: Ireland v Netherlands, PNG v UAE
  • Group B: Zimbabwe v Nepal, Afghanistan v Scotland