With just two spots up for grabs, 10 nations including West Indies will fight it out to enter the ICC 2019 World Cup during the Qualifier that begins on Sunday in Zimbabwe.
Caribbean marauder Chris Gayle and Afghanistan star Rashid Khan might well be the high-profile names competing but there are other players who can make a big impact. We look at five players who can grab the headlines this month.
The left-handed top order batsman comes into the tournament with two fifties and a century in three domestic matches. Lewis is touted as the next Chris Gayle. The explosive batsman already has two ODI and as many T20 centuries under his belt from 39 matches. Likes to go for the big shots, as can be gauged by the fact he has hit 18 sixes in 25 ODIs.
MUJEEB UR RAHMAN
The teenager is a highly-rated spinner. Earlier last month in Sharjah against Zimbabwe, the Afghan spinner rewrote history by becoming the youngest player to take a five-for (5-50) in ODIs aged 16, beating Waqar Younis who did so aged 18. With a variation of leg-spin, googlies and off-spin, expect him to add to his 19 ODI wickets.
The Nepalese leg-spinner is only 17 but has already bagged an Indian Premier League and a Caribbean Premier League contract this year. Helped his team reach the Qualifier, finishing joint-top in the World Cricket League Division Two with 17 scalps. Lamichhane will need to replicate that form if Nepal want to reach the next level.
Anyone who watched the T10 League in Sharjah last December will know how effective he can be. In that tournament, the opener hit 44*, 66* and 52*, which earned the praise of his Kerala team-mate and Eoin Morgan. With a strike-rate of 90.87, six centuries and 15 fifties in ODIs, he can take bowlers apart.
Since making his ODI debut in January 2017, the spinner has become a key figure for the UAE. Haider has 17 wickets in eight ODIs so far and sent out a warning to the rest of the teams by finishing with figures of 4-16 against reigning World T20 champions West Indies in their 32-run defeat in a warm-up game.
UAE captain Rohan Mustafa has told his team-mates to enjoy playing in the ICC World Cup Qualifier, saying all the pressure is on the Test nations and not themselves.
The UAE open their campaign against Papua New Guinea at Zimbabwe’s Harare Sports Club on Sunday, knowing their chances of claiming one of the two spots for the 2019 showpiece event in England are very slim.
That’s because two-time winners and reigning World T20 champions West Indies and Afghanistan will be the two favourites in a 10-team competition that also consists of Ireland, Netherlands, hosts Zimbabwe, Nepal, Scotland and Hong Kong.
But while Mustafa admits nothing is impossible, he will tell his players to “enjoy every game that they play”.
“It’s a big tournament and it’s a good opportunity to make history of reaching the World Cup,” said the all-rounder, whose side were beaten by Nepal and West Indies in two warm-up matches last week.
“It’s a big opportunity but we know it will be difficult. I’ve told every player there is no need to take pressure, just enjoy every game that you play. The pressure will be on the Test nations and not on us.”
There is plenty at stake than just the qualification. The UAE must finish in the top three between Nepal, Scotland, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea to maintain their ODI status and continue receiving ICC funding until 2022.
For head coach Dougie Brown, he admits his side will give it a real go in the competition but conceded retaining ODI status is a priority.
“Obviously, we come here as a lower-ranked side and it would be wrong of us to just say that we are going to qualify for the World Cup,” said the 48-year-old.
“There are four Test nations here, they are probably, and quite rightly, thinking they have World Cup qualification very much in their hands.
“But for us, retaining the ODI status is very important. In order to do that, we have to qualify for the Super Six. That said, there is a little bit of dream and all of us believe we might qualify for the World Cup.
“Obviously at this stage, a lot of cricket has to be played and we have to play exceptionally well, but we have seen so far in the warm-up games, everybody can beat everybody in this tournament and all we need to do is to get on the right side of good fortune, make sure the players are playing well, which they are, have the confidence and maybe create a little bit of momentum and who knows?”
Imran Haider ranked his four-wicket haul against the West Indies as his career best but was disappointed it went in vain as the UAE fell to a 32-run loss in their World Cup Qualifier warm-up game on Thursday in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Haider, 30, took 4-16 as his leg-spin rattled the reigning World T20 champions. The Caribbean side, who has Chris Gayle in their ranks, were all out for 115 in 33 overs.
But the UAE were unable to seal a famous victory as slow left-arm orthodox bowler Nikita Miller finished with 5-20 as the Associate outfit were dismissed for just 83 runs.
Haider was disappointed at the result but is encouraged by how he is performing going into the World Cup Qualifier, which begins against Papua New Guinea on Sunday.
“To get four wickets is really good and it’s right up there among the best,” he said. “It has given me the confidence that I can do well in the World Cup Qualifier and hopefully I will get more chances to get more wickets when the tournament begins.
“But I’m disappointed we couldn’t get the win but I’m sure we’ll bounce back. I never play just for myself, I play for a team and we all have a part of play if we want to go far.”
The UAE have been drawn alongside West Indies, Ireland, Papua New Guinea and Netherlands in Group A, meaning they can look forward to another fixture against Gayle and Co.
The majority of the UAE players are playing in their first World Cup Qualifier including Haider who is relishing the opportunity of testing himself against some big names.
“We have some big matches coming up and it would be great if we could get a victory over a Test playing nation,” he said. “It’s going to be very interesting because in our two practice matches I don’t think there was much difference for any side. I’m excited to be part of the UAE squad and hopefully we can go to the World Cup.”