The World Cricket League has rationalised the World Cup qualification structure enabling all participating teams to potentially qualify for India in 2011. Qualification itself will be secured at the ICC World Cup Qualifier (WCQ), formerly known as the ICC Trophy. This event is being hosted by the United Arab Emirates in 2009.
Countries in the first division of the WCL automatically qualify for this event. They are joined by the first four teams in the WCL second division, being played later this year in Namibia and the first and second from the Division 3 tournament in 2009.
With six teams qualifying from the WCQ it is possible, indeed you could almost say probable, that Ireland, Scotland, Canada, Kenya, Bermuda and the Netherlands will qualify once more. There are several factors in their favour. Not only have they got the big game experience of a World Cup behind them but have also benefited from ODI status and a schedule of ODIs leading up to the WCQ. If you also consider the funding they secured as a result of their qualification for the West Indies it is clear they have an edge over their challengers. However, if cricket could be so crudely predicted, if it was so resolutely predictable, it would not be the fantastic sport it is and would not boast the most passionate sports fans in the world.
There is a huge incentive for other countries to put themselves on the cricketing map and into the public limelight by qualifying for a World Cup. Personal ambition fulfilled, national pride, a spark to ignite interest and support for the most graceful of sports. They will have been encouraged too by the cracks that have appeared amongst the top associates. Take for example Canada's capitulation to Ireland in the Intercontinental Cup and Bermuda's recent humbling by Denmark. Or indeed Kenya's humiliating, humbling defeat to India A who only needed 7.4 overs to chase down Kenya's modest 98 and did so without losing a wicket.
So who are the challengers? What is their pedigree? And what are their chances of making it to India?
Before shortlisting and analysing the chances of several nations I want to outline my selection criteria. I say this because, unlike CricInfo, we appreciate the passion and cricketing acumen of associate cricket supporters and I know the message boards will pour forth vitriol if I do not fully justify those I include and those I omit.
It is a truism that the greater and more intense the level of competition the faster the rate of development. I therefore think that teams that fulfil one or more of the criteria below have a natural advantage:
Namibia participated in the 2003 World Cup and impressed many observers with their enthusiasm, professionalism and team unity. Players such as JB Burger (right) and Gerrie Snyman demonstrated genuine ability. Indeed the later has been playing as a club professional in England and has played in the second XI championship.
A disastrous 2005 saw them fail to even qualify for the ICC Trophy. However, they showed they had re-grouped and re-focused by making the most of participating in the South African provincial competition where they registered a number of wins, although some of their success was attributable to their overseas signing, Zimbabwean keeper-batsman Tatenda Taibu. Their promising showing augers well for the future and if they can maintain their place in South African cricket they will be well placed to become a leading associate nation. The most likely of the challengers to displace one of the WCL 1 teams.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE have experience of a World Cup, have home advantage as hosts of the WCQ and have been involved in the InterContinental Cup. They have several experienced and classy players such as Arshad Ali and Khurrum Khan. The rest of the squad is reliable and resilient rather than dynamic. There first innings of 174-4 against Scotland in Ayr in the Intercontinental Cup was encouraging. The match was abandoned due to rain before they could demonstrate their ability with the ball. They were utterly outgunned by Canada but were perhaps unlucky to come up against a remarkable twelve wicket performance by Steve Welsh.
Denmark have been outclassed against their associate counterparts in European competition and have struggled to compete all through the age-group tournaments. However, as Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands are some of the stronger teams in WCL 1 they may not need to turn the tables on their neighbours. They will have been boosted by back to back wins over Bermuda in August. In Freddie Klokker they have a reliable run-scorer and in Thomas Hansen (right) an accurate bowler with county experience.
Their batting can be fragile and their seam attack may not find conditions in the U.A.E in their favour. The greatest disappointment for Denmark is that Amjad Khan, the Kent and England A bowler, will not be participating. A player of his quality could make the difference. Denmark have suffered from losing their place in the English domestic cup competition. However young players such as Johan Malcolm-Hansen and Michael Pederson are playing in the 2nd XI championship and can be expected to develop further before 2009.
The Himalayan kingdom is currently languishing in division 5 of the WCL. However, this is largely due to their failure to qualify for the ICC Trophy in Ireland in 2005. They have been dominant in the Asian Cricket Council Cup and outshone more established teams such as Malaysia. They were a revelation in the Under 19 World Cup making it to the semi-finals by defeating New Zealand. This is evidence that they have promising players coming through and that the cricket board is attracting people to the sport.
The lack of a professional league or any Nepalese players in neighbouring leagues is a problem. However, players such as Das (right), Regmi and Veswakwer do have quality to boast of. If they do make it to the WCQ it will be there fourth qualifying event in two years. It isn't likely but then it isn't impossible. Ironically there greatest challenge could be qualifying from division 5 with strong competition from the USA, Afghanistan and Jersey. I think it will take several cycles of the WCL for teams to find their natural level.
Uganda won the WCL Division 3 tournament contested in Australia early this year. In truth the standard of teams and level of play in that tournament was lower than expected. Nevertheless, Uganda will be in Windhoek Namibia for WCL 2 in November to face a sterner test. Unlike some associate nations the Ugandan team consists of an indigenous squad of players. This suggests that the sport has taken root in the country and this is a positive sign for future development. They have several cracker-jack players in their line-up including Olwenyi and Kamyuka. Several fixtures against Kenya have given stiffer competition and will have been a useful development tool.
The USA have been in turmoil since the 2003 World Cup with a rift between rival associations, an ICC ban and the failure of high investment, televised national league. However, with a potentially vast player base and a record of luring former test playing residents out of retirement they could provide a challenge. Oman had a good tournament in the ICC Trophy 2005 and are in WCL 2. They look on paper one of the weaker teams but in a limited overs format could spring a surprise. Afghanistan were ‘discovered' by the MCC as a cricketing nation in 2005 and two players, the highly promising bowler Hameed Hasan and batsman Mohammad Nabi, have been playing in England. Like Nepal they begin in WCL Division 5 but have the ability to come up through the ranks.