ICC Media Release
Six countries will try to take a step closer to qualification for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 this week when they participate in the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 3 (WCL Div. 3). But only two will succeed.
The tournament, held in Buenos Aires from 24-31 January, will see host team Argentina, Afghanistan, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Uganda battle it out with the finalists progressing to the 12-team ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in April.
There are many rewards on offer at that event, with the top four sides winning places in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, while the top six teams will receive ODI status for the next four years as well as an automatic place in the prestigious ICC Intercontinental Cup 2009-10.
Much attention this week will be focussed on Afghanistan, which won both the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 5 and 4 events in Jersey and Tanzania to qualify for this stage. It has been a long road already but the appetite is still there to continue on their epic journey.
Fast bowler Hamid Hassan, who finished as the leading wicket-taker at the WCL Div. 4, admits he and his colleagues are in confident mood ahead of the Division 3 event.
'I am very excited as we have won the last two tournaments and now I am hoping to get through to the World Cup Qualifiers. All the players are in good touch ahead of the event,' says Hamid.
'I was the top wicket-taker for my team at Division 4 and I would like to win the player of the tournament at this event.'
The team, which prepared for the tournament in the past month with a training camp in Lahore, Pakistan where they received coaching from the likes of former Test player Aamer Sohail and others, is enjoying the experience of being part of the global qualifying structure for the ICC Cricket World Cup and the travel experiences that the tournament provides.
'You get to see lots of countries – I never thought I would ever get the chance to go to places like Jersey, Tanzania and Argentina. It's like a dream because two or three years before I started playing for the national team I didn't even play cricket,' said Hamid.
'I've never been to South America and I think Argentina is a very nice country. It is very good conditions for playing cricket as the weather is about 35 degrees.'
The Afghanistan team, which has attracted media attention from all over the world, has also received good luck wishes from England's Monty Panesar. The left-arm slow bowler has painful memories of a previous encounter with Hassan, who reputedly can bowl at speeds of around 140kph.
Hassan, who was part of the MCC ground staff in 2006 and 2007, had been an England net bowler when he accidentally hit Panesar on the head with a quick delivery and he was able to relive that experience with the England spinner at a chance airport meeting this week on the way to Buenos Aires.
'When we were at the airport in Johannesburg on the way to Argentina, we saw Monty Panesar. I went up to say hello to him and he said: ‘Hi, how are you?' He didn't know who I was and I then told him I was the bowler who hit him on the head at Lord's two years ago and then he remembered me,' said Hamid with a smile.
'All the coaches were there, along with players like Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen, and Monty ducked into the ball and told me I had cost him £200 for a new helmet and I would have to pay. I told him I can't afford to pay that and then he told me he was joking!
'We talked for a long time and he wished us well in qualifying for the World Cup and told me and (Mohammad) Nabi we were very talented.
'He asked about Afghanistan cricket, how are the grounds and he knew about the World Cup qualifying event.'
Afghanistan will face some tough competition, in what is expected to be a tightly fought tournament. Uganda and Argentina, who both won promotion from the WCL Div. 3 in May 2007 only to be relegated after the Division 2 event in Namibia six months later, are expected to be among the main contenders.
Uganda, which showed some excellent pre-event form in their warm-up series against Kenya, is arguably the favourite for the tournament and the players can rely on the experience of its South African-born coach Ebrahim Mohamed to guide them during the event, while Hamish Barton, a former first-class cricketer in New Zealand, has an important player-coach role for Argentina.
Papua New Guinea's batsmen received excellent preparation for the event, when they formed the backbone of the ICC East-Asia Pacific team that took part in the Australian Country Cricket Championships earlier this month, and with the experience that many of them have from playing in the ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup they should be a tough test for any opposition.
The potential of Cayman Islands to cause an upset should not be ignored, particularly after it recorded a crushing 108-run win over Argentina in the ICC Americas Division 1 Championship in November.
Hong Kong won the ACC Trophy Elite 2008 and also reduced Pakistan at one stage to 161-7 during last year's Asia Cup so no team will be taking it lightly. Hong Kong is coached by former England batsman Aftab Habib and he believes his side is well placed to do well.
Aftab said: 'I am very excited. It is reward for all the hard work that we have put it since I joined as coach 15 months ago. Hopefully we can perform well in the six games while we are here.
'I think we can achieve quite a lot. We are playing a higher level of cricket and having taken part in the Asia Cup last year we have the confidence to play against bigger teams.'
While the primary focus of all six teams taking part in the WCL Div. 3 is to finish in the top two at this event, the dream of playing ODI cricket and in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 is a shared ambition among all the players.
'It is our dream to play a One-Day International if we qualify. I want to play international cricket so people can see the Afghan team. It would be the biggest day in my life,' said Hamid.
'There are lots of Test countries I would like to play a one-day international against like India, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia and England. I would like to play against England at Lord's and against Australia in Melbourne.'