The most important event for Associate cricket gets underway in South Africa tomorrow as the 12 top teams below Test level fight it out in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier.

With four places on offer at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, the competition is going to be fierce in what is a hugely significant tournament for cricket.

'For our top Associate and Affiliate Members this is probably the most important 19 days in any four-year cycle and it will determine whether they qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup and where they stand in the global scheme of things,' said ICC President David Morgan.

'This is the culmination of a long pathway giving each of our 94 Associate and Affiliate Members the chance to take on the very best in the world at the highest level. While finishing in the top four is the main aim, the top six teams will win ODI status for the next four years at least as well as book a place in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier and also will gain automatic qualification for the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2009-10, which starts in May.

'This is all part of the ICC's commitment to grow the game and narrow the gap between the top Associate teams and the very best sides in the world,' said Mr Morgan.

In total there are eight venues being used for 54 matches played over 19 days with 12 teams fighting it out for the four qualification places on offer in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.

The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier, formerly known as the ICC Trophy, incorporates Divisions 1 and 2 of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League and is the gateway for the top Associate and Affiliate teams into the premier one-day tournament in the world.

Day one of the event offers up perhaps the most eagerly awaited fixture of all with defending champion Scotland taking on fierce rival Ireland in an ODI at Willowmoore Park in what will be a repeat of the 2005 final.

One player likely to be taking the field in that match tomorrow will be Trent Johnston, who led Ireland to victory over Test nations Pakistan and Bangladesh at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 in the West Indies. Although no longer captain of the team, Johnston's hunger for success has not waned.

'The experience of playing at the World Cup and getting through to the Super Eight in the Caribbean two years ago is something that will stay with us forever,' said the all-rounder.

'We have been given a taste of that and now we want more. This qualifier is a great tournament and we know it's not going to be easy but the memories of 2007 will be all the motivation we need to make sure we give it everything so we get another chance to compete at that level.'

Johnston's sentiments were echoed by Canada's John Davison, who has played in two World Cups.

'Every international cricketer wants to play against the best and the top four sides in this tournament will get that chance. It's a huge incentive for us. Those of us who have been lucky to play in the World Cup know what it's like and the other guys in the squad want that feeling too. The result is that this tournament is going to be intense and very closely fought. No one will give you anything for free you have to reach out and take it,' said Davison.

Another veteran of the ICC Cricket World Cup is Kenya stalwart Steve Tikolo. The 37-year-old all-rounder has played in four World Cups (1996, 1999, 2003 and 2007) and he is very keen to make it a fifth before he hangs up his boots as a player.

'This qualifier is one of those big tournaments you play cricket for. The stakes are high and the prize is a big one. To represent your country at a World Cup is the stuff of dreams for most people so we never allow ourselves to take our place for granted. It's not going to be easy to qualify this time around but we will be doing everything in our power to make sure Kenya is represented in 2011.

'The feeling of running out in front of a big crowd at the World Cup is something you can never grow tired of and all the players from all the teams will doing their utmost to share in that experience,' said Tikolo.

Mr Morgan added: 'When I look back on the history of this tournament, which started in 1979, I recall some great moments. It has been a stepping stone for some teams towards full membership of the ICC such as Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh while for others it is an end in itself and certainly the 2005 final between Ireland and Scotland in front of a big crowd in Dublin was a memorable occasion in its own right with the Scots eventually winning a high-scoring game.

'I would like to thank Cricket South Africa for their hard work in supporting this event and their ongoing commitment to the global development of the game. The eight tournament venues that they have prepared will provide a top-class setting for the world's finest international players from beyond the Test world and I am sure that all players and officials will enjoy their time exploring South Africa. I wish all players for the event good luck and look forward to watching an exciting tournament played in the right spirit.'

Among the teams will be Afghanistan and Uganda, which both qualified from January's Pepsi World Cricket League Division 3 event in Buenos Aires. The WCL was created to provide a clear pathway for teams outside the top 10 towards improvement and ultimately, the ICC Cricket World Cup. This global event gives ICC Associate and Affiliate Members the opportunity to play similarly ranked sides in meaningful competition regardless of where they are located in the world.