ICC World Cricket League 2019 Division Two preview: six key players in Namibia

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 01: Christi Viljoen of the Otago volts bats during the Ford Trophy Final match between the Otago Volts and the Wellington Firebirds at University Oval on December 01, 2018 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

ODI status up for grabs as the ICC’s global game enters a new era

While all eyes are turning towards the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and the squad announcements for that tournament, the journey to India 2023 begins this week.

The ICC World Cricket League Division Two is simultaneously the end of one era and the start of a new one – with six teams competing in Namibia for four spots in the new second-tier of ODI cricket.

Nepal, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates have already sealed a place in the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2, which carries full ODI status and forms part of the pathway to the 2023 Cricket World Cup.

Now, hosts Namibia, USA, Papua New Guinea, Oman, Canada and Hong Kong are fighting for the right to join them, in what will be the final ever ICC World Cricket League tournament.

End of the WCL era

The original global structure for ODI cricket is being replaced by the new three-tiered system, from which teams will be hoping to replicate Afghanistan’s extraordinary rise to the top.

New ODI cricket structure
1) ICC Cricket World Cup Super League – 12 full members, plus the Netherlands
2) ICC CWC League 2 – Scotland, Nepal, UAE plus top four in 2019 WCL Division Two
3) ICC CWC Challenge League – Teams ranked 21-32 in WCL, including bottom two from Division Two

 

There are sub-plots aplenty – the USA’s bid for a seat at the elite table, for example – and it all starts at the end, so to speak, in Namibia.

While earning a place at a ten-team World Cup remains a huge ask for Associate Nations, the global rise of the game means cricket’s top tier is no longer out of reach for these nations.

Afghanistan’s success is evident of that, while franchise cricket has allowed players like Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane to make a name for himself on the big stage.

Fixtures start at Windhoek on Saturday (April 20), so here are the teams and players looking to make their mark…

Namibia

One to watch: Christi Viljoen

Hosts Namibia earned their place in this tournament by finishing fourth in the equivalent competition last year – not enough to earn a shot at the 2019 Cricket World Cup play-off, but safe from relegation.

Namibia won three of their five matches – defeat to the UAE in their final game costing them a top-two place on net run rate.

Gerhard Erasmus was one of their star men in that tournament, scoring three half-centuries, while Bernard Scholtz and JJ Smit shared 11 wickets apiece.

But Christi Viljoen could be their key man this time out, arriving on the back of a great showing at the Super Smash with Otago Volts.

The 31-year-old finished fourth in the wicket-taking charts in New Zealand, with 13 dismissals from seven games.

His first-class form – scoring 44, 46 and 56 in his last three innings for Otago – shows how handy Viljoen is with the bat too.

Namibia sealed a top-four place in this tournament last year, and Viljoen and co know the same result will be enough to secure ODI status.

USA

One to watch: Ali Khan

After hitting another roadblock in their bid for a foothold in the game, the USA are on the up again.

USA Cricket was only bestowed full ICC status again three months ago, having been exiled due to serious concerns over its governance.

Now, playing in the ICC World Cricket League Division Two for the first time, after finishing second in Division Three in November, the USA has its sights set even higher.

Pre-tournament friendlies in the UAE helped them prepare for this tournament and also put a few players on the cricketing map.

Aaron Jones, a 24-year-old from Queens, New York, hit two half-centuries in the Division Three tournament and continued his form with 84* against the touring Lancashire in Dubai.

Former West Indies international Xavier Marshall has also been in superb form – a veteran of seven tests and 24 ODIs already, Marshall hit 75 in that match and hammered 170 in one win against a UAE XI.

But Ali Khan is their poster boy – the 28-year-old Pakistan-born paceman has already made his mark on the global T20 game.

Khan, bowling for Trinbago Knight Riders in the Caribbean Premier League after impressing Dwayne Bravo at the Global T20 Canada, was one of the stand-out performers of that tournament.

His 16 wickets from 12 matches and consistency at the death saw him named as one of the CPL’s five break-out performers by Cricinfo. Another top showing in Namibia and Khan could enter American cricket legend.

Papua New Guinea

One to watch: Tony Ura

Papua New Guinea have already held ODI status, but a ninth-placed finish at last year’s Cricket World Cup qualifier – out of ten – saw them lose it.

Nevertheless, the Barras had already made their mark with opening batsman Tony Ura in particular making headlines.

Ura smashed 151 from 142 balls in one defeat to Ireland – a national record – having first come to prominence at under-19s level.

Now 29, Ura was a key figure as Papua New Guinea qualified for the Under-19 Cricket World Cup in 2008 and remains one of the country’s finest cricketers a decade on.

ICC Cricket named Ura the rising star of the Barras’ squad after the last World Cup qualifier, having also made an impression when Papua New Guinea faced West Indies too.

More recently, he hammered an unbeaten century against the Philippines as Papua New Guinea qualified for the final stages of the T20 World Cup qualifier.

Ura finished the qualifying tournament as not only PNG’s first ever T20i centurion but the leading scorer in the tournament with 243 from four matches.

Oman

One to watch: Mohammad Nadeem

Oman qualified for this tournament ahead of the USA after winning Division Three and will hope to do one better than they did a year ago – when they were fifth in Division Two and therefore relegated.

A sign of how seriously they are taking their shot at ODI status can be seen in their preparations for this tournament, which included hosting a quadrangular T20i series.

They also faced Scotland in three List A matches and, while they were bowled out for 24 in an embarrassing first game, they bounced back well to win the second game.

In the decider, they were set 304 to beat Scotland but finished short on 288/8 though the series was at least packed with positives for the hosts.

First among those was the performance of veteran all-rounder Mohammad Nadeem – the Pakistan-born 36-year-old who has found form at a good time.

Nadeem hit 64 with the bat and claimed 3-38 with the ball in Oman’s only win, taking five wickets in the series in all.

He then followed it with scores of 57 and 29 in two matches against the UAE, as well as a wicket apiece in each of those games.

Jatinder Singh was in good batting form in Division Three, meanwhile, with 225 runs in his five innings and Bilal Khan claimed 12 wickets

Canada

One to watch: Romesh Eranga

Like Namibia, Canada missed out on a shot at the last Cricket World Cup qualifier on net run rate, having won three of their five games in this tournament in 2018.

Of the teams in the ICC World Cricket League Division Two, Canada are the most experienced having played at the World Cup on four occasions.

More recently, a slot in the West Indies’ Super50 Cup enable them to fine-tune their squad as they bid to seal ODI status and a place in the new League 2.

And it was Sri Lankan-born left-arm paceman Romesh Eranga who led the way with the ball for Canada – proving how key he will be to the Canadians’ chances in this tournament.

A five-wicket haul against West Indies B set the tone, and he took 6-21 to lead Canada to victory against the Windward Islands too.

In total, Eranga took 17 wickets across six games, following on from the form he showed in the first phase of the ICC T20 World Cup Americas Qualifier – where he claimed nine wickets in four games.

Hong Kong

One to watch: Babar Hayat

Hong Kong reached the 2018 Cricket World Cup qualifier but finished bottom of the pile, yet they come back for this year’s World Cricket League Division Two with renewed confidence.

After winning last year’s Asia Cup Qualifier, Hong Kong took their place among their continent’s elite in the UAE in September and won plenty of admirers after a gutsy display against India.

Set 286 to win, and having been bowled out for 116 against Pakistan in their opening game, Nizakat Khan (92) and Anshuman Rath (73) shared a 174-run opening partnership.

Though they eventually closed on 259/8, it was an attention-grabbing partnership and Rath will captain the team again this time out.

While he fell short at the Asia Cup, meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Babar Hayat then made a name for himself on the global stage a couple of months later.

The big-hitting 27-year-old former captain already has a big CV of cricketing achievements, including his last-over heroics in a T20I win against Afghanistan in 2015 that sent Hong Kong to the World T20.

And he was part of the Global T20 Canada-winning Vancouver Knights squad last year too – scoring 146 runs at an average of 36.50 and with a strike rate of 175.90.

At his big-hitting best, Babar Hayat has already proved he can lead Hong Kong to some notable successes.

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