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Ireland skipper enjoys favourite tag, Germany and Bahrain promise to spring a surprise
Eight nations to vie for two spots for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup from February 18-24
Ireland, touted as favourites for the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier A, supported by Dream 11, begin their campaign against the UAE, at the Oman Academy ground in Al Amerat, on Friday.
Besides Ireland, seven other nations – Nepal, UAE, Canada, Germany, Philippines, Bahrain, and hosts Oman – will vie for the two spots at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 available at the Qualifier A from 18 to 24 February.
Ahead of the qualifier, Ireland skipper Andrew Balbirnie expressed optimism that his team would make it to the Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
Balbirnie admitted that his side deserved to play the Qualifiers after their performance during the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup in 2021:
“We have been pretty inconsistent and deserved to be here. But we know that when we play well, we can beat any team. The short and sharp format of the game leaves less scope for complacency. There are not many occasions when we get the favourite tag. So, I am happy to have it. Usually, it has been the other way round when we, as underdogs, have upset some of the top teams.”, said the skipper.
Ireland have qualified for six of the last seven editions of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, and Balbirnie agreed the pressure is on:
“We had learnt our lessons during the previous Men’s T20 World Cups, and we can’t take any team for granted. We have to be on our toes all through the tournament. We know how big these next few days will be and, hopefully, our experience will stand in good stead. We want to take each game as it come but we hope to make it to Australia,” added Balbirnie.
Ireland are clubbed with UAE, Bahrain and Germany in Group B and the Irish batter added, “It was great to see teams like Germany, Philippines [Group A], Bahrain reaching at this stage. The T20 game is getting more competitive day by day and we expect some exciting matches ahead.”
For UAE skipper Ahmed Raza, the focus is on qualification:
“We all know what these Qualifiers mean to the participating nations. We haven’t qualified for the global showpiece since 2014 where I played. The boys are all motivated and are obsessed with the goal we have set out to achieve. Hopefully, we can perform well in all aspects of the game and qualify.”
The UAE skipper said that the recent quadrangular series at Al Amerat, the venue where the Qualifier A will be held from Friday, was a great help to their preparations: “We got used to the conditions and the matches provided a platform for us to test our combinations. We hope to carry our good form from the quadrangular series to the Qualifiers.”
Germany skipper Venkat Ganesan, who is leading the side into their maiden global qualifying event, is upbeat on the prospects of playing against some of the best teams. Ganesan, who has roots in India, has been the skipper since 2019 and has been with the national team since 2016.
Ganesan said: “The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifier A here in Oman is a great opportunity to showcase how far German cricket has come. We have a team that is a mix of different cultures as the squad has players from varied nationalities. We have players who have roots in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and South Africa. They bring together different styles and over the past few years, the game has grown fast in Germany.”
Under Scottish coach Steven Knox, who has been the driving force of the team’s growth journey since 2014, Germany missed a spot in the 2021 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers by a close margin and Ganesan said: “The heartbreak made us hungrier, and we have come back strongly to reach our first global Qualifiers. We have the talent to spring a few surprises as we have the belief as a team. Doing basics will be the key and we know that success at this stage will help the game grow further in Germany.”
Bahrain, the other team in Group B, are also making their first appearance at this level and the team’s skipper and opening batter, Sarfraz Ali, said: “We have worked hard to reach this stage. The morale of the players is very high as we are making our debut in the global Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers.”
“We all know that in this format one good spell, or one good knock can change the fortunes of the team. We are the underdogs, but I believe that we have the required arsenal to topple some experienced sides.”
The skipper added, “Under coaches Ashish Kapoor (India) and Mirza Azeem Ul Haque (Pakistan), we have learnt to play a brand of fearless cricket and have the ability to upset the big sides.”
Group A comprises hosts Oman along with Nepal, Canada and Philippines who are making their debut at a global qualifier.
Oman, who have qualified for the Men’s T20 World Cup two times in a row in 2016 and 2021, hope to capitalise on the home conditions though they would be missing their key allrounder, Aqib Ilyas, due to injury.
Oman captain and ICC Men’s Associate Cricketer of the Year 2021, Zeeshan Maqsood, is pleased with his team’s build-up ahead of Qualifier A:
“We are happy with our preparations and the win against the in-form UAE team in the concluding game of the quadrangular T20 series was a big motivation for us. We have made it to two successive T20 World Cups, and I am hopeful that we can make it a hat-trick,” said the allrounder.
Maqsood said that his team will try to exploit the home conditions to their best use and hoped that they could give another occasion for the home fans to celebrate:
“There is no pressure as a home team. In fact, we think it is an advantage for us. We have an experienced squad, and it helps while playing such big tournaments,” he added.
Nepal will be led by one of the youngest skippers in global cricket, Sandeep Lamichhane, and the leg-spinner said that they have a talented and balanced side that can qualify as the best two teams.
“We see our chances as good to qualify. In this format, it doesn’t matter if we play against a Test-playing rival or Associate nation. Nepal will be a tough team to beat as we have a good mix of senior and youngsters. As a captain, I think that there is a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, and I would love to make it a memorable one. It is our dream to play in the World Cup. I don’t think being a young captain would be an issue as I have the full support of my seniors. I am blessed to have them around them.”
Lamichhane said the team under coach Pubudu Dassanayake of Sri Lanka, who returned to take charge last year, has bonded well: “The players have benefitted a lot under him. We are ready for the Qualifiers and the players are proud to represent the nation and make history by qualifying for the first time since 2014.”
Nepal and Oman are expected to face a tough opposition from Canada, who are aiming for their first berth in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.
Canada skipper Navneet Dhaliwal said, “We are a confident of creating some surprises. We have a positive mindset, and the motive is to qualify for the World Cup in style. We arrived early in Oman to get acclimatised to the conditions and with the players being together for now more than a year, this unit is confident. The group is focused and believe that this is the time to make history. We may be the dark horse of the event and other teams should gear up for surprise results.”
For Philippines, the tournament debutants, skipper Jonathan Hill realises the task on his hands.
“The team preparations have been far from ideal, but we have made the most of every opportunity to connect with each other as a team. It has helped strengthen the culture of the team. We hope to bring pride to all Filipinos around the world. We hope to compete to our potential each ball of every match and we want to show that we belong at this level”, said Hill.