Wednesday, May 29, 2024

ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier ready for lift-off with Sunday double-header

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Photo Credit: ICC

Hosts Zimbabwe will begin their quest to return to the top table of one-day cricket as they get their ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier campaign underway against Nepal on Sunday.

The Chevrons missed out on the 2019 edition after failing to qualify, but now set about righting those wrongs on home soil in Harare.

They first must get past a Nepal side who dramatically qualified for this stage with 11 wins from their last 12 matches in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup League 2, pipping Namibia by a point to advance. 

Zimbabwe come into the contest at Harare Sports Club in the capital in strong form after winning both of their warm-up games against Oman and Scotland. 

Sikandar Raza was the key with bat and ball against Oman, registering an unbeaten century to retire on 110 not out from 67 balls before taking three for 43 with the ball, including the key wicket of Ayaan Khan who made 91. 

Raza top scored again versus Scotland, with the hosts needing just 24.5 overs to eclipse the 163 posted by their opponents meaning Craig Ervine’s side will have plenty of confidence heading into the opener. 

“Preparations have been excellent leading up to the tournament,” Ervine said.   

“There is some really exciting cricket coming up and exciting players to watch in Sikandar Raza, Blessing Muzarabani and Sean Williams. It’s going to be a great tournament.”  

For Nepal, the task will be to maintain the momentum that has got them this far, with their stunning qualification followed up by victory in the ACC Men’s Premier Cup in May. 

Warm-ups in Harare have also been encouraging, with a dramatic penultimate ball defeat to the UAE and comfortable two wicket victory over Oman outlining their ability with bat and ball. 

Sompal Kami is one to watch after picking up a five-wicket haul against Oman, while Kushal Bhurtel hit a 94-ball century. 

Asaf Sheikh top-scored with 76 runs in the defeat to the UAE, and the wicket keeper-batter believes his side have what it takes to qualify for a first-ever ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup. 

He said: “Looking at the qualifiers, we believe that if we play quality cricket, we believe that we are going to win most of the matches.   

“It is just about playing the best cricket on the best day, so we believe that if we play our best cricket on that day, we are going to win.”  

Elsewhere in Group A, West Indies will be hoping for a winning start to their campaign against USA as they look to maintain their ever-present record at ICC Men’s Cricket World Cups. 

The two-time champions finished as runners-up five years ago to punch their ticket to England, where they finished ninth. 

They progressed unbeaten through the group stage that time and will be confident of doing so again after an impressive set of warm-up matches. 

A 3-0 Series victory against the UAE earlier this month was then followed up with victories in Harare against Scotland and a fourth win in a month against the UAE. 

Brandon King top-scored in the UAE series, while Yannic Cariah took four wickets in each of the two warm-up games in Zimbabwe meaning there is plenty of confidence in the camp ahead of the contest at Takashinga Cricket Club.

“I wouldn’t say not qualifying would be a failure, but I wouldn’t look down that road because I think we’ll definitely qualify,” said all-rounder Keemo Paul. 

“In life, I don’t see anything as a failure. It’s all about learning and moving forward.  

“I’m pretty confident and that’s the mood in the camp. We’re up for it, so I definitely think that we will qualify.”  

A winning start would ease any worries for the 1975 and 1979 champions, but USA will certainly hope to have their say on that matter. 

They are dreaming of a first ever ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup after reaching their first Qualifier since 2005 after finishing top of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier Play-Off table thanks to four wins out of five. 

Preparation has seen plenty of encouragement despite defeats to Ireland and Sri Lanka, with Aaron Jones hitting 89 runs from 87 balls against Ireland, and the 28-year-old hopes qualification can continue to help grow the sport stateside. 

“In this team, I am the person to anchor the batting so I will take pride in doing that and getting my team to the World Cup,” he said. 

“It would be great to grow the sport in our country and play in World Cups. 

“Not only for ourselves – when we move on, we want to leave something behind for the youngsters to look up to. It is very important for us to have a legacy.”

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