The ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier explainer
The two-week long ICC T20 World Cup Qualifier has gotten underway earlier today with Singapore defeating tournament favourites Scotland in a last-ball thriller.
The stakes are high as 14 sides from different regional zones battle it out for six spots in next year’s T20 World Cup to be held in Australia.
The competition will follow a similar pattern of the last T20 World Cup Qualifier edition that took place in 2015 for the showpiece event in the subsequent year – the only difference is this time around all matches will be given T20I status.
Which teams are competing?
Hong Kong, Ireland, Netherlands, Oman and Scotland had automatically qualified for the Qualifier for having participated in the previous World T20 in India. The United Arab Emirates qualified by virtue of being the tournament host with the matches scheduled to be conducted in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Papua New Guinea made it through the East Asia-Pacific qualifier while Jersey progressed due to a superior net run rate compared to Germany in the Europe Regional Finals. Singapore triumphed in the Asian Qualifiers as Canada and Bermuda are the participants from the Americas. The three nations from Africa include Namibia, Kenya and Nigeria.
What about Zimbabwe? Weren’t they readmitted recently?
The No. 12 ranked Zimbabwe were initially part of the competition but they were suspended from ICC events due to political interference three months back. ICC confirmed Nigeria would replace Zimbabwe, having finished third in the Africa Regional Finals in May.
Zimbabwe were readmitted as an ICC member a few days ago but with the tournament starting on October 18, it was too late for Zimbabwe to rekindle their chances for a T20 World Cup berth.
How does the qualification work?
A rather complicated qualification scenario awaits but it resembles the playoffs style method opted by T20 leagues.
The 14 teams are divided into two groups of seven sides each. The group-toppers will directly qualify for the T20 World Cup. Meanwhile, the second and third-placed teams of each pool will clash in semi-final playoffs with the two winners also sealing their respective World Cup spots.
The last two slots up for grabs will be filled by the victors of the matches between losers of the playoffs and the fourth-placed sides in the group.
Does this mean these teams will play with the big boys next year?
Not quite. The six successful teams will join Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in two groups of four sides in the first round of the World Cup. The top two teams in both groups will qualify for the Super 12 phase of the tournament which will also feature the eight ICC members, who directly qualified.
This could entail the prospect of only two of the Associate nations heading into the business end of the World Cup but it nevertheless presents a viable opportunity to make their mark in international cricket.
Can we rule out the possibility of upsets?
Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands and Oman are generally touted as the top teams to breeze past oppositions and go through to the World Cup. Hosts UAE were rocked by suspensions of three players including captain Mohammad Naveed owing to corruption charges on the eve of the T20 qualifiers, putting into doubt their chances of succeeding.
However, T20 cricket is not too predictable and Singapore’s two-run win over the strong Scotland side demonstrates the perplexity of the shortest format. Teams like Bermuda and Namibia packed with young players can surely spring a few surprise victories but would be hoping to do it on a consistent basis.