While cricket has been postponed or cancelled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, this disaster could solve a major problem in the game.
The long-awaited ICC World Cup Qualifier is underway in Zimbabwe, with ten teams vying for the last two berths available at the 2019 World Cup.
The three-week tournament can be expected to feature some fiercely contested battles, not to mention a few heartbreaks.
As the qualifier draws close, here is a look at ten players – one from each team – worth keeping an eye on.
Mohammad Shahzad (Afghanistan)
Having recently come back after serving a suspension due to a doping violation, the portly Shahzad is fit and raring to go in what will be one of Afghanistan’s most significant tournaments in recent times. With more than eight years of international experience now under his belt the bellicose wicketkeeper-batsman holds the key if Afghanistan are to enjoy a rapid start to their innings.
Nadeem Ahmed (Hong Kong)
Nadeem, Hong Kong’s Pakistan-born left-arm spinner, was the joint highest wicket-taker, with 24 wickets at 15.25 apiece, at the 2015-17 World Crickt League Championship and can flourish with his accuracy and control on the slow tracks of Zimbabwe. Hong Kong fell just short at the previous World Cup Qualifier in 2014, and a strong showing from Nadeem can go a long way in bettering that performance.
Paul Stirling (Ireland)
Stirling comes into the Qualifier on a wave of good form: He twice hammered 156, against Easterns/Northerns XI and Hong Kong respectively, in the warm-up matches and was also the leading run-getter in Ireland’s commendable series win over Afghanistan late last year. As Ireland aim at making it to a fourth successive World Cup, Stirling’s consistency at the top will hold them in good stead.
Sandeep Lamichhane (Nepal)
Nepal’s last-gasp entry into the Qualifier owed a lot to the 17-year-old Lamichhane. The exciting leg-spinner was named the player of the tournament at the World Cricket League Division 2 last month for taking 17 wickets at 10.35, cementing his reputation as one of the trickiest bowlers on the Associate circuit. Given Nepal’s struggles with the bat, ‘Sandy’ can be expected to play a huge role.
Paul van Meekeren (Netherlands)
Other teams can discount the buoyed Dutchmen, who have secured a place in the 13-team ODI league that is slated to begin in 2020, at their own peril. Part of their multi-faceted bowling attack is fast bowler Van Meekeren, who Somerset recruited for a two-year deal in 2016. He gave an indication of his abilities in the warm-up against Hong Kong, returning excellent figures of 9-4-17-4.
Sese Bau (Papua New Guinea)
The left-handed Bau has grown to be a reliable middle-order batsman for the Barramundis, who are often prone to batting implosions. The 25-year-old was his team’s highest run scorer at the 2015-17 World Cricket League Championship, with a tally of 446 at 37.16, including a match-winning 76 in a chase of 274 against Namibia. He also scored 53 in the lost warm-up game against Scotland a few days ago.
Stuart Whittingham (Scotland)
The 24-year-old Whittingham has impressed in his nascent ODI career thus far, continuing the promise shown for Sussex on the county circuit. The presence of this talented seam bowler gives a well-rounded look to the Scottish pace attack. The Scots have defeated Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the past year, and if Whittingham gets going, one can expect them to topple a few more teams.
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Rohan Mustafa (United Arab Emirates)
The Emirati skipper’s performance with both bat and ball was crucial to his team’s success at the WCL Division 2, as he scored 183 runs at 36.60 as opener and took 13 wickets at 10.84 apiece with his off-spin. Mustafa’s ability to lead from the front coupled with the balance he brings to the team augurs will for the UAE as they bid to defy the odds and qualify for a second successive World Cup.
Kemar Roach (West Indies)
Two-time World Cup winners West Indies will be desperate to avoid the ignominy of missing out on the World Cup for the first time. Central to their fortunes will be the performance of pace spearhead Roach, who brings in a lot of experience with him. The Barbadian, who took a tidy 3/15 in the warm-up against the UAE, will be looking to rattle the opposition early with his pace and variations.
Sikandar Raza (Zimbabwe)
Hosts Zimbabwe cannot afford any slip-ups in what will be a ruthless tournament, and they will be hoping for a productive showing from Raza to bolster their chances. The off-spinning all-rounder is a vital asset in the middle order, and can also provide key strikes with the ball. Having been a part of the Zimbabwean set-up for nearly five years, this is Raza’s big chance to fire on the big stage.