Qualification for the International Cricket Council men’s cricket World Cup finals, due to be played in India in October and November 2023, has been underway since 2015. A new qualification process was introduced for this tournament, which is played every four years in the 50-over or one-day international (ODI) format.
Thirty-two teams are taking part in the final stages of qualification, from which 10 will play in the finals, based on the results of a series of competitions.
The 32 teams are divided into three leagues — a Super-League of 13 teams, a League 2 of seven teams and a Challenge League of 12 teams, divided into two groups. The results of the league matches will determine which teams advance directly to the finals, which are eliminated, and which advance to other supplementary qualifying tournaments through which they can qualify for the finals. Allocation to the leagues was based on ICC member status and previous rankings.
It is in League 2 where the greatest regional interest lies, with Oman and UAE competing with Scotland, the US, Namibia, Nepal and Papua New Guinea. Matches in League 2 started in Scotland, one month after the 2019 final in which England beat New Zealand at Lords. All seven teams in League 2 will contest a total of nine tri-series. Each team will host all other teams for two ODIs and will tour every other country for two ODIs, generating 24 matches. The other 12 ODIs are to be played at neutral sites.
Once each team has completed its 36 ODIs, those with the highest number of points will join the bottom five teams from the ODI Super League in the 2022 World Cup qualifier. The teams that finish fourth to seventh in League Two enter a qualifier play-off, being joined by the top two teams in the Challenge League, in which Qatar are competing. The top two teams in the play-off then progress to the 2022 World Cup qualifier, from which the top two teams will enter the World Cup finals.
Currently, Oman is leading League 2 with 40 points, having played 32 of its 36 matches. Recently, it had a setback, losing two matches to Scotland in the final over. UAE is in third place with 22 points after 18 matches, just behind Scotland with 24 points from 16 matches.
Between May 28 and June 15, two tri-series will be played in the US, which will host Scotland and UAE in one series, Nepal and Oman in another. The first is a historic event, as it will be the first to be played at the Moosa Stadium, Pearland, near Houston, Texas. It will also be the first occasion that four other international cricketing nations visit the US at the same time for back-to-back series.
Moosa has recently become the US’s second accredited ODI venue, joining Lauderhill, Florida. The achievement of this status represents a remarkable story for its Pakistan-born founder. He built a series of car dealerships in Houston, sponsored the US men’s team, before investing in the land to develop the stadium, which carries his father’s name. Given that the US will be jointly hosting the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup, Moosa is well placed to bid to be one of the venues.
The US men’s team will also be wanting to advance its cause in qualifying for the 2023 ODI World Cup in the forthcoming tri-series. Currently, it lies in fifth place with 16 points from 14 matches. It has not been able to play international cricket since September 2021 — an ODI series against Ireland fell victim to COVID-19 last December — so it is hard to judge if it is sharp enough to challenge both the UAE and Scotland. In preparation, US Cricket ran a 26-man training camp in April, as well as a Houston Challenge, in which a US Invitational XI played three teams made up of the best domestic talent.
As reported two months ago, UAE cricket has been through turbulent times. This was caused by the revelation in 2019 of match-fixing by some players, their suspension and the later banning of seven experienced players. A change in policy by the Emirates cricket board to extend the number of central contracts, to focus on young talent, both men and women, contributed to qualification for the men’s ICC 2022 T20 World Cup finals in Australia and for the women’s T20 World Cup qualifying tournament to be held later this year. UAE women are in fine form for this, having beaten Hong Kong in all four games of a T20 series to record their 14th consecutive T20 win.
Both the UAE and Oman men’s teams will be looking to enhance their reputations by finishing in the top three places in League 2, in order to enter the World Cup Qualifier. If so, competition will be strong, as they will meet Super-League opposition. The way in which those opponent’s positions will be determined has changed from previous editions, which was based on an ODI rankings table. Under the new structure, each of the 13 Super-League teams are scheduled to play four home and four away series, with each consisting of three ODIs, generating 24 matches per team. Scheduling constraints mean that each team will miss playing four of the 12 teams in the Super-League. The impact of the pandemic has led to postponements and the date for matches to be completed has been delayed until March 2023.
Currently, Bangladesh leads the Super-League, having played 18 matches. The bottom five teams have played between 10 and 15 matches, so there is much cricket to be played before final positions will be known. The pathway toward qualification is complex and arduous for all teams. Yet, the overall reaction of associate members was to welcome the number of games and quality of opposition afforded by the new qualification process, although the enforced delays will now put pressure on their depth of resources. The next 10 months promises to produce some exhilarating cricket by associate nations.