The ICC has confirmed what is essentially a two-tier qualifying tournament for the 2019 World Cup in England by choosing not to sanction official ODI status for some of the matches.
The main victim of the decision is Netherlands, whose matches in Zimbabwe in March will gain no official recognition even though they are already guaranteed a return to official ODI status immediately after the conclusion of the qualifying tournament.
The decision on ODI status was discussed by the ICC cricket committee before being made by the ICC executives in Dubai, and follows the precedent set at the 2007 World Cup, whereby there have been a maximum of 16 ODI nations in any given World Cup cycle.
The intention to protect elite cricketing standards, as well as respect the sanctity of ODI statistics, will frustrate those who believe that a great opportunity to spread the game has been unnecessarily devalued. For the first time in World Cup history, four Test-playing nations will be pitted against the Associates which gives the tournament arguably its most high-profile appeal ever.
Ten teams will contest the qualifiers in Zimbabwe, which begins on March 4, with two going through to join the top eight-ranked nations in a slimmed-down World Cup in England which will run from May 30 to July 15, 2019.
West Indies, twice World Cup winners, face a nervy qualifying tournament after missing out, as did Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe, on the top-eight ODI rankings at the cut-off date of September 30 last year.
Jason Holder, West Indies’ captain, has managed 70 ODIs over five years, while some of his opponents can only dream of such largesse.
He knows that non-qualification would shake West Indies cricket to the core. “We all know the magnitude and importance of this event as we look to qualify for the World Cup,” he said. “It will be a challenge and we sat down and have formulated plans as to how best to approach the tournament. It will be short and we will treat every match as a must-win game.”
These four Test nations are joined by Hong Kong, Netherlands, Scotland and Papua New Guinea, who finished in the top four of the ICC World Cricket League Championship.
The remaining two sides for the Zimbabwe tournament will be decided in Namibia from February 8-15 when Canada, Kenya, Namibia, Nepal, Oman and the United Arab Emirates compete in the ICC World Cricket League Division 2.
Remembering which sides will have ODI status will be a complicated business for the average cricket fan. The four Test nations will, as will the top four in the World Cricket League – Netherlands apart. The final two qualifiers will not have ODI status – apart from the United Arab Emirates if they manage to qualify.
Ironically, although Netherlands won’t have ODI status during the tournament, they will be lavished with riches the moment it is over. As winners of the WCL Championship, they can expect 24 ODIs against Full Members from 2020-22 as part of the ODI League for qualification for the World Cup in 2023.
West Indies face Ireland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and the winners of the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 in Group A, while Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Scotland, Hong Kong and the Division Two runners-up form Group B.
The teams that progress then play three Super Six matches against the sides they did not meet in the group stage. All points won in the groups against fellow qualifiers will be carried over to the Super Six stage.
Zimbabwe are carrying out modest renovations to their grounds and have even postponed their domestic tournament as work is carried out, under ICC supervision, to try to add more pace and bounce to pitches, an attempt to ensure livelier, higher-scoring matches.
Queen’s Sports Club and Bulawayo Athletic Club in Bulawayo, Harare Sports Club and Old Hararians Sports Club in Harare and Kwekwe Sports Club, Kwekwe, will share 34 matches between them from March 4 to 25, with Harare Sports Club staging the final.
Scotland will defend the title they had won in Lincoln, New Zealand in February 2014 when they defeated the United Arab Emirates by 41 runs, but this time the tournament is of much higher quality and retaining that title will be a formidable task.
After the tournament is concluded, Netherlands plus the three highest-finishing Associate sides will be granted ODI status until 2022. This ensures that at least all matches in the 2019 World Cup in England will be fought out with official status attached.