World Cup Qualifiers: Seeking a seat at the big table
Despite several key players from associate nations not taking part, the ODI WC Qualifiers beginning on Sunday still promises to be filled with hopes and dreams
Express News Service
As of Saturday morning, Scotland’s Brad Currie is an internet sensation. He was all the cricketing world could talk about. The Scotland team finished the 2023 ODI Cricket World Cup Qualifiers warm-ups with a comfortable victory over hosts Zimbabwe on Thursday. They are getting ready for the event which gets underway on Sunday in Harare with Zimbabwe and Nepal playing in the opening game. However, Currie trending on social media has nothing to do with the qualifiers or Scotland.
On Friday night, the 24-year-old was over 10,000 kilometres away from the national team, turning up for Sussex in a T20 blast game against Hampshire. In the second innings, when Hampshire’s Benny Howell was running away with the game, Currie had thrown himself in the air like a flight that is set to take off to Harare on the boundary ropes, pulling off a stunning catch to get rid of the batter. The catch was so ridiculous that the result — Sussex won by six runs — was not the talking point, but Currie was.
Would Currie rather be in Zimbabwe to help Scotland chase the dream of playing in an ODI World Cup? He probably would, but he, and several associate cricketers, have had to make a hard choice. Among the ten teams that are taking part in the qualifiers to secure the two available slots in the marquee event set to happen in India later this year, several contingents are without some of their main players. Most of them are with the Counties in England, trying to put food on the table for themselves and their families.
Currie, along with Josh Davey and Michael Jones, are not available for Scotland. The Netherlands will not have the services of their key bowlers like Paul van Meekeren, Fred Klaassen, Roelof van der Merwe, Colin Ackermann, Brandon Glover, etc. Similarly, USA will be without Ian Holland. Some of them are centrally contracted and some are not, but the list goes on. For any athlete to decide not to play for their country, there has to be a good enough reason. With the players, especially those from associate nations, it all comes down to one thing — taking care of the family and providing for them.
“We all know the sacrifices of (full-member) international cricketers, but an associate cricketer’s sacrifice is very different,” Vriitya Aravind, vice-captain of United Arab Emirates, tells this daily. “It is very difficult. These days the opportunities are growing thankfully because of the T20 leagues. I am 21, I don’t have a wife or a child yet to take care of or be the breadwinner for the family. But for many players that is the case and their first priority will be their family. End of the day everyone has to take care of their family. And with the number of leagues coming up, it might become a common thing not just for associate cricket, but also in (full-member) international cricket.”
Vriitya is not far off the point. Several New Zealand cricketers, including Trent Boult, have opted out of their contracts. The country’s board is in talks with the left-arm pacer, who despite not playing for Black Caps since the T20 World Cup, has expressed his interest to play in the ODI World Cup. As for the associate nations, the issue comes down to the finances for both the boards and the players. If the recently proposed ICC’s revenue distribution model for 2024-27, first reported by Cricinfo, gets approved, the associate nations will get just $1.1 per $10 the global body distributes. The BCCI, on the other hand, would get $230 million per year of the $600 million ICC’s annual earnings.
The picture it paints for the future is not bright, but not all is gloomy at the Cricket World Cup Qualifiers. The ten-team tournament, featuring World Cup-winning countries like West Indies and Sri Lanka, is filled with fairytale stories. For many, not just players but countries, it is an opportunity they dream of. “We have a dream, a vision, an urge for something greater. Something that we can be proud of... A greater calling...,” tweeted Monty Desai, who has coached Nepal to secure their place in the Qualifiers and the upcoming Asia Cup. One of the most successful men’s teams in 2023, Nepal, led by Rohit Paudel, will be aiming to make their mark in Zimbabwe.
UAE, who last played in the 2015 edition of the World Cup in Australia, will be looking to book their ticket to India for October. “It is any cricketer’s dream to play in a World Cup. For me personally, qualifiers itself is a proud moment. It is a great platform, especially for UAE to play against the best teams in the world,” Vriitya says. While they did not have a good record in the Cricket World Cup League 2 2019-23, UAE came back stronger to finish second in the World Cup Qualifier Play-off 2023 in Namibia. Asif Khan, Muhammad Waseem and Vriitya were among the top run-getters for them.
For many players, including Asif and Vriitya, reaching here in itself has been a journey. While Vriitya, who was born in Chennai, India, moved to UAE more than a decade ago, picked up cricket and came through the age-group system, Asif spent years playing cricket in Pakistan, including their U-19 team, before leaving the country. After coming to UAE in 2017, 33-year-old Asif eventually made his debut in 2022.
“That is the beauty of it. The diversity we have is our strength, we know the stories and journeys of every player. India and Pakistani-origin players are playing together from different backgrounds for one team with one goal, that in itself is a big thing,” said the 21-year-old. While understanding and acknowledging the logistical and scheduling difficulties, Vriitya hopes that in the future the ODI WC qualifiers too could be played in the same country where the main event is scheduled as it happened in the T20 World Cup last year so that associate cricketers too will feel that they are a part of the global event.
West Indies and Sri Lanka might be deemed as favourites for the two available spots, but if the last few years are anything to go by, there could be several surprises over the next couple of weeks in Zimbabwe. Vriitya calls the tournament a rollercoaster. “You cannot predict what will happen in one week. If a team has momentum on their side, any side can cause an upset. I think this tournament is going to be filled with upsets and surprises,” he said.