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ICC World Cup Predictions: Can the minnows make the knockouts?

A look at the chances of the smaller teams at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.

Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O'Brien celebrating after getting to his ton against England in 2011

Away from all the media attention, the three qualifiers for the 2015 World Cup – Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan – are fighting it out in the Dubai triangular series. 2014 was a mixed year for these teams.

A spate of good performances saw Scotland come from nowhere to qualify for the World Cup. The voices for Ireland’s Test status resurfaced before drowning out again in the din. Afghanistan caught eyeballs by defeating Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. If these things sound all optimistic, they were not.

The ICC have announced a 10-team World Cup in 2019, news that might have made the sponsors smile, but certainly came as a blow for the minnows. Starting 2016, the World T20 will be played once every 4 years. All these decisions will limit opportunities for the associates to showcase their potential at the highest level.

However, these teams can make a statement and make ICC think on their decision if they put up a fight, by giving the favourites a run for their money in this year’s World Cup. Let us have a look at the chances of all these teams and predict how far they can go with the resources they have in their armoury.

Scotland

International cricket hasn’t been very fruitful for Scotland since their debut World Cup in 1999. Their only victory against a Test side was a T20 win over Bangladesh a couple of years back. But they will hope to make their presence felt this time around, as this squad seems the strongest they have had among all the editions they have participated in so far.

Calum MacLeod has been in tremendous form for Scotland in 2014. His 62-ball 113 against the UAE and the knock of 175 against Canada came when his team needed it the most during the all-important qualifiers. Along with MacLeod, Preston Mommsen and Kyle Coetzer form the lynchpin of the batting unit that looks more promising than ever.

Mommsen’s 139 had sealed World Cup qualification as he was named the ICC Associate and Affiliate Player of the Year in 2014, to go with the man of the series award he won in the World Cup qualifiers. Coetzer will be carrying good form from the warm-up matches against Otago and Canterbury Furthermore, with Paul Collingwood recently adding strength to the coaching staff.

Being in Group A, Scotland face 4 tough opponents in England, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, one moderately tough opponent in Bangladesh and one evenly-matched opponent in Afghanistan. Average bowling resources and the tough World Cup format will remain one of the biggest obstacles in their journey.

Best case Go out in the league stage with 2 wins (Bangladesh, Afghanistan). Give the top four teams a run for their money, especially neighbours England.
Worst Case Lose all the 6 matches comprehensively

Key Players

Calum MacLeod, Kyle Coetzer, Preston Mommsen

Afghanistan

Unlike Scotland, Afghanistan’s strength lies in their pace bowling. In Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran and Hamid Hassan, they have a fine pace attack which can consistently bowl in the right areas at 140kph. Their recent form has seen them slip a little after a promising start in 2014.

After stunning Zimbabwe twice to draw an ODI series in July, Afghanistan lost 1-3 to UAE in November.

When it comes to batting, Nawroz Mangal and Asghar Stanikzai will have to steer the ship. Since 3 out of the 6 league matches for Afghanistan are in New Zealand, where grounds are relatively smaller, big-hitting players might dictate terms. This is where Najibullah Zadran, who scored a 50-ball 83 in the win over Ireland, will play a key role coming down the batting order.

Usman Ghani, the 18-year old, who scored his maiden ton against Zimbabwe might turn out to be the surprise package in that line-up. The spin department will be led by Samiullah Shenwari, who is the highest wicket-taker for the country in the ODI format.

The match against Scotland will be an interesting fixture as both teams have defeated each other once in the ongoing Dubai triangular series. The format of the event and a feeble batting line-up will be the biggest challenges for the Afghans.

Best case Go out in the league stage with 2 wins (Bangladesh, Scotland). Challenge the top four Test nations of Group A.
Worst Case Lose all the 6 matches comprehensively
Key Players Shapoor Zadran, Nawroz Mangal, Hamid Hassan

Ireland

From all associate nations, Ireland remain the most likely David to stun the Goliath. What makes them a respectable opponent is the fact that their batting line-up includes individuals who have performed successfully at the highest level, individuals who have a lot of county experience and individuals who have the ability to win games single-handedly.

William Porterfield, Paul Stirling, Ed Joyce, Niall O'Brien and Kevin O’Brien have all had their big moments on big platforms. Porterfield, the skipper who will leading the side for the second time in a World Cup, has 6 ODI tons under his belt including one against England. Paul Stirling has a reputation for playing blistering knocks at the top of the order. Two of his five tons have come against the bowling unit of Pakistan.

Kevin O’Brien snatched Matthew Hayden’s world record by scoring the fastest World Cup century when he reached his ton in just 50 balls in the 2011 edition against England in Bangalore. His brother Niall O’Brien provides solidity at the top of the order.

Ed Joyce hasn’t justified the talent he possesses, but he is capable of playing knocks like the one he played in the surprise victory over West Indies at Sabina Park. The bowling department for Ireland banks more on promise than on experience. Craig Young and Peter Chase will have the responsibility to fill in the shoes of Boyd Rankin and Trent Johnson.

If their batting delivers to its promise, Ireland can play spoilsports for a few seasonal campaigners.

Best case Make the next round along with India, Pakistan and South Africa by stunning the West Indies and winning over UAE and Zimbabwe.
Worst Case Lose all the 6 matches.
Key Players Ed Joyce, Kevin O’Brien and William Porterfield

 

Zimbabwe

Things haven’t been bright for Zimbabwe for a long time now. A miserable World T20 and a drawn ODI series with Afghanistan marked their 2014 as another low landmark in their constant struggle to come out of the rut. 2015 saw Alastair Campbell stepping up in the Managing Director’s role in a desperate attempt to seek a dramatic turnaround.

The responsibility of putting together good scores will rest on the shoulders of in-form batsmen Hamilton Masakadza and Sikandar Raza. Masakadza finally made the cut, after a long wait, on the back of some good form against the touring Afghans in 2014. In the same series, Raza scored a fine 141 against the tourists and emerged as the highest scorer in the series.

Elton Chigumbura
Elton Chigumbura

Sean Williams, Brendan Taylor and skipper Elton Chigumbura will form the backbone of the experienced lower middle order. Tinashe Panyangara and Tendai Chatara will lead the bowling unit that looks extremely weak.

Utseya, banned to bowl off-spin, will contribute with his newly developed medium pace skillset. Frail batting and bowling departments will make it extremely tough for Zimbabwe to create stunning headlines in this World Cup.

Best case Go out in the league stage with 2 wins (UAE, Ireland). Give the top four teams a run for their money, especially the tired Indian team and the weak West Indies.
Worst Case Lose all the 6 matches.
Key Players Sikandar Raza, Hamilton Masakadza and Sean Williams

UAE

Their first World Cup qualification since 1996, the UAE will field an ageing squad in the World Cup in a hope to use their experienced men for making a statement. A comprehensive defeat of the Afghans at home has propelled the spirits of the associate nation.

Interestingly, newly-appointed 43-year old captain Mohammad Tauqir has played only 5 ODIs in his career. The vice-captain Khurram Khan is the key player for the Emirati men. Khurram, who became the oldest ODI centurion in 2014, also led the batting stats in the ODI series against Afghanistan.

Andri Berenger will also look to play the anchor’s role along with the other in-form opener Amjad Ali. The bowling department lacks tooth and much of the responsibility will be on Muhammad Naveed and Krishna Chandran to trouble the opposition batsmen.

UAE will come into the World Cup in high-spirits with a side which is carrying good momentum. Given their ability to surprise the higher-ranked minnows, UAE will look to ruffle the Group B projections in the league stage.

Best case Go out in the league stage with 2 wins (Ireland, Zimbabwe). Give a hard time to other teams.
Worst Case Lose all the 6 matches
Key Players Khurram Khan, Mohammad Naveed, Krishna Chandran

Afghanistan and Ireland, thus, look the most likely units to topple the ambitions of a Test nation. But discounting Zimbabwe, UAE and Scotland will be a mistake.

With the World Cup format providing ample chances to prevent flukes in the league stage, only a consistently successful performing minnow side will stand a chance to be rewarded with a berth in the next round.

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