Depleted Oman look to replicate T20 success
Eight years ago, the World Cricket League promotion and relegation tournament system for Associate and Affiliate nations was in its infancy as 12 teams descended on Jersey to take part in the first-ever Division Five tournament. Afghanistan, at that time a little-known cricket team who had played their first ever men's international fixture in 2004, took the Associate world by storm in gaining the first of three consecutive promotions on the way to achieving ODI status. Less than a decade later, they claimed the biggest notch in their belt after they beat eventual title-winners West Indies in the World T20 2016.
Afghanistan's success story is a source of inspiration for all six teams returning to the setting of that unlikeliest of dramas when the 2016 World Cricket League Division Five kicks off on Saturday. Joining the host nation Jersey are their inter-island rival Guernsey, African sides Nigeria and Tanzania, south-Pacific island nation Vanuatu, and Oman, who beat Ireland at the 2016 World T20.
Oman (fifth place at 2014 WCL Division Four)
A little less than a year after a surprising run through the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland and Scotland, Oman's return to the British Isles adds some spice to the event as they try to kickstart their 50-over World Cup-qualification journey. The cold and wet conditions expected on the island may be a far cry from the dry and hot weather back in the Arabian Peninsula, but their dramatic win over Ireland in Dharamsala this past March has resulted in the other five teams in Division Five drawing a bullseye on Oman.
Though Oman's recent rise in the T20 ranks has been rapid, they have undergone a steady decline in 50-over cricket since 2009. Effectively in Division One after winning all five games in the group stage at Division Two in 2007 to gain promotion alongside UAE, they then finished last in their group at the 2009 World Cup Qualifier and followed it with relegation from Division Three in 2013 and Division Four in 2014. Oman will hope that the confidence taken from their shortest-format performances in the last 12 months will help reverse that trend.
They will have to achieve that without the services of their most capped player, Sultan Ahmed, who was not picked for this tournament with Ajay Lalcheta taking over as captain. Two of the bigger names missing in action are batting allrounder Amir Ali and batsman Adnan Ilyas. Amir, the Man of the Match in the win over Ireland, suffered a broken hand in Oman's domestic competition and could not recover in time. It means a greater burden will be placed on Aamir Kaleem and Zeeshan Maqsood to come through with both bat and ball.
Jersey (sixth place at 2014 WCL Division Four)
Jersey will be aiming for déjà vu after gaining promotion twice while hosting - Division Five in 2008 and Division Six in 2013 - to offset the disappointment of relegation from Division Four at Malaysia in 2014. Captain Peter Gough has been a reliable contributor over the years, finishing as the team's runs leader in three of Jersey's seven previous WCL tournaments. He also spearheaded their nine-wicket takedown of Hong Kong at the World T20 Qualifier in Bready with 81 not out.
However, more of the team's recent overall fortunes in 50-over cricket have been linked to Ben Stevens. The left-arm spinning allrounder was Player of the Tournament at the 2013 Division Six and 2014 Division Five, when Jersey went undefeated on both occasions. Stevens took 17 wickets in the 2013 tournament and scored 403 runs at 67.16, including five half-centuries in the 2014 tournament. But, at the 2014 Division Four in Singapore, he scraped together just 136 runs with a best of 37 and took only four wickets at an average of 60.25 as the team finished last on the points table.
Jersey's trump card, though, is batsman Jonty Jenner. The 18-year-old finished fourth on the run charts of the World T20 qualifiers last year with 210 runs at 52.50. A Sussex-contracted player, he has had a handful of appearances for their second XI. In his only two prior WCL appearances, he showed decent promise with 176 runs at 29.33 and one half-century but is primed for a bigger output after his breakthrough showing in 2015.
Tanzania (third place at 2014 WCL Division Five)
Tanzania have remained relatively stagnant throughout the history of the World Cricket League. At home in 2008 and in Italy in 2010, they stayed put in Division Four after mediocre showings. They did spring a shock upset over Nepal in Italy by defending 117. However, they were relegated in 2012 after going winless in the group stage.
Three wins in 2014 ensured they would stay in Division Five for at least one more tournament, but they are the most vulnerable for relegation back into the regional qualifying competition since there is no longer a Division Six tournament. The absence of allrounder Benson Mwita is a big setback to their chances of staying afloat. It means added expectations from allrounder Kassim Nassoro.
Nigeria (fourth place at 2014 WCL Division Five)
Nigeria are one of the most promising nations in the Associate world with tremendous growth over the last several years. They gained two consecutive promotions from Division Seven and Six in 2013, before staying put in Division Five after a fourth-place finish in 2014.
Eager to return to Jersey will be medium-pacer Oluseye Olympio, who finished as the leading wicket-taker at Division Six in 2013 with 18 scalps at 10.61. Joshua Ogunlola won't allow much pressure to build from the opposite end either. He took a tournament-best 17 wickets at Division Seven in 2013 and team-best 11 at Division Five in 2014.
On the batting side, the bulk of the runs are expected from Segun Olayinka and Olajide Bejide. The 30-year-old Bejide was the team's leading scorer at Division Five in 2014, including a century against Tanzania.
Guernsey (second place at 2015 WCL Division Six)
Guernsey arrive after gaining promotion from Division Six in Essex last September. Their chances of pushing Jersey or Oman for a spot in the promotion slots is enhanced by their familiarity with conditions. Going against them, though, is the memory of their horrid performance at Division Five in 2014, when they went winless in the group stage.
At the time, Guernsey were still trying to find their feet after the retirement of Jeremy Frith, one of the biggest scorers in the history of the World Cricket League, and the scoring drop-off was significant. Stepping up to fill that hole now is Matthew Stokes, who finished as the leading run-getter at the 2015 Division Six as a 19-year-old with 241 runs, including a best of 135 not out against Botswana.
Vanuatu (third place at 2015 WCL Division Six)
Vanuatu round off the tournament field, gaining entry despite a third-place finish at Division Six due to the withdrawal of Suriname after the South American side were found to have used multiple ineligible players. Vanuatu were in the original Division Five in 2008 but a last-place finish in the group stages ensured they dropped all the way down to Division Eight.
They stayed there in 2010 before gaining promotion in 2012 and again out of Division Seven in 2013 when they went undefeated in the group stage before losing the final to Nigeria. Their climb back up the Associate ladder coincided with the senior-team debut of teenage phenomenon Nalin Nipiko. The allrounder made 213 runs at 53.25 and took seven wickets as a 16-year-old at Division Eight in Samoa in 2012 and has continued to make strides.
Captain and batting mainstay Andrew Mansale was the team's leading scorer on both prior visits to Jersey in 2008 and 2013, with a total of 365 runs at 33.18, including a century against Bahrain. Joshua Rasu bolsters the batting depth, having made 222 runs at 55.50 in Division Six while Patrick Matautaava spearheads the bowling unit.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna