Two spots up for grabs for 2014 World Cup Qualifier
What could be the last hurrah for several teams hoping for a chance to reach a World Cup begins on Sunday in Bermuda when World Cricket League Division Three gets underway. The top two teams in this tournament advance to the 2014 World Cup Qualifier due to be held in New Zealand. With the 2019 World Cup slated to include only 10 teams, World Cup 2015 may be the last chance any of these sides will ever get at making a run at a major 50-over global tournament.
Nepal is the hungriest of the six sides in Bermuda looking to devour the likes of Italy, Oman, Uganda, USA and the hosts, Bermuda, in the round-robin event. The country has had traditionally strong junior teams but under the leadership of coach Pubudu Dassanayake, they are finally getting the maximum out of their talent at the senior level. Nepal went undefeated at Division Four in Malaysia last September to earn a spot in Bermuda and they haven't slowed down one bit since.
In October, they earned a share of the Asian Cricket Council Trophy Elite 50-over tournament after tying with the UAE in the final in Sharjah. Four weeks ago in the ACC Twenty20 Cup, they made it to the final on home soil before losing to Afghanistan. They used to be a team that relied heavily on their spin bowlers, but now the batting has caught up, easing the pressure on their captain Paras Khadka.
Nepal's only challenge appears to be whether or not their arsenal of left-arm orthodox spinners - Shakti Gauchan, Basant Regmi and Rahul Vishvakarma - are able to adjust bowling on some of the smaller grounds that may be used in the tournament. Regardless, they are favorites to come out on top in a field that lacks tremendous depth.
The second spot available for promotion into the 2014 World Cup Qualifier will most likely be a dogfight between USA and Italy. USA has the advantage of having familiarity with conditions after visiting Bermuda in 2010 for an ICC Americas tournament. They also have recent form on their side with an undefeated run at the 2013 ICC Americas Division One Twenty20 tournament.
However, it remains to be seen how the team responds to the absence of Aditya Thyagarajan and Usman Shuja. The two senior players were dropped for the tournament, adding to the weight of responsibility of captain Steve Massiah to perform for USA. He has not scored a century in live competition since 2006, but turned in triple figures for USA in a 186-run win over Uganda on Friday in a warm-up fixture ahead of USA's first match against Nepal on Sunday.
Italy showed how serious they were taking this tournament by being one of the earliest arrivals in Bermuda, landing a full week ahead of the event. Allrounder Peter Petricola will once again be a major factor in the outcome of Italy's fortunes.
Uganda's heavy defeat to USA in a warm-up match is a strong indication that the African side will struggle. Oman are an underdog as well and a loss at the hands of Kuwait during the ACC Twenty20 Cup last month may be a harbinger of a long week in Bermuda. Under normal circumstances that would be nothing to complain about in a beautiful island nation, but not so much with a spot in the World Cup Qualifier at stake.
Traditionally the host sides in World Cricket League play have fared very well, but Bermuda is a side on the decline and they may wind up finding themselves closer to fighting against relegation to Division Four instead of promotion by the end of the eight-day event. They looked ragged last month in Florida and suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Suriname during the Americas Twenty20 tournament.
Making things more difficult for them is the absence of teenagers Kamau Leverock and Joshua Gilbert, who are missing the tournament due to school commitments. It'll be up to David Hemp and Janeiro Tucker to turn back the clock and relive their form of yesteryear if Bermuda is to have any chance of getting back to the World Cup, which they made in 2007.
But five other teams are eager for that chance too and unlike Bermuda none of the others have ever tasted World Cup competition. This week will provide them their first, and possibly last, chance to get there and take on the Full Members in Australia and New Zealand in 2015.
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey