The qualifying process for next year's World Cup in England may have just ended last month in Zimbabwe, but for some countries the planning process for the 2023 World Cup is already in full swing. Six teams are in Malaysia this week with their end goal being that event, the first step of which is gaining promotion from World Cricket League Division Four.
But staying course for qualification for the 2023 World Cup is not the only dangling carrot on display in Kuala Lumpur. Netherlands' progression from Division Two into the World Cricket League Championship in 2015 paved the way for a spot in the 13-team ODI League and ODI status. Likewise, the six participants in Malaysia - Uganda, Malaysia, Denmark, Bermuda, Jersey and Vanuatu - are hoping that they can move up and gain a spot in the next edition of WCL Championship, anticipated to start in 2020, which brings with it precious fixtures to grow and develop.
This is the fifth time Malaysia has hosted a WCL tournament, two more than any other country. It is ideal not just for its fairly central location in the context of a truly global tournament but also for the quality of the facilities - whether it is fully constructed stands and pavilions or sand-based outfield drainage which neutralises mid-afternoon monsoon rains - that are arguably the best in the Associate world, outside of the UAE.
Here's a look at the six contenders:
Fifth at 2017 WCL Division Three
Since WCL Division Five in Jersey in 2008, the hosts have historically finished in the top two 62% of the time, thereby securing promotion to the next division more often than not. Others put in average performances and stay in their division. But Uganda suffered the rare, shocking indignity of being relegated as hosts 11 months ago in Kampala. The consequences of a reduced fixtures list meant that long-time captain Davis Karashani has had to temporarily step away from the national team due to university and work commitments at age 31.
Never a team that blows opponents away, they have always lurked around the higher divisions of the WCL due to their team-first ethos. Uganda remains one of the most intense fielding units on the circuit, regularly defending low totals in spite of a shaky batting unit. Under new leader Roger Mukasa and with the ageless allrounder Frank Nsubuga still contributing, don't expect that to change too much in Malaysia.
Player to watch: Mohammed Irfan
The nephew of Shahid Afridi turns the ball the other way with the arm, but like his uncle he is a monster basher of the ball when the mood calls for it. He was the team's leading wicket-taker and scorer at last year's Division Three, which included a blistering 108 not out off 71 balls against Malaysia.
Sixth at 2017 WCL Division Three
The tournament hosts have been hit or miss on home soil in the past: promoted as the runners-up at 2011 Division Six and 2014 Division Five; relegated at 2012 Division Four, and a mid-table finish at 2014 Division Three. A poor performance last year in Uganda followed by the departure from the playing squad of several senior players including Khizar Hayat means they are not considered favorites for promotion.
In a squad that is desperate for regeneration, a pair with expectations pinned for leading a revival are the Singh brothers, Virandeep and Pavandeep. The younger of the two, Virandeep is a promising batsman while Pavandeep's tall and lanky frame makes his left-arm spin awkward to face when released from his height.
Player to watch: Muhammad Wafiq
The medium pacer's stats may not look too impressive, but, at 22, he is fairly quick by Associate standards. In a squad with more bowling depth he'd have more freedom as a strike bowler, but he still has the capacity to cause some damage before teams pick on the weaker links in the Malaysia attack.
Third at 2016 WCL Division Four
Like Malaysia, Denmark is a team in a state of flux and will have to adjust quickly to squad turnover in order to have success over the next week. Gone are former England Test quick Amjad Khan, fellow medium pacer Aftab Ahmed and offspinning ex-captain Michael Pedersen.
New captain Hamid Shah has been tasked with the responsibility of shepherding the squad into a new era, but he still can depend on the veteran presence of Freddie Klokker for runs at the top of the order.
Player to watch: Bashir Shah
On Malaysian pitches, which traditionally offer plenty of assistance to spinners, the left-armer is expected to be a handful to face. He took 13 in five games at the last Division Four in Los Angeles as well as another 13 the last time Denmark was in Malaysia for Division Four in 2012.
Fourth place at 2016 Division Four
The squad has been slowly spiralling toward Associate oblivion ever since their pinnacle moment of going to the 2007 World Cup. However, they temporarily arrested the decline 18 months ago in Los Angeles with a surprisingly resilient performance. After being blown out by the two sides that eventually gained promotion - USA and Oman - on the first two days of the tournament, they bounced back with wins over Denmark and Jersey, the former costing Denmark a promotion spot.
Despite the absence of up-and-coming phenom Delray Rawlins - he has represented England Under-19s in the past, and, as a fully contracted Sussex player, could not get permission to play at this tournament - the squad still comprises some promising talent. Among them is Cejay Outerbridge, who took 11 wickets in Los Angeles to lead the attack, and top-order batsman Tre Manders.
Player to watch: Kamau Leverock
After wallowing in the lower-middle order for most of his senior-team career, the allrounder's coming-of-age occurred in Los Angeles when he was promoted to open two matches into the tournament. He responded with 137 off 111 balls against Jersey and hasn't budged from the top of the order since. Now he is one of the most explosive hitters on the Associate circuit. That he can contribute handy medium pace is a bonus. And yes, he's the nephew of that man Dwayne.
First place at 2017 Division Five
Jersey seem to have been moving back and forth between Division Four and Five since 2008, when they gained promotion on home soil along with Afghanistan. They've been promoted from Division Five thee times - in 2008, 2014 and 2016. Jersey have subsequently gone straight back in each of those seasons. However, one of those three successful seasons, in 2014, came in Malaysia.
This is Jersey's third WCL visit to Malaysia, having stayed put in Division Six in 2011. A team on the rise, their batting continues to be spearheaded by the Sussex-contracted Jonty Jenner. Charles Perchard is also hoping to make it two tournament wins from two in his early captaincy reign since taking over from opening batsman Peter Gough.
Player to watch: Ben Stevens
Jersey acutely felt Stevens' absence in Los Angeles when they were relegated. He was forced to watch from the sidelines while receiving medication for an undisclosed medical condition. Taking the field once again in South Africa for Division Five last September, he turned in another sterling effort, finishing as the team's second-highest run-scorer with 204 runs. He also ended tied for the tournament lead with 14 wickets.
Runner-up at 2017 WCL Division Five
Having been as low as the now defunct Division Eight in 2012, Vanuatu's second-place finish in South Africa vaulted them to their highest global ranking. With their backs to the wall after losing their first two matches, they pulled off an incredible chase on the last day of round-robin action against Germany, chasing 228 in just 28.2 overs to overhaul the net run-rate tiebreaker deficit. Vanuatu then followed it up with a stirring six-wicket upset over Italy in the semi-finals.
The advancement to Division Four coupled with revised ICC eligibility guidelines was all the motivation Vanuatu head coach Shane Deitz, the former South Australia wicketkeeper, needed to take the field again as he prepares to make his international debut for his adopted homeland. It comes more than 10 years after he played his final first-class match in the Sheffield Shield as he looks to boost a batting line-up, anchored by Jonathan Dunn and Nalin Nipiko.
Player to watch: Patrick Matautaava
Vanuatu's rollercoaster ride at the end of Division Five was piloted by allrounder Matautaava, who produced one of the all-time great knocks in the history of the WCL with his 139 not out off 76 balls in the chase against Germany. He then followed that innings with 83 off 60 balls a day later in the win over Italy.