The road to the 2011 World Cup
It may be three long years years away, but the road to the 2011 World Cup begins this week in the unlikely setting of Jersey. More famed for its cattle and potatoes than a venue for cricket tournaments, Jersey plays host to 12 of the world's lesser-known teams in Division 5 of the World Cricket League (WCL), as they battle to climb the ladder to the fourth division and dream of a World Cup place in Asia.
The road is long, winding and complicated. The two finalists from Division 5 progress to the fourth division - joining Hong Kong, Fiji, Tanzania and Italy - whose tournament takes place in Dar es Salaam in October. The top two sides then advance to World Cricket League's third division in Argentina next January, which is followed by the World Cup qualifiers. And, finally, the top four Associate or Affiliate teams from that competition book their place in the World Cup. So far, so confusing.
There are some unlikely countries participating, too: Mozambique, Vanuatu and Germany; Bahamas, Singapore and, of course, Jersey. But among the 12 sides, who are split into two groups, are three teams with realistic ambition of hot-footing it into the higher leagues. Nepal's infrastructure, while relatively modest in world terms, continues to expand. USA's interest in the game is burgeoning, and they return from international suspension. Perhaps most intriguingly of all, Afghanistan: ravaged by war, but no stranger to the peaceful clunk of ball on bat. As Taj Malik, the coach of Afghanistan, told Cricinfo, his side are in excellent form too.
"The preparations have been very good. We've been training for four months and played 14 matches in Pakistan and won all the games, so we arrive in supreme form," he said prior to arriving in Jersey. "I'm sure we will give a good [account of ourselves and we simply must go for the win. All the Afghan people expect us to win. Yes, cricket is a game of chance, but we want to win 100% so that we can reach the next division."
The irony of Afghanistan doing so well isn't lost on Malik. After all, the Taliban regime banned the game, and it is through exile in Pakistan that the Afghan people have rediscovered the game or learnt from scratch. "We have financial problems of course, and our cricket infrastructure is still poor," Malik said. "For example we have only just completed our national cricket ground and academy. But the team spirit is very high for the last three or four years because we have travelled to India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, UAE - and the UK in 2006.
"The team is mature and experienced and ready for an international tour. We even had some of our guys in India, facing Mitchell Johnson, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel during a cricket academy in India, and they did very well."
Malik remains bullish of Afghanistan's chances and - no surprise here - is exceedingly keen, as his countrymen back home might also be, to beat USA. "To play America in the semi-final or final would be wonderful," he said, "and we would put our all into that game. But sport is about making friendships. It can bring two nations together. We don't see it as a political game - we just want to play seriously and win because they're a very good team full of different nationalities: Indians, Pakistanis, maybe even some Afghanistanis!"
They will be wary of the Americans. Their banishment from international cricket was not a surprise - repeated refusal to carry out the most basic of requests (such as engage a new constitution and hold elections) forced the ICC's hand - but they contain a number of dangerous players, not least their captain, Steve Massiah, who has been left kicking his heels for 12 months.
Little can be expected of the minnows' minnows - Norway, Mozambique, Germany, Singapore, Vanuatu - but the World Cricket League offers these smaller nations the incentive of boosting the sport's profile. Few Japanese people will even be aware their country has a national cricket side, let alone a gifted wicketkeeper in Tatsuro Chino, for example.
"The biggest problem cricket faces in Japan is lack of exposure. The average person just doesn't know what cricket is," Jarrad Shearer, Japan's manager, said. "That's why tournaments like this are so important. By being successful in Jersey, hopefully we'll get more exposure domestically. Our goal for this tournament is, first and foremost, to win it and progress to Division 4 - we're not here just to make up the numbers. At the very least we aim to finish in the top six at this tournament to stay in Division 5."
Shearer's sentiments will be shared by his opponents; big league cricket this is not, yet the competition will be hard-fought and the incentives are great. And in three years, one or two of these 12 will be looking back to where it all began in Jersey this week.
Germany: Graham Sommer (capt), Abdul Bhatti, Ayoub Pasha, Anees Butt, Farooq Ahmed, Javed Iqbal, Rajeev Vohra, Asif Khan, Milan Fernando, Surya Narayanan, Eksan Latif, James Eggleston, Srinivas Satyanarayana, Barkatullah Masaud. Keith Thompson (coach) and Dhushyanta Ekanayake (manager)
Mozambique: Muhammad Shoaib Younus (capt), Jayesh Mohanlal Khorova, Bineesh Vadavathi, Imtiyaz Shafikbhai Lili, Mohmed Aasif Aiyub Koliya, Imran Ismail, Muhammad Ikheriya, Zainulbidin Gulam Patel, Giovanni Florentino, Chandra Shekhar, C Puspussen, Nadir Gafar Karim, Mohammed Zulficar Sidat, Muhammad Kamran Qadir, Syed Kaleem Raza Shah, Wayne P Smith. Ismail Hassan (coach) and Carlos Jaime Mandlate (manager)
Nepal: Binod Kumar Das (capt), Paras Khadka, Paresh Prasad Lohani, Shakti Prasad Gauchan, Mahaboob Alam, Sanjam Regmi, Sharad Vesawkar, Dipendra Chaudhary, Gyanendra Malla, Mahesh Kumar Chhetri, Raj Kumar Pradhan, Amrit Bhattarai, Basant Regmi, Dhirendra Bahadur. Roy Dias (coach) and Tanka Prasad Paneru (manager)
Norway: Shahid Ahmed (capt), Aamir Waheed, Abdul Hadi, Adeel Ibrar, Ehtsham Ul Haq, Majid Zia Butt, Mubasshar Ahmed Bhatti, Muhammad Shahbaz Butt, Muhammad Zeeshan Ali, Sameer Sachdev, Shahid Ahmed, Syed Munawar Ahmed, Waseem Gill, Zaheer Ashiq, Saqib Qayyum. Ralph Dellor (coach) and Shahbaz Tariq (manager)
USA: Steve Massiah (capt), Gowkaran Roopnarine, Niraj Shah, Lennox Cush, Imran Awan, Khawaja Shuja, Steve Pitter, Sushil Nadkarni, Orlando Baker, Mohamed Masood, Rashard Marshall, Rahul Kukreti,Wahab Syed, Aditya Thyagarajan. Clayton Lambert (coach) and Sohail Bari (manager)
Vanuatu: Patrick Haines (capt), Andrew Mansale, Pierre Chilia, Kenneth Natapei, Richard Tatwin, Simpson Obed, Selwyn Garae, Manu Nimoho, Lenica Natapei, Trevor Langa, Michael Avok, Aby John, Eddie Mansale, Patrick Matautaava, Lazaro Carlot. Timothy Curran (coach) and Garry Blake (manager)
Afghanistan: Norooz Khan Mangal (capt), Karim Khan Sedeq, Rais Ahamdzai, Dawlat Ahamdzai, Ahamd Shah Ahmadi, Noor Ali Noori, Mohmmad Asghar Stanikzai, Hasti Gul Abed, Mohd.Nabi Eisakhil, Samiullah Shenwari, Hamid Hassan, Jalat Khan Naseri, Abdul Rashid Zadran, Gulbadin Naid. Taj Mailk Alam (coach) and Rais Jaji (manager)
Bahamas: Narendra Ekanayake (capt), Andrew Ford, Gregory Taylor, Whitcliff Atkinson, Jonathan Barry, Mario Ford, Garfield Armstrong, Wayne Patrick, Dannavan Morrison, Dwight Weakley, Roderick Mitchell, Lee Melville, Himchan Rampersaud, Ryan Tappin. John Welch (coach) and Irvin Taylor (manager)
Botswana: Tshepo Mhozya (capt), Akrum Chand, Abdul Patel, Omar Ali, Mosa Gaolekwe, Karabo Modise, Denzil Sequiera, Saad Mohiyuddin, Karan Kapoor, Manon Barot, Shah Zaib Khan, Nadeem Tajbhay, Dave Buchanan, James Moses. Solly Chotia (coach) and Ahmed Fazal Sheriff (manager)
Japan: Ko Irie (capt), Gavin Bruce Beath, Kenji Murata, Masaomi Kobayashi, Ahmad Munir, Naoki Miyaji, Patrick Jamieson Giles-Jones, Naoki Kamatani, Tatsuro Chino, Courtney Jones, Takuro Hagihara, Kensuke Kobayashi, Yuta Matsubara, Satoshi Nakano. Richard Laidler (coach) and Jarrad Shearer (manager)
Jersey: Mathew Hague (capt), Tony Carlyon, Steve Carlyon, Jonathan Gough, Peter Gough, Christopher Jones, Thomas Minty, Andrew Dewhurst, Robert Minty, James Brewster, Sachin Patidar, Bradley Vowden, Ryan Driver, James Caunt. Peter Kirsten (coach) and Chris Minty (manager)
Singapore: Chaminda R Kumarage (capt), Zeng Renchun, Syed Ali Muhammad, James Kailash Muruthi, Narender Reddy Bonguram, Anish Edward Param, Chongwei Low, Chetan Ramchandra Suryawanshi, Arun Vijayan, Mohamed Shoib, Abdul Razak, Mohd Rizwan Nasir Madakia, Christopher Janik, Buddhika Mendis Yange Oshanka, Dharmichand Mulewa. Venkataramana Margasahayam (coach) and Mahmood Gaznavi (manager)
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo