Netherlands - who lost ODI status following a calamitous performance at the World Cup Qualifier in 2014 - are on the verge of a great triumph after the ICC confirmed this month that the winner of the ongoing World Cricket League Championship will join the inaugural 13-team ODI League. The league, approved earlier this month and slated to begin in 2019, will also help decide the ten teams that will qualify for the 2023 World Cup.
With the Dutch in pole position on the WCL Championship table, holding a two-point lead over Papua New Guinea heading into the final two-match round to be played in the UAE in December, their head coach Ryan Campbell lauded the ICC's decision and is working to make sure Netherlands don't run out of steam before the finish.
"I think it's a fantastic decision by the ICC," Campbell told ESPNcricinfo regarding the announcement of the 13th team in the ODI League. "We can talk about how many teams go to World Cups and the Associate world is obviously down in the dumps with the number of teams going, but what I think the ICC have shown with the elevation of Ireland and Afghanistan to Test status and now confirming that the 13th team will come from the winner of the WCL, I think it gives all us lesser nations something to strive for.
"To be involved in the [ODI] league for two years against the top 12 teams in the world, whoever wins [the WCL Championship], it's going to make their cricket so much better for us here in the Netherlands. Hopefully it'll really take giant strides forward in making the game more of a sport where kids, and parents of kids will say, 'Yeah we do want you to play cricket because we can see a future. We can see that you're going to play against teams around the world and there may be full-time contracts.'"
Following three straight World Cup appearances in 2003, 2007 and 2011 which strengthened their reputation as top-tier Associate team, Netherlands finished one point behind Afghanistan in the 2011-13 WCL Championship and narrowly missed out on an automatic 2015 World Cup berth. Then a devastating loss to Kenya on the last day of the opening round of the Qualifiers in New Zealand not only knocked them out of contention but also took away their ODI status.
Having gone through that heartache in 2014, the Netherlands squad is acutely aware of the ramifications of their final two games in the WCL Championship against Namibia in Dubai starting December 6.
"I know as an organization, we've learned, the KNCB [Koninklijke Nederlandse Cricket Bond] has learned from their mistakes in 2014," Campbell said. "The team went out of season to New Zealand and didn't have enough preparation and the players played accordingly. We're not going to be thinking about that.
"I have 11 players at the moment working [hard] in South Africa staying ready to go because we're heading into winter here in the Netherlands. More players will be joining them in Pretoria to prepare well and then we're going to Dubai even earlier. So everything will be in place and it's just about us keeping our nerves and playing good cricket."
The preparation plan may seem like overkill for two games against Namibia, who are currently tied for last place on the WCL Championship table. However, thanks to first-choice players' availability, Namibia struck a convincing win in Scotland last June, a result that has left Scotland three points behind Netherlands. Campbell was in Edinburgh at those matches to do some advanced scouting and believes them to be a dangerous opponent regardless of ranking.
"Namibia's batting is as good as any team in Associate cricket," he said. "[Gerhard] Erasmus is a very good player and they're very aggressive at the top and don't leave anything to chance. I think they're a very good team. They lost games early on through lack of [player] availability, which hurts every team. They're dangerous.
"They have match-winners all the way through. [Sarel] Burger is a very good captain. He's been there for years now and is a very good competitor... we're planning accordingly and taking them on as if they're number one on the table, not down at the bottom. They play in the South African domestic competition so they play against good players. They're very good and we're not going to take them lightly, that's for sure."
The final round of the WCL Championship is a prime reminder that Associates rarely play dead rubbers. Not only is there a battle for the top of the table to gain entry into the 13-team ODI League, but close attention is also being paid to the middle of the table because the top four teams will be guaranteed entry to the 2019 World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
Hong Kong can jump from fourth to first if they win both their remaining matches against PNG, while keeping their run-rate up, and Netherlands lose twice to Namibia. Kenya can clinch fourth place - and so enter the World Cup Qualifier - if they beat Scotland and PNG knock Hong Kong out in both games.
Should that happen, Hong Kong would have to go back to WCL Division Two, where they would compete against UAE, Namibia, Nepal, Canada and Oman for a top-two finish to claim one of the final spots in the World Cup Qualifier.
"What it does say is that as far as Associate cricket goes, they've all got something to play for and it's going to be an absolutely awesome round of cricket [in Dubai]," Campbell said. "The top four go to Zimbabwe automatically. So Kenya and Hong Kong will be fighting for that. Scotland are only three points behind so they'll be wanting to win to go to the top.
"Papua New Guinea, what a great story that would be if they end up winning the whole competition. Of course for us, we want it bad and we want to be the 13th team. I just think the World Cricket League conclusion is going to be absolutely awesome and everyone around the world should take notice because there's going to be some good cricket."