A high-stakes global T20 tournament, starting this week...
Say what? Oh, just one of these 200 domestic leagues right?
Nope. International cricket, with plenty riding on it. Fourteen teams.
Wow, is this the T20 World Cup?
Not quite, but almost. This is the tournament through which teams will qualify for next year's men's T20 World Cup. It starts this Friday (October 18) and ends November 2. There are 14 sides competing for six spots on offer at the main tournament.
Where are the big teams? India, Australia, England...
Already in the main event. The top ten teams on the ICC rankings qualify automatically, while the other six are decided through a long qualification process.
Is this a little like what happens in football? A World Cup qualifier?
Sort of. Not all teams go through a three-year process of trying to qualify. The 14 teams playing this week have come through the competitions in their respective zones - Africa, Asia, East Asia Pacific, Americas and Europe. You get the drift...
These six qualifiers, how are they decided? Top three from each group?
Not so straightforward, although you should be familiar with the format if you follow the IPL or CPL. This is how it goes…
The 14 teams, divided into two groups of seven, play a total of 42 league games. The two group-toppers qualify directly for the T20 World Cup. Teams finishing second and third face off in a couple of playoffs (similar to the IPL Qualifiers). Win the playoff, seal your World Cup spot. That's four spots.
For the last two, the losers from the two playoffs face the fourth-placed teams in the group (like the IPL Eliminator). The winners of those games go through. So, after 42 games, as many as eight of these teams have a shot at qualifying for the World Cup.
Complicated, but fair. I'm assuming I won't be able to watch any of this live?
Not quite. Roughly half of the 42 league games and every game from the play-offs onwards will be broadcast live. And, of course, ESPNcricinfo will have extensive coverage from the ground.
Oh, completely forgot, where's all this happening?
In the UAE, across two cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The group stage is fairly frenetic, with as many as five games played on some days, and most days having at least three games.
Crazy. So who are the favourites to get through?
If you go by the rankings, Scotland and UAE should find it easy, but sport is never so straightforward. UAE have been rocked by some of their biggest stars not featuring in the tournament, and the team that would have been among the favourites - Nepal - have not even made it this far, with newbies Singapore knocking them out in the Asia regional final.
Did not know Singapore played cricket till I got into this conversation.
Yes, more on that here.
Coming back to your question, this is a 20-over game, and the shorter the format, the greater the chances of an upset. The cliche "anyone can beat anyone on their day" rings truer here than anywhere else. So watch out for a lower-ranked side toppling a "favourite" every other day. Having said all of that, Ireland, Oman and Scotland should be tipped to finish in the top three or four.
And the underdogs...?
In a larger cricketing sense, all 14 of these sides are underdogs. But within this pool, the likes of Bermuda, who are making a comeback with some young stars, Jersey (one of the Channel Islands off Britain, which has its own national cricket team) and Singapore, who recently beat Zimbabwe in a T20I, are teams that could shake up the established order on their day.
But Kenya used to be so good, and I can see them here among the teams...
You're right, they used to be very good back in the day, even getting to a 50-over World Cup semi-final in 2003. But all it takes, sometimes, is for a few things to go wrong for teams to fade away. Kenya, Bermuda, Namibia and Canada have all featured at World Cups in the past, but aren't outright favourites heading into the Qualifier.
Last question. What's the point of all this when these teams are all going to be crushed by the big boys at the actual World Cup?
Easy there. Afghanistan, who struggled to get out of this same tournament last time in 2015, ended up being the only side to beat eventual world champions West Indies at the World Cup proper. Netherlands beat England at Lord's in the 2009 edition, a fledgeling Oman side put it past fancied Ireland at the last World Cup.
And Associate cricket is at its most competitive these days, with players gaining top-level experience playing in T20 leagues around the world. It's hard to rule out an upset in pretty much any game anymore.