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Four takeaways from the World Cup Qualifiers

As one of the most competitive ICC tournaments in recent times comes to a close, we take a look at four big talking points from the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe

Safyaan Sharif celebrates Hamilton Masakadza's wicket, Scotland v Zimbabwe, World Cup Qualifier 2018, Bulawayo, March 11, 2018

Safyaan Sharif celebrates Hamilton Masakadza's wicket  •  Nigel Roddis - IDI

The Associates can compete with Test teams
There were three victories and one tie for Associates over Test teams in the tournament. Scotland beat Afghanistan and tied their group game against Zimbabwe; Hong Kong upset Afghanistan in the group stages; and then UAE, ranked 14th in the ICC ODI rankings, beat Zimbabwe in a crunch Super Six game, knocking them out of the tournament. The tournament was more competitive than many expected, with 13 victories for lower-ranked teams against higher-ranked ones and every team winning at least one game.
This meant there were no easy rides to the World Cup. Before the tournament, West Indies were heavy favourites to qualify, with Zimbabwe and Afghanistan expected to duel for the second qualifying spot. But West Indies were left staring at an early exit when they fell behind in a tight Super Six game against Scotland - they eventually won by five runs on the DLS method. Afghanistan just about made it to the Super Six round after two losses to Associates in the group stages. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe's tie against Scotland and shock loss to UAE left them out of the World Cup for the first time since their first appearance in 1983.
Nepal's remarkable rise culminates in ODI status
As recently as 2010, Nepal were playing in the sixth tier of world cricket. In less than a decade, they have risen to become one of 16 teams with official ODI status. They made the final step in the World Cup Qualifier, beating Hong Kong to finish fourth in their group and then Papua New Guinea in a playoff match to guarantee an eighth-place finish and with it ODI status. They will now be an ODI team until at least 2022, and while this does not guarantee fixtures against Full Members, it is a remarkable achievement.
Crowds prove cricket is still alive in Zimbabwe
It has been 15 years since Zimbabwe hosted a major ICC tournament, and there has been a steady decline in their cricket since, causing concern over the future of the sport there. But the crowds throughout the World Cup Qualifiers ranged from encouraging to vociferous, especially when the home side was in action. Attendances were so good, tournament organizers were forced to move a crucial game between Zimbabwe and Scotland from the smaller Bulawayo Athletic Club to the better-equipped Queens Sports Club. They were rewarded with a thrilling tie.
With a number of games not being televised, fans took to social media to give a sense of the atmosphere at the grounds during Zimbabwe's games. Merna Cremer, wife of Zimbabwean captain Graeme Cremer, became a minor celebrity among cricket fans when she live-tweeted scores from the Scotland game during a long powercut at the ground, a period when nobody, not even the ICC, had updates to share.
Playing conditions come under scrutiny
Since not every game was being televised, the ICC decided not to implement the DRS during the tournament, despite there being World Cup spots at stake. Scotland were left bemused after two crucial decisions went against them and played a significant role in their narrowly missing out on qualification.
Another questionable move was not having reserve days for any of the matches. The tournament was played in the middle of Zimbabwe's wet season, and both the West Indies-Scotland and Zimbabwe-UAE Super Six games were affected by rain. Interestingly, Scotland had qualified for the 2015 World Cup after winning a crucial Super Six game on a reserve day, but were denied by the lack of one this time around. The ICC's decision to cut the number of teams in the World Cup from 14 to 10 had already caused disgruntlement among lower-ranked teams and Associates, and that this tournament did not have some of the playing conditions other ICC events do only heightened that ire.