Apart from the full member teams, nations from across Africa, the Americas, Eruope, Asia and East Asia-Pacific had a chance to qualify for ICC World T20 2012
The ICC World Twenty20 2012 is a landmark event in many ways. It’s the first time the event has come to the subcontinent, it’s likely to reach more viewers than it ever has before with a broadcast reach of 1.5 billion viewers, and it comes at a time when the Twenty20 format is better understood by cricketers and fans.
While those are the more visible ingredients, there is another crucial element that may be overlooked. The team that wins the trophy will truly have earned the right to call itself the best in the world. More countries than ever before have had the chance to qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 2012, as a result of a process that allowed every nation an opportunity to be on the biggest stage.
While the full members – Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Zimbabwe – got automatic entry, there was a qualification process for the others that involved nearly all ICC Associate and Affiliate Members.
From across five regions – Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia and East Asia-Pacific – and multiple divisions, it came down to two teams that earned the right to participate in the ICC World Twenty20 2012.
Qualification entailed a two-step process. First, the teams had to win in a multi-divisional structure, through which they reached the ICC World T20 Global Qualifier – the first time this had been put in place for an ICC World Twenty20.
A sixteen-team global qualifier saw the teams divided into two groups of eight at the start, with the top three from each group taking part in a further stage to determine which two would qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 2012.
Of the sixteen teams, the ones who already had One-Day International status got automatic entry. These were Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands and Scotland. That still left enough room for ten qualifiers to come up through the divisional ranks.
Every region had a certain number of teams that could go through, with 11 regional qualification tournaments held in countries as diverse as Slovenia and Suriname. Namibia and Uganda made it through from Africa; Bermuda and the United States of America qualified from ICC Americas Division 1; Asia saw the qualification of Nepal, Oman and Hong Kong; Papua New Guinea kept the East Asia-Pacific flag flying, while Denmark and Italy made it through from ICC Europe Division 1.
Apart from the eventual prize of participation in the ICC World Twenty20 2012, progress through the qualification ranks was itself a significant achievement for some teams. For the first time, the ICC World Twenty20 Global Qualifier was broadcast live throughout the world, giving the countries participating an audience far beyond their borders.
Fourteen of the league games were broadcast live online, and six matches from the final stage were broadcast on television.
The ICC WT20 Global Qualifier was played in the United Arab Emirates,in Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The growing interest cricket commands even in the smaller nations was displayed with sizeable crowds coming to the stadiums, with matches involving Aghanistan particularly popular with the strong Afghan expat community in the UAE.
Neither Ireland nor Afghanistan will be taken lightly by any of their more established opponent, particularly after a final between the sides which produced some outstanding cricket, particularly from belligerent opening batter Paul Stirling.
Ireland has already felled some giants at past ICC events, while Afghanistan was the most heart-warming story of the ICC World Twenty20 2010.
Both have only grown in strength and for both, the prospect of victory on one of the biggest stages they have been part of is enough of a spur to overachieve. Australia, England, India and the West Indies will know that their respective matches against Afghanistan and Ireland will not be a formality.
For the other countries that have been part of the qualification journey, they will hope that by having the chance to take part in qualification for a global event, they will have helped raise interest in the sport in their countries. With six Associate and Affiliate Members set to play in the 2014 event for the first time, there will also be many emerging nations dreaming of the chance to play on the big stage next time the ICC World Twenty20 is played.