With the schedule announced for the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Qualifier next month, we take a look at some of the group stage matches that could dictate who takes the final two spots for India 2023.
As teams aim to hit the ground running in Zimbabwe, it's important to note that finishing as high as possible in the opening group phase will go a long way to ensuring World Cup qualification, with points against other advancing teams carrying over to the Super Six phase of the tournament.
Ahead of the first ball on June 18, a look at some of the crucial match-ups on the road to the Cricket World Cup.
West Indies v USA
June 18, Takashinga Ground
Opening day play pits the USA with the giants of their region, though the Americans will see the positives of playing the West Indies first up, and have the individual talent to roll over their more-fancied opponents.
Ali Khan’s opening spell to Shai Hope and the West Indies top order is the match-up to watch in this fixture, with a fiery start from the speedster inevitably helping the group of USA spin bowlers through the middle.
The match is also the first official men's ODI played between the two sides.
Scotland v UAE
June 23, Bulawayo Athletic Club
Three teams may separate Scotland and UAE in the tournament seedings, though recent form of the pair and their potential XIs on paper hint a closer meeting.
Scotland coasted to the League 2 title earlier in the year, though haven't played an ODI since February, and will be missing a number of key players on County Cricket duty. Their opponents meanwhile, despite limping to sixth in the seven-team tournament, found their mojo at the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup Qualifier Play-off, and look a stronger group.
Holding off the Emiratis will go a long way for Scotland to progress to the Super Sixes from Group B, especially if they drop points against Ireland two days earlier. The Scots would also not want to rely on a last-day victory over Sri Lanka, who will show no mercy looking for potential carry-over points into the next stage.
UAE by the same token will have this match earmarked as a must-win, not wanting to need a victory against Ireland on the last day of the group stage.
Netherlands v Nepal
June 24, Takashinga
The last match of their Group A tilt, sneaking past the Dutch, the team one place above in the group seedings, will be paramount for Nepal’s progress to the Super Six stage.
Nepal have been at their barnstorming best since Monty Desai took over the coaching reins in February, winning 11 of their last 12 matches in League 2 to claim an automatic spot at the Qualifier, also claiming the ACC Premier Cup on home soil and securing an Asia Cup spot.
By comparison the Dutch face the West Indies after this encounter, and will want to fill their boots with points before playing the strongest team on paper in the group.
Nepal's first ODI victory came against the Netherlands almost five years ago in Amstelveen, when Paras Khadka uprooted a stump at the non-striker's end to effect a rare run out, in a famous one-run win.
Zimbabwe v West Indies
June 24, Harare Sports Club
A game both sides would have circled in the tour programmes, the match would likely provide the winner crucial points on the road to India, and taking maximum carry-over points into the Super Six phase.
The teams did not meet in Cricket World Cup Super League, and haven’t played each other in the format since the corresponding Qualifier tournament in 2018, where the West Indies won by six wickets and with an over remaining, also at the Harare Sports Club.
Just four players in the West Indies team from the 2018 meeting appear in the squad for the upcoming tournament.
Scotland v Oman
June 25, Bulawayo Athletic Club
If Oman are to make a run at the Super Sixes, it would more than likely be down to a victory against League 2 rival Scotland, the side that beat the men from the Sultanate to top spot on the table.
Scotland boast victories in the last four meetings between the teams excluding a no-result in 2021, and were missing several players in their latest meeting (April 2022) that have also missed out on playing the Qualifier due to County Cricket commitments.
Sri Lanka v Ireland
June 25, Queens Sports Club
Not only do Sri Lanka and Ireland meet as the top-seeded pair in Group B of the Qualifier, the pair did not cross paths in Cricket World Cup Super League, adding to the intrigue.
The pair met in two Test matches in Galle, though it’s also worth noting that the tour had originally contained two ODIs, only for the second Test to be played instead.
Sri Lanka have bragging rights from the red-ball series, though Ireland’s relative strength in limited overs cricket, and a neutral venue in Bulawayo, puts this encounter on a more even keel.
Groups for the Cricket World Cup Qualifier
Group A: West Indies, Zimbabwe, Netherlands, Nepal, USA
Group B: Sri Lanka, Ireland, Scotland, Oman, UAE