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The ICC 2019 World Cup Qualifiers get underway in Zimbabwe on Sunday (March 4), and it is going to be an event to remember. We’ll get to see as many as ten teams vying for the only two remaining places, which are up for grabs at the marquee cricket event, scheduled to be held in England and Wales next year. We shall take a look at five players to watch out for during the ICC 2019 World Cup Qualifiers.
The teams have been divided into two groups of five. Group A consists of Ireland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, United Arab Emirates and Windies. Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Nepal, Scotland and Zimbabwe are in the Group B. The groups will play on a round-robin basis.
After the group stages, the top three teams of both groups will enter the Super Six round. Then the teams will play three matches against the sides that they didn’t compete against in the group stages. All points earned during the group phase will be carried over to the Super Six stage except those which were gained against the bottom two nations from each group.
The top two teams from the Super Six will contest in the final and also progress to the 2019 Cricket World Cup.
Five players to watch out for during the ICC 2019 World Cup Qualifiers:
1. Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)
It is for a reason that the 19-year-old Rashid Khan is the No.1 ranked bowler on the ICC Men’s ODI Rankings for bowlers. Such has been Rashid’s rise in international cricket that opposition teams often chalk out strategies of playing out the spin wizard’s quota of overs with minimal risk and leaving the run-scoring against the rest. The Afghan sensation will add another feather to an increasingly well-adorned cap by becoming the youngest to lead in ODIs, when he leads his country out in the ICC 2019 World Cup qualifying campaign.
The leg-spinner, who was bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad for INR 9 crore in January’s IPL auction, has taken 86 wickets in 37 ODIs. Mitchell Starc’s record of taking only 52 matches to reach 100 wickets is in danger of falling over the next few weeks in a torrent of fizzing leg-breaks and googlies.
2. Chris Gayle (West Indies)
Amid facing the ignominy of failing to qualify for the next year’s World Cup, despite being one of only three teams to have won the World Cup on multiple occasions, the Windies can take solace from the fact that star batsman and self-styled ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle is back and ready to try and lead them to the showpiece event in England. The big-hitting left-hander turned down the allure of the lucrative Pakistan Super League in order to play for his country in Zimbabwe, and all eyes will certainly be on Gayle as he tries to reach his fifth World Cup.
While there has seldom been any doubts around Gayle’s ability to turn the course of match, the maverick opener hasn’t been in the best of form during the recent warm-up matches. Gayle will have to significantly up his game if he is to secure a place at the ICC 2019 World Cup for his country. He will also be looking to add to his tally of 22 ODI hundreds.
3. Sikandar Raza (Zimbabwe)
If Zimbabwe’s recent 4-1 ODI series defeat by Afghanistan is anything to go by, then they will need to exploit every ounce of advantage offered by playing at home during the ICC World Cup qualifying campaign. One player that can play a big role with bat and ball is Sikandar Raza, who is a leader and an important figure in the side. Alongside other senior pros like Brendan Taylor, Kyle Jarvis, Hamilton Masakadza and skipper Graeme Cremer, much will depend on Raza, if Zimbabwe are to overcome serious threats from Windies and Afghanistan to steer clear of the ICC 2019 World Cup qualifiers next year.
Raza has shown regular glimpses of his all-round capabilities in the last two years for Zimbabwe and strong performances from the 31-year-old will go a long way to furthering his nation’s cause.
4. Sandeep Lamichhane (Nepal)
Sandeep Lamichhane has perhaps emerged as the quintessential ‘Rashid Khan’ of Nepal. All of 17, Lamichhane has already made a big name for himself and even earned plaudits from none other than Michael Clarke, the former Australia captain. Speaking to Cricket Australia some time back, Clarke said of the youngster, “Sandeep has a lot of talent, there’s no doubt about it. But I think he offers a hell of a lot more than that. I think he’s a lovely young man. He’s extremely respectful of his fans and the people who support him.”
The teenage leg-spinner also attracted plenty of global attention when he was signed up to play for Delhi Daredevils at the mega Indian Premier League auction in January. Just to get an idea of how good he is, one needs only look at the numbers from the World Cricket League (WCL) Division 2 in Namibia in February: 17 wickets from six games at an average of 10.35 and an economy rate of 3.23.
5. Mujeeb Zadran (Afghanistan)
Yet another ‘mystery’ spinner everyone is talking about. Like Lamichhane, Mujeeb Zadran has generated plenty of interest and also earned himself a lucrative IPL contract (worth INR 4 crore) off the back of his outstanding performances. The 16-year-old spin sensation recently became the youngest player to take an ODI five-wicket haul during Afghanistan’s win over Zimbabwe in the fourth ODI of their bilateral series in February, eclipsing the likes of Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and team-mate Rashid Khan in the process.
As well as impressing at the Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand, he has enjoyed a near-perfect start to his international career. Expect his stock to rise even more at the ICC 2019 World Cup qualifiers in Zimbabwe.