In what will have come as good news to UAE cricket, the International Cricket Council (ICC) this week said it was shaking up the one-day international structure.
The game’s world governing body essentially announced a new qualification pathway for the 2023 Cricket World Cup, to be held in India from February 9-March 26, but it will have a positive impact on the game – especially for the teams just below the elite level.
The initial problem
The ICC created huge controversy when it announced in 2016 that it was reducing the 2019 50-overs World Cup to just 10 teams – from the original 14 – which meant making it virtually impossible for teams outside the elite level to qualify for the game’s flagship tournament.
As a means to assuage the ‘Associate Nation’ teams, of which the UAE are one, the ICC awarded Twenty20 status to all 32 members of the ‘World Cricket League’ – or the WCL – in its clearest indication yet that T20 was its route to marketing the game globally.
As a result, however, the UAE – who had qualified for the 2015 event when it was held in Australia and New Zealand – failed to make the cut for the 2019 event, to be held in the United Kingdom.
The knock-on effect was Associate Nation teams, such as the UAE, getting fewer avenues and opportunities to play one-day international cricket, which in turn limited their chances of getting better at the format.
Put simply, the likes of the UAE were stuck in a vicious cycle.
The Cricket Pod: Pakistan v Australia, plus the state of Abu Dhabi cricket
‘Route to India 2023’
According to the new system, the number of teams that can qualify for the 2023 tournament will almost certainly remain the same – 10 – unless there is some movement on the part of the ICC to accommodate more sides.
That being said, it gives more opportunities to the teams to compete and improve.
How? Read on.
The world’s top 32 teams (according to WCL rankings) have been divvied up into three tiers:
Tier 1 – ‘Super League’
The Super League comprises 13 teams – including the 12 Test sides (India, Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Ireland) and the Netherlands.
Each team will play bilateral ODI series scheduled to take place from July 2020-2022. A total of 156 matches will be played during this period, with each team playing 24 matches.
Eight of the top-ranked teams will qualify automatically for the World Cup.
The remaining five sides will be involved in a 10-team World Cup Qualifier tournament, to be played in 2022, to pick the remaining two (but more on this later).
Tier 2 – League 2
League 2 consists of seven teams, with three of the sides confirmed – Nepal, Scotland and the UAE. They will be joined by the top four finishers in the 'WCL Division 2' tournament, which will be held in April 2019.
The seven sides will compete in 126 matches between July 2019 through to the end of 2021. Each team will play 36 ODIs in all – including six matches (three at home, three away) against each of the other six sides.
The top three sides from this tier will join the five bottom-placed teams from the Super League in the World Cup Qualifier.
The remaining four sides of League 2 will be demoted to the World Cup Qualifier Play-Off tournament, also to be held in 2022.
Tier 3 – World Cup Challenge
The ICC has divided the remaining 12 teams into two leagues of six teams each, namely the World Cup Challenge 'League A' and World Cup Challenge 'League B'.
Ninety matches will be played in each of the two leagues, with each of the six teams being involved in 15 matches each.
The winner of each league will progress to World Cup Qualifier Play-Off.
This competition will pit the two league winners from the World Cup Challenge division with four bottom-placed teams from League 2.
The top two teams will qualify for the Qualifier.
This final phase of qualification will include the five bottom-placed sides from the Super League, the three top-ranked sides from League 2, and the top two teams from the Play-Off. Two of the best sides will take up the remaining 2023 World Cup berths.
Why this is good for the UAE
The UAE, who have been involved in just 46 ODIs between 1994 and 2018, will play 36 ODIs over a two-and-a-half-year period.
This will hopefully mean more exposure, more sponsorship, more money, and a greater incentive to get better.
After all, they are provided with a genuine shot at promotion to the top tier, and perhaps World Cup qualification one day.