World Cup

A look at the World Cup minnows

Bangladesh skipper Shakib Al Hasan. File photo  

“Putting a spoke in somebody’s wheel” is what a minnow does best and at the 2015 World Cup, the likes of Ireland, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland will seek to do the same. Here is a look at each one of those teams.

Ireland

In the past two editions, Ireland has managed memorable giant-killing acts: the victory over Pakistan in 2007 and against England in 2011. During the same time it has all but cemented its position as the best of the associate nations.

The next step in its development will be to play more with the elite. This bid to make a significant impression on the world stage will be at the centre-stage of Ireland's campaign. The side is led by William Porterfield, who will be participating in his third World Cup. Close to 10 of the 15 members have decent county experience, including Ed Joyce. This should help them, for, the conditions in Australia and New Zealand will present reasonable assistance to bowlers.

Still, the retirement of paceman Trent Johnston towards the end of 2013 and loss of Boyd Rankin to England will no doubt affect them. Right-arm seamer Tim Murtagh has also withdrawn with a foot injury.

UAE

The last time the United Arab Emirates (UAE) played in a World Cup was in 1996 and it managed a win over Holland. Two decades since then, the team isn’t expected to do anything better.

Interestingly, in this highly professionalised world of sport, the team is made up a bunch of amateur cricketers. Much will depend on Khurram Khan, the country’s most outstanding player this past decade. Ahead of the World Cup, the 43-year-old has been in excellent form. He scored more than 1000 runs in limited overs cricket in 2014.

Ever since former Pakistan speedster Aaqib Javed took over in 2012, the team has indeed got better. It even qualified for the World T20 last year for the first time ever. But in the same group as India, South Africa, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, West Indies and Ireland, Javed's goal of two wins looks highly unlikely.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe cricket is now being handled by former skipper Alistair Campbell, who has been appointed the managing editor, and Sri Lanka's World Cup winning coach Dav Whatmore. The move was made after Zimbabwe experienced the bitter low of being blanked 8-0 across Tests and ODIs in Bangladesh last year.  This came on the back of years of political turmoil that has wrecked the country's cricket structure.

Campbell has put in place an eight-year plan to revive fortunes. The accomplished batsman wicket-keeper Brendan Taylor, Hamilton Masakadza, Sean Williams, Stuart Matsikenyeri, Prosper Utseya, captain and premier all-rounder Elton Chigumbura, Tawanda Mupariwa and Tinashe Panyangara will be the main players.

“After this World Cup, we no longer automatically qualify unless we are in the top eight,” Campbell told ESPNCricinfo. “We will have to go to a qualifying tournament and if we don't qualify, that will have dire consequences for the game in Zimbabwe. So we need to create viable player pathways so that we identify talent and make sure that we are nurturing that talent.”

Bangladesh

Bangladesh goes into the 2015 World Cup after having not registered a single win in the last 12 months over a superior side. It even lost to Afghanistan at home and its biggest success is the 5-0 thrashing it handed Zimbabwe in a home series last year. Also, the team has never won a 50-over game in Australia and New Zealand and nine of the squad's 15 members are even yet to play a single game down under.

So, for better returns, Shakib Al Hasan, among the most-feared all-rounders in the world should fire. So should wicketkeeper and former skipper Mushfiqur Rahim, present skipper Mashrafe Mortaza and opener Tamim Iqbal.

Grouped along with Afghanistan and Scotland, the side can plot a revenge on the former and hope to beat the latter. Anything beyond that looks tough.

Afghanistan

This will be the country’s maiden World Cup appearance. And its team has risen from the Ashes, literally. The days of the Cold War, then the Taliban regime and now its present state, nothing has managed to dampen the spirits amongst its cricketers.

The team skippered by Mohammad Nabi is placed in Group ‘A’. The first targets are fellow-associate Scotland and then Bangladesh. The Afghans have past experience of beating the latter – in the Asia Cup in Dhaka in 2014 – and a repeat act is what it will be hoping for.

Though a quarterfinal berth is beyond it, two wins should cap a wonderful debut.

Scotland

Scotland has featured in the World Cup twice: in 1999 and in 2007. But it has lost all eight games it has played. A debut win will be the primary target this time around.

The team will be led by Preston Mommsen and like Ireland will predominantly depend of cricketers who have learnt their trade in the County circuit including the likes of Kyle Koetzer, Calum MacLeod and Rob Taylor.

For Scotland, it will be a tournament within a tournament, where it will try and best fellow minnows Bangladesh and Afghanistan because the last-eight stage is far too distant a land.


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