Afghanistan and Scotland chase World Cup spot in crucial fifth-round WCL Championship encounter

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 12:01 PM

Scotland and Afghanistan are set to lock horns in the first of the crucial fifth round fixtures of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Championship, which resumes in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 6 March after a five-month break.

In a fixture that could determine which two teams qualify directly for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Afghanistan will face Scotland on 6 and 8 March at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, a match-up that Afghanistan must win to keep its hopes alive for a top-two finish.

Currently, only three points separate the top four teams in the WCL Championship, with Scotland in second place and Afghanistan four points behind, in fifth. At the end of the seven-round competition, the top two teams will qualify directly for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, to be held in Australia and New Zealand. With the leader board so close, both Afghanistan and Scotland are aware that their fixture is a pivotal one.

Scotland has previously appeared in two ICC Cricket World Cups (1999 and 2007), and the side’s captain Gordon Drummond says qualification for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2015 is the primary motivator for his team.

“Only a few players in the squad have played in 50-over World Cups and there is definitely a hunger in the squad to get to the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup. This is a definite goal for this group of players,” he says.

“Two victories in the matches would put us in a strong position for either of the top two qualification spots, and we will be positive in our approach. I’m confident we can get two victories in these games with the strong squad that we have,” Drummond adds.

The two teams have previously met on four occasions, winning two matches apiece, and Drummond agrees that there is little to separate them on a head-to-head basis: “Our results have been pretty even against Afghanistan in the past and the games have always been enjoyable battles. They have performed well in recent years, which has been good for cricket in general.

“We now have more knowledge about their team and how they play, which has helped shape tactics for this match. We also have a better understanding of the conditions at Sharjah from our previous tour, and discussed at length how each player needs to individually adapt to these conditions, which are different to the UK. I think the teams are evenly matched for these games,” says the 32-year-old all-rounder.

Drummond, however, is confident that his side, which includes four new faces - Neil Carter, Matt Machan, David Murphy and Iain Wardlaw – is well-prepared for the encounter: “We know that these games against Afghanistan will be challenging, particularly in their adopted home ground (Sharjah).

“We have been out here for the last 10 days preparing through intense training and matches against the UAE Blues, who were challenging opposition in their own environment. The squad has gained a lot of knowledge and confidence from these matches and is looking forward to the games starting,” he concludes.

Afghanistan captain Mohammed Nabi says that while his side needs to win both matches to stay in contention for a top-two finish, it is motivation rather than pressure that is inspiring the team.

“I would say that there will be slight pressure, but that the team is more motivated to win to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, which is out main aim,” he says.

“Last time (2009), we missed qualification to the ICC Cricket World Cup by a slim margin. It is a personal goal and a personal aim to lead from the front and take my team to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.”

Twenty-eight year old Nabi is confident of his team’s chances of winning the two-match encounter: “We have played Scotland previously, and we know that they will come hard at us in these games. We played them in 2008 and 2010, but I think we have an edge against Scotland because we’ve beaten them.”

“We know Scotland’s strengths and weaknesses, and we will focus on these two areas - working against their strengths and focusing on their weaknesses,” he says.

Afghanistan has enjoyed a lengthy preparation period for the WCL Championship, including training camps in Jalalabad and then in Pakistan, where the side played 10 one-day games and three T20s against Pakistan teams.

“The preparation we’ve already undergone will continue, as we groom our skills to prepare for playing against Full Members. We have already faced Full Member teams a lot – Australia, Pakistan, England, India - and we are aware of areas we need to work on to compete at that level,” Nabi adds.

In other fifth-round fixtures, Kenya takes on Canada in two ODIs at the ICC Global Cricket Academy in Dubai on 11 and 13 March. Kenya is currently in sixth spot in the WCL Championship, four points ahead of Canada, who is in eighth position.

Fourth-placed UAE will play host to table-topper Ireland at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on 18 and 20 March, and UAE will be looking for a clean sweep to keep its automatic qualification hopes alive. Two wins for Ireland would see it take a significant step to cementing a place in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.

Namibia will host third-placed Netherlands on 16 and 18 April in the 50-over-a-side event.

The forthcoming WCL Championship matches are as follows:

Afghanistan v Scotland
6 Mar - WCL Championship, ODI, Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah
8 Mar - WCL Championship, ODI, Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah

UAE v Ireland
18 Mar - WCL Championship, 50-over, Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah
20 Mar - WCL Championship, 50-over, Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah

Kenya v Canada
11 Mar – ICC WCL Championship, ODI, ICC Global Cricket Academy Oval No.1, Dubai
13 Mar - ICC WCL Championship, ODI, ICC Global Cricket Academy Oval No.1, Dubai

Namibia v Netherlands
16 Apr - WCL Championship, 50-over, Wanderers, Windhoek
18 Apr - WCL Championship, 50-over, Wanderers, Windhoek

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