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Pakistan, West Indies in 2019 World Cup Scramble

by AFP

Marty Melville—AFP

Battle to be among top eight teams guaranteed place in finals ramps up ahead of cut-off point in September.

Pakistan on Friday ramp up their bid to ensure a spot at the 2019 World Cup and avoid the humiliation of playing minnows to make it to the 50-over showpiece event.

In the week that football’s world governing body FIFA announced an expanded 48-team World Cup in 2026, the battle to be one of only 10 countries at cricket’s showpiece in two years’ time has been brought sharply into focus. There now follows a nerve-racking race against time with Sept. 30 the cut-off point to ensure a guaranteed finals place as one of the top eight teams and avoid the minefield of qualification.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has long declared that the 2019 event in England and Wales would be controversially pruned down from a 14-team event, which took place in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. While eight of the top-ranked sides will get direct qualification, the four bottom-placed nations will lock horns with associate countries in a qualifier to book the final two spots.

Pakistan—the 1992 champions—are precariously placed at eighth spot on 89 points—two behind Bangladesh, who will host the qualifiers in 2018, and two ahead of the West Indies. The Azhar Ali-led side will need to win their five-match ODI series against table-toppers and current world champions Australia starting Friday to enhance their chances of qualifying directly for the event.

Third-ranked India will also take on England in three one-day internationals starting on Jan. 15 as the clock ticks for the final placings to settle down.

Two-time World Cup champions West Indies, currently ranked ninth in the 12-team table, are another big nation that might have to battle it out in the qualifiers.

The reigning World Twenty20 champions have been far from convincing in the 50-over format, but they are scheduled to play 12 ODI games before the September deadline. The Jason Holder-led side are scheduled to host England and then Pakistan between February and May before they tour the United Kingdon for six ODIs in August-September.

The bite-sized new World Cup leaves little room for the six associate members to make an entry as Pakistan, West Indies or Bangladesh will stay firm favorites to book the last two spots should they slip into the qualifying stage.

Rising nations like Ireland, Scotland and Afghanistan—they played the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand—may be the worst affected by the trimming down.

ICC chief Dave Richardson had talked about “commercial implications” behind the move of sizing down the event, leaving many of the associate nations furious.

Ireland captain William Porterfield termed the move as an “absolute joke,” which will spell the “death of cricket” as the minnows made their presence felt in the last edition after beating West Indies in a league match.

The first three 50-over World Cups, staged in England, saw the participation of the top eight teams as the numbers gradually grew to 16 in the 2011 edition in West Indies. However, the first-round exit of big guns India and Pakistan in the Caribbean led to a huge drop in viewership, forcing the ICC to rethink their expansion plans for the 50-over marquee event.

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