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World Cricket League Division 4 Preview - The long road to Italy
By Venu Palaparthi
On paper, based on their ICC ODI rankings, the countries of the ICC Division 4 are all at the same level. Cayman Islands - 25, Argentina - 26, Italy - 27, Tanzania - 28, Nepal - 29, USA - 30. Nothing could be further from the truth. How else can you explain that USA, ranked 10th in 2007, is now ranked a lowly 30th?
The countries are ranked similarly because they are currently in the same Division, their fortunes fluctuating with the vagaries of the WCL system. Their ranks do not reflect their performances outside of WCL. And some of them have never even played each other in the WCL.
Pic (Right): Lennox Cush in a WCL Division 5 match in Nepal.
It will be some more years before the World Cricket League stabilizes and all the countries find their rightful place in the pecking order. Meanwhile, here's an attempt by DreamCricket.com to seed the teams taking part in Pepsi ICC WCL Division 4 in Italy based on a review of their performances in the regional championships and the WCL.
1. NEPAL: Nepal and USA have been unlikely companions in the World Cricket League. Having started out in the same group as USA in Jersey in 2008 ICC WCL Division 5, Nepal did well to win all their matches in the Group Stage (just like USA). While USA was thrashed by the lowly Jersey in its semis in wholly avoidable circumstances, Nepal was thrashed by the mighty Afghans. Having failed to climb out of Division 5, Nepal (just like USA) was forced to wait until 2010 for another chance. In the Division 5 tournament in 2010, both countries led the pack this time and finished first and second overall earning a promotion to Division 4.
Nepal's superior ranking in DreamCricket.com's estimate is based on results in the two Division 5 tournaments. In 2008, in the third place playoff match in Jersey, Nepal gave USA a massive drubbing bowling USA out for 93. USA returned the favor on February 26, 2010 in a match that was cut short owing to crowd trouble - but not before USA reached the revised target of 157 with 12 overs to spare.
However, in the final the very next day, Nepal, perhaps not inclined to give the crowd another opportunity to express their discontent with stones and assorted missiles, dismissed USA for 172 and went on to reach that target with 5 wickets still in hand. Based on this 2-1 record against USA, Nepal are the top seeds in this tournament. Nepal is also planning a tour of Sri Lanka ahead of the tournament in Italy, a positive step that can only help them with their preparation.
2. USA: USA was shortchanged by its administrators' inability to clean house between 2005 and 2008. After being placed in Division 3 when the WCL system was conceived, thanks to its 10th place finish at the 2005 ICC Trophy, USA was suspended for non-cricketing reasons involving the said administrative machinery.
Upon readmission in 2008, USA was invited to join the league at the bottom of the totempole - Division 5. Once there, USA found it difficult to get out, finishing fourth in the 2008 ICC WCL Division 5 tournament in Jersey owing mainly to an uninspired performance against the hosts in a crucial semi-final match.
Afghanistan, which was in a far worse position, managed to shake off its past and proceeded to take the fast lane to ODI status. USA resumed its upward journey in 2010 with a much improved performance in Nepal finishing second - losing only to the hosts.
Ironically, when USA was suspended in 2005, Cayman Islands took USA's spot in the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2005 and Argentina replaced USA in the ICC WCL Division 3, joining Cayman Islands in that group. USA has not lost a single match to Cayman Islands or Argentina in 5 editions of the ICC Americas Championships beginning 2000, and yet finds itself playing these two countries to regain its place in Division 3.
In Division 4, Nepal will be a hard nut to crack for USA - the Nepalese are no pushovers against USA. The one thing going for USA is that Nepalese cricketers are unaccustomed to the astro-turf wickets in Italy. Natural turf is Nepal's preferred surface but USA has no such luxury and regularly plays on astro-turf and assorted other surfaces!
3. CAYMAN ISLANDS: When WCL was first conceived, the twelve participants of the 2005 ICC Trophy were to be bucketed in Divisions 1 thru 3 according to their ranking in that tournament. In addition, Division 3 had room for a leader from each ICC development region. Since USA, Canada and Bermuda had already booked their berths via the ICC Trophy route, Cayman Islands which was ranked behind these countries in the Americas region was the automatic next choice for Division 3.
To its credit, Cayman Islands retained its Division 3 spot at the end of the 2007 ICC WCL Division 3 tournament in Darwin (Australia) after inflicting defeats on lower ranked Tanzania and Hong Kong. But Caymans could not deliver a repeat performance in the 2009 ICC WCL Division 3 tournament held in Buenos Aries, scoring just one win (against the winless Argentina) and finished among the bottom two, which sent it down one notch to Division 4. Although Cayman Islands lost to Argentina in Bermuda last month, its overall record against Argentina affords Cayman Islands a seeding ahead of Argentina.
4. ITALY: Italy, like Cayman Islands, earned a spot in ICC WCL Division 3 in 2007 because it was the leader among the ICC's European associates - Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark and Scotland having already qualified via the ICC Trophy route.
However, its only wins in the 2007 tournament were against Argentina (in a last-ball run out) and Fiji, and it was relegated to Division 4. In ICC WCL Division 4 tournament in 2008 held in Tanzania, it won three matches finishing ahead of Tanzania, Jersey and Fiji, thus retaining its Division 4 position. Italy defeated Argentina in 2007 and Tanzania twice in 2008. This should put them ahead of these two countries in DreamCricket.com's rankings.
5. ARGENTINA: Argentina earned an improbable wildcard entry in Division 3 after USA was suspended in 2007 for non-cricketing reasons. This was possible because they were next in line in Americas as winners of ICC Americas Division 2 championship.
To everybody's surprise, the Argenentians grabbed that opportunity by the horns finishing second in Darwin in 2007. Argentina then moved to ICC WCL Division 2 but then lost the plot completely as evidenced by its downward slide post-Darwin. Argentina finished winless in 2007 ICC WCL Division Two tournament in Namibia and was relegated back to Division 3.
In the Division 3 tournament at home in 2009, Argentina once again finished without a single victory - sending it further down to ICC WCL Division 4. A 13-run victory over Caymans and an improbable tie against the Bahamas in Bermuda will hopefully instill confidence in Argentina. Argentina is proof that to truly defy gravity, you have to both improve and win consistently once you get into the higher divisions like the Afghans have done.
6. TANZANIA: Tanzania, as the leader among the remaining African associates, was placed in Division 3 in 2007. Having lost to all teams except Hong Kong in Division 3, it was relegated to Division 4.
In the Division 4 tournament in 2008, Tanzania was soundly beaten by all teams with the exception of Jersey, which somehow managed to lose to Tanzania after having won against better teams in Division 5 previously. In a three way tie for relegation from Division 4, Tanzania was saved by superior NRR and thus remained in Division 4. Tanzania recently toured Kenya, and although they were beaten in nearly all their matches, the experience should serve them well.