Analysing The Four Qualifiers

Afghanistan has been drawn against host nations, Australia and New Zealand (my outside tip for the tournament), and 1996 champion Sri Lanka.  I predict that all three will be too good for it and, therefore, it will be targeting the other three sides in its pool.  England’s 50-over form over the past 12 months has been erratic and it will need to find some consistency under new captain, Eoin Morgan, while the other two are Bangladesh and Scotland whom Afghanistan plays on 18 and 26 February, respectively.  Looking at Afghanistan’s  squad, the big news is the exclusion of wicketkeeper/batsman Mohammad Shahzad.

It is likely that coach Andy Moles has favoured Afsar Zazai on fitness.  It’s a loss for the competition as Shahzad is a born entertainer and, trust me, always manages to get underneath the skin of opposition.  Breaking down the squad, runs will come from its former captain Nawroz Mangal.

Asghar Stanikzai will probably look to bat through the innings with young Usman Ghani, who was its leading scorer in ODIs in 2014, including a century vs Zimbabwe.  Afghanistan has useful all-rounders in Mohammad Nabi, Samiullah Shinwari and Hamid Hassan.  Afghanistan bowling has variety and experience, especially, if Hamid can remain fit.

I predict that Dawlat Zadran and Samiullah will make significant contributions and I also believe that Merwais Ashraf is a hugely underestimated operator.  Nabi and Samiullah will shoulder majority of the spinning and will do a good job.  There is no nation more passionate and proud at this ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.  I truly wish this squad of men the very best.

Ireland will be disappointed after dropping down to 12th in the Reliance ICC ODI Team Rankings.  Its strategic plan to 2015 had set a target ranking of eighth and this World Cup is a huge opportunity for it to get back up that ladder.  In this group, there is defending champion India and former champions West Indies and Pakistan.  In addition, Ireland will also face South Africa, Zimbabwe and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

I remember reading an article last September which suggested that players had to perform in a series against Scotland and the High Performance Porgramme tour of Australia and NZ in October to make themselves “undroppable” for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.  I feel for Max Sorensen, who failed to earn the selectors’ nod.

He took six wickets in the series against Scotland, including four for 40 and 14 not out in a man of the match performance in the second game.  Injury forced him to miss tours to Australia and New Zealand last year, which gave others a chance.  It must be a bitter pill for Max to swallow given that he was also short-listed for Cricket Ireland’s player of the year in 2014, losing out to Kevin O’Brien.

The key to success for Ireland will be in the first 10 overs of each innings.  If Ireland can take wickets with the new balls and minimise losing its wickets when batting, it is in with a chance.  We can expect its fielding to be world-class as the support team prides itself on the fitness levels of this group.

The opening partnership between Paul Stirling and skipper William Porterfield has been the key to success of this side over the past few years.  Ed Joyce comes in at three and is undoubtedly the team’s best batsman.  The middle-order is sprinkled with the quality of Gary Wilson, the O’Brien brothers and a young man on the move in Irish cricketing circles, Andrew Balbirnie.

The bowling will need to get early wickets to put the opposition on the back foot.  The experience of Tim Murtagh (if he is fit) is key to the bowling of Ireland.  With Sorensen out of the frame, it is likely that young Craig Young will take the new ball.  John Mooney and Kevin O’Brien, who are both playing in their third 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup, will be the key as will George Dockrell.

If Alex Cusack is, fit he will be the go-to man during the Powerplays and at the close of the innings.  Both are good mates of mine, however, I believe Niall O’Brien should get the gloves over Gary Wilson.  I know Niall won’t mind me saying it but Gary is also a much better fielder …

I had feared the worst for Scotland cricket when its side finished fifth in the ICC World Cricket League Championship.  It had to go to New Zealand and beat other nations in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier to make it to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.  Its runs in next month’s tournament could come from captain Preston Mommsen, Calum MacLeod, Kyle Coetzer, Matt Machan and Frederick Coleman.

Again wickets will be the key up front and I expect Safyaan Sharif and Iain Wardlaw to be the key men, and watch Majid Haq, he is a quality off spinner.  Richie Berrington is a superb all-rounder and will be called on in both innings at key stages in the game.   With Craig Wright and, especially, Paul Collingwood, on the coaching staff, it will have a wealth of experience in Southern Hemisphere conditions.

Scotland is in the same group as Afghanistan and I wouldn’t be surprised if it pulled off an upset or two.  The players identified above will certainly need to play their part for that to happen.  Good luck lads.

It’s been since 1996 the UAE played in the 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup, so welcome back boys!  I suspect the side will struggle on the green and bouncy tracks, particularly in Australia.  The UAE plays its matches in Perth, Brisbane and Napier.  My knowledge of the UAE isn’t great but stats don’t lie, they always tell a story and the responsibility for the UAE’s success at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 will come from a few.

From a batting perspective, captain Khurram Khan will be required to score runs in all games along with Swapnil Patil and Shaiman Anwar.  UAE’s bowling is a concern with only one true paceman in Mohammad Naveed.  However, Manjula Guruge will swing the new ball and bowl well at the death, while Amjad Javed will take the middle overs with his canny medium-pace.

Khurram may need to bowl his left-arm spin if things don’t go to plan.  The UAE is coached by ICC Cricket World Cup winner Aqib Javed and his experience of Australia conditions will be invaluable for this group of men as they embark on what could be a tough tour.

Credit: 2015 © ICC Development (International) Limited

Photo credit: Pal Pillai-IDI-IDI-via-Getty-Images