The WCL Division four is the next step for the Associate and Affiliate nations towards the grand prize © Getty Images
Six teams have come to Los Angeles pursuing a spot in the the 2019 World Cup and hoping the City of Angels can spare a few to be on their side.
The next step on the road to England, the World Cricket League Division Four begins on Saturday at Woodley Park in the northwest suburb of Van Nuys. The two teams to finish on top get move on to Division Three. Then there is Division Two, which in turn leads to a qualifying tournament in 2018 in Bangladesh.
USA would be pleased to have the home advantage in a WCL tournament, and that is not just because they had missed out on it, twice, due to administrative issues. Since the start of the 2009 cycle, WCL events, besides Division One, in which promotion and relegation are at stake 14 out of 19 hosting teams have finished in the top two slots and moved on to the next level.
The other five teams – Bermuda, Denmark, Italy, Jersey and Oman – will provide strong competition over the course of the next week. Those who finish in the bottom two, however, would be relegated to Division Five.
USA (fifth at 2014 WCL Division Three)
Fahad Babar has been the backbone of the USA batting line-up © Peter Della Penna
The American squad is almost unrecognisable from the group that was relegated in Malaysia two years ago. Captain Steve Massiah, leading wicket-taker Usman Shuja and batsmen Aditya Thyagarajan and Sushil Nadkarni have departed the national scene and a wave of fresh faces has emerged.
Allrounder Timroy Allen played for the 2016 CPL champions Jamaica Tallawahs. A destructive presence at the top of the order, Steven Taylor has also taken leadership of USA. His partner Fahad Babar forms the backbone of the batting line-up. Babar was USA’s leading scorer at 2014 WCL Division Three, and has struck four fifties in nine one-day games, including two against Canada in October’s Auty Cup. Akeem Dodson has been in solid form in the middle-order and Alex Amsterdam making a century in a warm-up match on Tuesday has bolstered the team’s batting strength.
USA may have the most potent pace attack in the tournament, but legspinning allrounder Timil Patel is their biggest threat. The Los Angeles-based player picked up 10 wickets at the World T20 Qualifier in Ireland last summer and should be a handful on his own turf.
Bermuda (sixth at 2014 WCL Division Three)
The 21-year old Bermuda batsman Tre Manders has a lot riding on him © ICC/Getty
Since making their maiden World Cup appearance in 2007, Bermuda have fallen on hard times. They were beaten 3-0 by an under-strength Canada developmental squad in Hamilton last weekend. Among them was a disappointing 34 all out.
Finding players has been an issues. Dean Minors, the 46-year old who hasn’t played for Bermuda in five years, is their first-choice keeper. Their replacement for vice-captain Terryn Fray, who had broken his finger during that 0-3 loss to Canada, was 41-year old Janeiro Tucker.
In his prime, Tucker was a match-winner and was Bermuda’s leading run-getter at the 2005 ICC Trophy. But a Bermuda Cricket press release said he has arrived in Los Angels after postponing a shoulder surgery. Their confidence heading into the tournament is low and the odds are heavily in favor of Bermuda being relegated come November 5.
David Hemp, often Bermuda’s batting mainstay, has left to take up a coaching role in Australia. The 21-year old Tre Manders has picked up some of the slack, scoring 73 in the final game of the Canada series. Delray Rawlins is another player to watch out for. The left-arm spinner plays for Sussex in the English county circuit. Bermuda would also look to fast-bowling allrounder Kamau Leverock to lend them balance.
Denmark (third at 2014 WCL Division Four)
Amjad Khan, who played one Test for England, is part of Denmark’s squad © Getty Images
They have had a rocky start to their American tour, having lost a pair of warm-up games in Houston. One by 23 runs to Jersey and the other by three wickets to a Houston club side.
Denmark’s squad includes Amjad Khan, the former England fast bowler. He may not possess the searing pace he once did, but would still be a threat in early-morning conditions at Woodley Park. Meanwhile, wicketkeeper Freddie Klokker and captain Michael Pedersen lend structure to their batting.
Denmark are short of power-hitters which could become a disadvantage. They play only one of their games on a ground that has large boundaries – Wong Cricket Field – and might struggle to match the tempo of the other teams when playing at the smaller stadiums Severn and Wright.
Denmark may not look like a contender for promotion, but they have beaten USA in five straight one-day matches and should they extend the streak on day four of the round-robin stages could help them snag a top-two finish.
Italy (fourth in 2014 WCL Division Four)
Carl Sandri has been with Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League © ICC/Getty
After playing in two straight World T20 Qualifiers, Italy were jumped by Jersey in 2015, a sign that their fortunes were changing. Peter Petricola, who has been a pillar with bat and ball since his debut in 2008, has not made himself available for this tournament. Neither have the equally dependable Andy Northcote and Vince Pennazza, putting a major dent into Italy’s hopes.
The absence of the seniors was felt on Wednesday when Italy lost by 38 runs to a Southern California XI. Captain Damian Crowley made 77 out of a total of 173, having to compensate for six single-digit scores from his team-mates. He was the team’s leading batsman at the last Division Four with 200 runs in six games.
Carl Sandri, formerly of Sydney Thunder, could prove to be an impact player for Italy. Though he is primarily used as an offspinner, Sandri has a reputation as an explosive hitter in the middle order. The small boundaries at Wright and Severn in particular could help Sandri and Italy pose a greater challenge.
Captain Peter Gough (right) would want to make sure his team doesn’t miss Ben Stevens (left) too much © Peter Della Penna
After beating Oman in the final of Division Five in May, Jersey are one of the more confident sides heading into the tournament. They earned a spot in Division Four for the third time, though in each prior instance they have promptly been relegated. An up-an-coming squad is hoping to reverse that trend.
Opener and captain Peter Gough provides stability to the batting, with a battery of allrounders, notably Nat Watkins and Anthony Hawkins-Kay, to follow him. They would miss Ben Stevens though, who had been their top-scorer in Division Five and in whose absence they were bowled out for 130 by Houston Club side. Harrison Carlyon, who is only 15 years old, has been chosen as replacement and could become the youngest player to represent Jersey.
Jersey’s bowling attack is spearheaded by seamer Ben Kynman, who took 15 wickets in Division Five and garnered interest from Kent last summer.
Oman (2nd place at 2016 WCL Division Five)
Amir Ali is back after a hand injury © Associated Press
Though they stunned Ireland in the 2016 World T20, Oman have been woeful in 50-over cricket over the last three years.
They took their first steps to turning their fortunes around in Jersey, finishing second in Division Five, but the batting remains an area of concern. Outside of allrounder Zeeshan Maqsood, who was the tournament’s leading batsman with 350 runs, only one other player crossed 100 runs, a fact that had worried coach Duleep Mendis.
The return of Amir Ali, their match-winner at the World T20, could help ease some of the concern. He had missed Division Five with a broken hand but has since recovered. Another key addition is Arun Poulose, a former Kerala opening batsman who recently qualified to play for Oman having spent four years in the country. He top-scored with 47 in Oman’s last match; they beat UAE by 72 runs.
On the bowling front, Munis Ansari would be key in the final overs while Rajeshkumar Ranpura should enjoy using the new ball in Woodley’s swing-friendly conditions in the morning. Their left-arm spin arsenal is missing a key component though. Allrounder Aamir Kaleem was injured during a training camp ahead of the tournament, leaving captain Ajay Lalcheta to pick up the slack.
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo