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Cricket news - Ready Reckoner: USA, Namibia, PNG Tri-Series - CWC League 2

Namibia traditionally do not travel well as they often struggle with player availability, being the only side of the three without a full squad on contract.

Fully 175 years after the first-ever international cricket match was played in New York, the United States is set to host its first recognised One-Day Internationals this week as the USA welcomes Papua New Guinea and Namibia to Lauderhill, Florida to contest the second of the 21 scheduled tri-lateral series that make up CWC League 2, the ICC's new top-tier Associates 50-over competition.

The format

CWC League 2 represents the second tier of the ICC's new World Cup qualifying structure featuring the top-seven Associate sides below the Netherlands, who won the final World Cricket League Championship to claim a berth in the top-tier CWC Super League alongside the 12 Full Member Nations, which kicks off next year.

Scotland, the United Arab Emirates and Nepal qualified for League 2 through their efforts at the 2018 World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, while Namibia, Oman, Papua New Guinea, and the United States, secured their spots by finishing in the top-four in the final World Cricket League Division 2 at Windhoek in April. CWC League 2 will see each of the seven sides play 36 ODIs, the competition and all participating teams having been accorded ODI status. The fixtures will be played across a total of 21 six-match tri-lateral series, every side will thus play three series at home and six abroad over the course of the league, giving a total of 12 home matches, 12 'away' matches and 12 played on neutral ground.

The first such series was held at Mannofield Park in Aberdeen last month, where Scotland and Oman shared the honours with the former narrowly ahead on net run rate at the end of the series, whilst Papua New Guinea went winless.

This week's series will afford Papua New Guinea the chance to bounce back from that poor start, whilst hosts USA and Namibia will be making their debut in the competition. Each team will play the others twice over the course of ten days, with results counting toward their position on the League 2 table. With current leaders, Scotland and Oman both on three wins from four, an unbeaten run over the series could see one of the three teams establish an early lead in the League.

What's at stake?

As part of the ICC's revamped World Cup qualification pathway, the notional final goal is, of course, a berth at the games pinnacle event in India in 2023, for League 2 sides the route to India runs through the next World Cup Qualifier, the venue and exact dates of which are not yet known. At the end of CWC League 2, the top-three sides progress directly to the WC Qualifier from which the two finalists will progress to the World Cup itself, assuming the ten-team format is retained. Joining them at the Qualifier will be the bottom five sides from the CWC Super League, alongside two qualifiers from the CWC Qualifier play-off.

The bottom four sides from League 2 will join the winners of the new CWC Challenge Leagues at the aforementioned play-off - a six-team repechage tournament that effectively replaces the old WCL Division 2. While the top two sides at the playoff will progress to the Global Qualifier, the third and fourth finishers will presumably retain or gain a place in the next edition of League 2 while the bottom-ranked sides will be relegated to the Challenge Leagues for the next cycle.

Finishing in the top three of CWC League 2, therefore, guarantees retention of ODI status for the coming cycle as well as offering an easier route to World Cup qualification. More significantly, however, the League 2 Champions also gain a chance at promotion to the CWC Super League for the next cycle. Should the winner of League 2 finish higher than the loser of the Super League in the final standings at the World Cup Qualifier, the former is currently slated to replace the latter in the next edition of the Super League, regardless of the two sides' respective membership status. Under the current format, that would secure as many as 24 fixtures for the promoted side against Full Member opposition for the 2023-2027 cycle - which is arguably a more valuable reward than even a berth at the World Cup. A chance to replace either the Netherlands or an ICC Full Member in the next Super League thus makes the League 2 title a valuable prize indeed.

The teams

Hosts USA head into their first home ODIs in something of a slump, coming off a calamitous trip to Bermuda where a third-place finish behind Canada and Bermuda at the Americas T20 Regional Finals saw them crash out of T20 WC qualification.

The news that seam spearhead Ali Khan, together with leg-spinning allrounder Hayden Walsh jr will both be skipping the series owing to their commitments in the Caribbean Premier League will not help matters either, though the performance of young left-arm spinner Karima Gore was something of a silver lining amidst the gloom in Bermuda, and the addition of former South Africa paceman Rusty Theron, who has qualified for the USA on residency after three years plying his trade in Florida, goes some way toward making up for Khan's absence.

On paper, the Americans ought to be clear favourites, though the same was true in their last two outings at the Americas T20 Qualifier and in the final WCL Division 2 in Namibia early this year, where they finished third and fourth respectively. They remain objectively the strongest side of the three, however, and with home advantage counting in their favour they will be hoping to break out of their current funk.

Papua New Guinea beat the USA out to the third-placed spot at WCL Division 2 after an otherwise poor tournament, and have not had the best of starts in CWC League 2 either. Four losses from four matches in the opening series in Scotland, though they ran Oman and the hosts fairly close in their first two games.

The Barramundis continue to struggle to renew their roster, and regular all-rounders Sese Bau and Damien Ravu have both lost their spots in the squad since the Scotland tour. The pair make way for left-arm spinner Jason Kila, returning from a knee injury, and seam all-rounder Alei Nao. Of the youngsters making their way into the PNG squad by a distance the most successful has been left-arm quick Nosaina Pokana, PNG's stand-out bowler both at Aberdeen and at Division 2, who is generally entrusted with the new ball in partnership with the experienced Norman Vanua, as well as regularly being called upon at the death. Gaudi Toka also looks a promising prospect at the top of the order, but they remain over-dependent on Toka's fellow-opener Tony Ura together with skipper Asad Vala for runs.

The team remains something of a work in progress, and however cohesive a unit they look in the field there remains something of an unsettled air about PNG, especially when batting. In Ura and Lega Siaka they have batsmen able to punish any loose bowling and quick enough between the wickets to put fielders under pressure, but in the face of disciplined bowling, the Papuans remain prone to collapse. Yet though they head to the USA playing catch-up, and with little to lose and plenty to prove it would be a surprise if the Barramundis leave Florida as the did Scotland.

Unlike their opponents, Namibia will arrive at Lauderhill with a degree of momentum, at least as much as can be expected given their rather sparse schedule. Since confounding the pundits by claiming the final WCL Division 2 title in front of a home crowd in their most recent 50-over outing, the game's newest ODI nation has been on something of a roll, albeit in the shorter format.

They went unbeaten through the Africa Regional T20 finals to secure a berth at the global qualifier next month and went on to record a 4-0 series whitewash against Botswana. Their most recent matches against their opponents this week were both close-run affairs, however, barely chasing a total of 118 in their WCL Division 2 opener against PNG, and falling two runs short of chasing 250 against the States. Those matches, moreover, were both at home, and Namibia traditionally do not travel well. But a big reason for that is that they often struggle with player availability, being the only side of the three without a full squad on contract. For this tour, Namibia will be at close to full strength, Jean Bredenkamp the only notable omission on the team-sheet.

Young pacer Ben Shikongo, who impressed against Botswana, comes into the side, which will again be led by Gerhard Erasmus. Christi Viljoen is once again available, though the Otago all-rounder was somewhat overshadowed by Jan Frylicnk and the hard-hitting all-rounder WCLD2 player-of-the-tournament JJ Smit, whose exploits saw him become the first Namibia player to pick up a T20 franchise gig at the recent Global T20 in Canada.

The conditions

Although the venue for the series was initially announced as Church Street Park cricket ground near Raleigh, North Carolina, USA cricket later rescinded their decision and after some deliberation settled on the tried and tested option of Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill, Florida.

Lauderhill was also the site of the first T20 Internationals to be hosted in the USA - a two-match series between Sri Lanka and New Zealand in 2012 - and has since hosted a number of full-member international matches, as well as functioning as an out-ground for the Jamaica Tallawahs in the CPL.

The ground has provided excellent batting wickets in the past, most notably for the West Indies thrilling one-run win over India in 2016 where 489 runs were scored across 40 overs. Conditions tend to be rather weather-dependent, however, as illustrated in India and the West Indies more recent clashes at the ground.

In this respect, the choice of Lauderhill looks rather a strange one, given the prevalence of afternoon thunderstorms (and the occasional hurricane) in Florida at this time of year. The games have all been scheduled to start early in the hopes of avoiding the worst of the weather, at 9.45am local time. Nonetheless, there will likely remain an increasing risk of rain, especially toward the back end of the second innings, whilst the pitch will probably spend a great deal of time covered.

The squads

USA: Saurabh Netravalkar (C), Steven Taylor (VC), Karima Gore, Elmore Hutchinson, Aaron Jones, Nosthush Kenjige, Jaskaran Malhotra, Xavier Marshall, Monank Patel, Nisarg Patel, Sagar Patel, Timil Patel, Jasdeep Singh, Rusty Theron

Namibia: Gerhard Erasmus (C), Jan Frylinck (VC), Bernard Scholtz, JJ Smit, Helao Ya France, Tangeni Lungameni, Zane Green, Christi Viljoen, Steven Baard, Craig Williams, Zhivago Groenwald, JP Kotze, Karl Birkenstock and Ben Shikongo

PNG: Assad Vala, Charles Amini, Jason Kila, Tony Ura, Kiplin Doriga, Simon Atai, Gaudi Toka, Chad Soper, Norman Vanua, Riley Hekure, Hiri Hiri, Alei Nao, Lega Siaka, Nosaina Pokana

The schedule

1st ODI, 13 September 09:45 - United States v Papua New Guinea - Lauderhill

2nd ODI, 17 September 09:45 - United States v Namibia - Lauderhill

3nd ODI, 19 September 09:45 - United States v Papua New Guinea - Lauderhill

4th ODI, 20 September 09:45 - United States v Namibia - Lauderhill

5th ODI 22 September 09:45 - Papua New Guinea v Namibia - Lauderhill

6th ODI 23 September 09:45 - Namibia v Papua New Guinea - Lauderhill

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