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Cricket news - Ready Reckoner: UAE-USA-Scotland tri-series, CWC League 2

Despite missing some key names, UAE remain a match for any side on their home soil.

Despite missing some key names, UAE remain a match for any side on their home soil.

After a hiatus of almost two months, ICC Cricket World Cup League 2 resumes on Sunday (December 8) as the third of the 21 trilateral series, that make up the ICC's premiere Associate 50-over competition, in the United Arab Emirates. The six-game series will mark the hosts' debut in the competition as they take on the United States and Scotland, both of whom already have one series under their belts.

The two visiting sides have each won three of their four matches thus far, sharing the top spot with Namibia and Oman, who likewise have six points apiece from their four matches. It is early days yet, however, and this week's series offers the UAE the chance to lay a solid foundation for their two-year campaign, while the USA and Scotland will be looking to go clear at the top of the table.

The format

Effectively taking the place of the old World Cricket League Championship, CWC League 2 features the top-seven Associate sides below the Netherlands (who, as WCL Champions, earned a place in the coming 13-team ODI Super League alongside the ICC's 12 full members), and constitutes the second tier of the new-look World Cup Qualification structure for 2023.

Scotland and the United Arab Emirates, along with Nepal, qualified for League 2 through their showing at the 2018 World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, while Namibia, Oman, Papua New Guinea, and the United States, earned their berths at 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, meaning every team 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.

This series is the third thus far, and the first to feature the UAE. Scotland, the USA, Namibia and Oman have all played a single series already, whilst Papua New Guinea have played both of the first two rounds without picking up a win. Nepal have also yet yo play, and will make their debut in the competition next year at home to the USA and Oman in February.

What's at stake

The end goal for every team on the qualification ladder is of course a berth at the 2023 World Cup in India, and for the sides that eventually finish in the top three of League 2 that path is somewhat easier, as they will progress directly to the ten-team World Cup Qualifier, joining the bottom five sides from the Super League and two additional qualifiers to compete for the two available qualifying spots. The bottom four sides will have a second chance to make the qualifier, with two berths on offer at the six-team qualifier playoff, which will see the winners of each of the two Challenge League groups take on the bottom four sides from League 2.

With the World Cup itself still set to persist with the same regrettably exclusionary 10-team format as the previous edition, however, actual qualification for the game's pinnacle event is something of a long shot for most of the teams on the ladder. More immediately, a top three finish in this edition of League 2 guarantees participation for the next cycle, as well as ensuring those sides will retain their ODI status.

But perhaps the most significant prize on offer is the chance for the winner of League 2 to gain promotion to the CWC Super League next cycle by finishing above the 13th-placed team in the current edition at the World Cup Qualifier. Should the League 2 Champion place higher in the final rankings at the qualifier than the loser of the Super League, the two will swap places for the next cycle. This promotion/relegation provision likewise opens the possibility that a Full Member may be participating in the next League 2, should the Netherlands manage better than the wooden spoon. With at least 24 ODIs against full member opposition on offer, promotion to the next Super League is arguably a greater prize even than a World Cup berth.

The teams

Hosts UAE embark on their League 2 campaign in less-than-ideal circumstances. Their last competitive 50-over outing came at the World Cup Qualifier back in April, when they recorded their first ever win over a Full Member, downing hosts Zimabwe in a last-over thriller. Since then, however, the Emirates have been hit by a series of setbacks. Their failed campaign for T20 WC qualification last month was marred by a series of suspensions and absconsions as corruption scandals deprived them of a string of first-choice players, not least skipper, spearhead and start of the famous win over Zimbabwe, Mohammad Naveed.

With middle-order stalwart Shaiman Anwar also sidelined by suspension along with opener Ashfaq Ahmed, keeper Ghulam Shabber, and bowler Qadeer Ahmed, the hosts will be fielding a somewhat unfamiliar squad in their opening League 2 series, looking to surviving senior players such as spin all-rounder Rohan Mustafa and skipper Ahmed Raza for stability, while junior players such as Darius D'Silva Chirag Suri will have to adopt more senior roles. That said, the coach Dougie Brown has an enviable depth of talent to call upon, and while the call-ups of teenagers Vritya Aravind - who was roped in to cover for Shabber as backup keeper during the T20 Qualifier - together with leggie Karthik Meiyappan and opener Jonathan Figy may have been forced, it is likely that all three would have been pushing for inclusion regardless.

On home soil the Emiratis remain a match for any side in the competition, and though the UAE-produced trio are somewhat unproven, they come into what remains a competitive and experienced - if perhaps unsettled - squad. Nonetheless, coming up against two of the strongest sides in the league first up, with no momentum to speak of and in a fair degree of turmoil, the hosts will be under enormous pressure as they open their campaign.

The USAarrive in the Emirates in little better shape, however. Like the UAE the Americans are coming off a failed T20 WC Qualifying campaign, and their most recent 50-over outing, participating in the West Indies domestic 50-over competition, saw them record just two wins and finish bottom of their group. They will also be without the services of key spinner Hayden Walsh jr, whose recent exploits earned him a call-up to the West Indies. A three-figure defeat at the hands of Scotland in their sole warm-up match underscored the low-ebb in the fortunes of a side that is short on form and confidence, especially with the bat.

Nonetheless Saurabh Netravalkar's side were reckoned by many to be contenders for the top spot at the outset of the competition, and for good reason. While the batting remains a concern, especially given the indifferent form of key-man Steven Taylor and of Xavier Marshall at the top of the order, the bowling has generally looked strength even in the face of first class opposition, with left arm spinner Karima Gore arguably the stand-out player of the league so far, whilst the addition of Cameron Stevenson adds a degree of hostility in the pace attack as well as solidity with the bat down the order. Even if the team as a whole looks in something of a rut, the roster remains an enviable one. If the States can get through what is probably the toughest series they'll face in the League with a win or two, their chances of a top-table finish will look rosy.

Meanwhile Scotland are coming off the back of a successful but barely more convincing showing at the T20 Qualifier, having scraped into the World Cup through the losers' playoffs. That said, the Scots have always looked a stronger outfit in the fifty-over format. Kyle Coetzer's side began as heavy favourites before the tournament began, and despite losing their opening match at home to Oman back in August, so they remain. The strength of the Scottish top-order is the principle reason that they are regarded as favourites, and with everyone in the top-five making runs as they racked up 308 against the States in their warm-up match, it would seem they have put the difficulties of their last trip to the UAE behind them.

Youngsters Dylan Budge and Michael Jones come into the side which is otherwise not dissimilar to the squad that lined up for their first League 2 outing in August, with Gloucestershire seamer Stuart Whittingham replacing Adrian Neill. In the absence of Tom Sole and Michael Leask, the Scots will be looking to the young but already impressive Hamza Tahir as their primary spin threat in support of fellow left-armer Mark Watt. In a competition where slow left-armers have dominated thus far, it is a combination that other sides will look enviously at. With the addition of Whittingham joining Safyaan Sharif and Ali Evans, the Scottish seam attack looks almost as solid. All told, the Scots arrive in the Emirates with a balanced side, and will look to live up to their label of favourites to take the title.

Squads

UAE:Ahmed Raza (c), Rohan Mustafa, Jonathan Figy, CP Rizwan, Junaid Siddique, Mohammad Usman, Basil Hameed, Zawar Farid, Vriitya Aravind, Waheed Ahmed, Karthik Meiyappan, Zahoor Khan, Darius D'Silva, Chirag Suri

USA:Saurabh Netravalkar (c), Steven Taylor, Karima Gore, Ian Holland, Akshay Homraj, Elmore Hutchinson, Aaron Jones, Nosthush Kenjige, Xavier Marshall, Monank Patel, Nisarg Patel, Timil Patel, Cameron Stevenson, Rusty Theron.

Scotland: Kyle Coetzer (c), Richie Berrington, Dylan Budge, Matthew Cross, Josh Davey, Alasdair Evans, Michael Jones, Calum MacLeod, George Munsey, Safyaan Sharif, Hamza Tahir, Craig Wallace, Mark Watt, Stuart Whittingham

Schedule

8 December,10:00am: UAE v USA (Sharjah Cricket Stadium)

9 December, 10:00am: USA v Scotland (Sharjah Cricket Stadium)

11 December, 10:00am: UAE v Scotland (Sharjah Cricket Stadium)

12 December, 10:00am: UAE v USA (ICC Academy Oval 1)

14 December, 10:00am: USA v Scotland (ICC Academy Oval 1)

15 December, 10:00am: UAE v Scotland (ICC Academy Oval 1)

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