From Afghanistan to Oman, the qualifiers are all set to light up the first week of the T20 World Cup 2016.
Bangladesh are the real deal and, with the tournament happening in neighbouring India, they’ll have things on their side: great support and familiar playing conditions. They have also just beaten former world champions Sri Lanka and Pakistan to make the final of the Asia Cup (they eventually lost out to India). With more than half of Bangladesh’s 18 T20 wins coming on the subcontinent, the big boys need to watch out for an upset.
One to watch: Shakib Al Hasan
The success of cricket in war-torn Afghanistan has been a real symbol of hope in a sport too often linked with negative headlines in recent years. Even the Taliban approved, thanks to the non contact and long trousers. It’s a fantastic fairy story of a side emerging out of the ashes of a devastating war. They also happen to be pretty good and are one of the highest-ranked minnows at this World Cup.
One to watch: Usman Ghani
Skipper Hamilton Masakadza is Zimbabwe's leading T20I run scorer
— ICC (@ICC) March 5, 2016
Politics is never far from the playing surface in Zimbabwe cricket, which has had plenty of false starts over the years thanks to internal problems in the country and cricket association. But things are now looking up and they’re one of the favourites to progress from the qualifiers to the main event. And with club names such as the Matabeleland Tuskers and Mid West Rhinos, there’s no doubting their self-belief.
One to watch: Hamilton Masakadza
They may not be in the best form of their cricketing career, painfully displayed in defeat to the unfancied islanders of Papua New Guinea, but there’s plenty of talent and grit in the Emerald Isle XI. The Irish have now dropped below Hong Kong in the world rankings, sandwiched between them and the UAE. But they’ll be boosted by the return of expat fast bowler Boyd Rankin, who played one test for England but has now caught the ferry back across the Irish Sea.
One to watch: Paul Stirling
The men in orange fear no one when it comes to cricket. Poor old England are still sore from their humiliating defeat to the Netherlands in 2009, when the 500/1 tournament outsiders managed to squeeze past them at the ancestral home of cricket, Lord’s. Beating Stuart Broad & Co in their own backyard was bad enough. But five years later, the Dutch doubled the red faces of England by stuffing them again, this time by an unthinkable 45-run margin.
One to watch: Tom Cooper
— Cricket Scotland (@CricketScotland) March 8, 2016
In a country with more than 400 different words for snow, from feefle to flindrikin, you wouldn’t expect cricket to be a major attraction. But there are more cricket clubs than rugby clubs north of the border, and the tartan army could possibly cause a stir on the subcontinent. The captain and explosive batsman Preston Mommsen may have spent the first 18 years of his life in South Africa, but he’s now ready for Auld Country action.
One to watch: Preston Mommsen
Hong Kong 2000/1
Hong Kong are nothing if not erratic when it comes to cricket. In the World T20 Qualifiers last year they overcame Afghanistan and Ireland, but lost to Jersey and the United States. In the 2014 World T20, they were thrashed by Nepal but beat host favourites Bangladesh. In their defence, there can hardly be space to swing a bat on one of the world’s most densely populated islands. But one thing is on their side – colonial history. The Brits brought cricket here more than 150 years ago.
One to watch: Mark Chapman
— ICC (@ICC) February 28, 2016
Take one look at the statistics and you’d have to say that Oman don’t stand a chance in this World Cup. They’re currently 17th in the world rankings (out of a possible 17) and have half the amount of points of their nearest rivals, the UAE. To make matters even worse, they’re fielding the oldest team in the tournament. Let’s just hope they don’t have to run too many quick singles.
One to watch: Zeeshan Maqsood
Betting odds from Paddy Power