Due to a change in the format, the latest round of the World Cricket League had even more riding on it than usual for the eight teams competing. In previous cycles of the WCL there were eight divisions, but the ICC have reduced that to five for this cycle. The idea behind this was to give associate teams more regional tournaments to play in, thus saving money in the long-term by reducing travel costs. So the eight teams who took part in WCL5 had either come through regional qualifying to make it (Ghana, Cayman Islands, Germany, Vanuatu, Qatar), remained in the league from the last cycle (Guernsey), or been relegated from the last Division Four tournament (Italy, Jersey).
The ICC billed this tournament as the first step on the road to the 2023 World Cup. This is technically true, although the amount of hoops a team would have to jump through to get there make it almost impossible. However, Afghanistan started at the very bottom only a decade ago and now they are Full Members of the ICC, which shows that it can happen. Oman are another side who have made great strides through the WCL in recent years so there is no harm in dreaming for these eight teams – the road is tough but you have to start somewhere.
The teams were split into two groups of four, with the top two sides reaching the semi-final, and only the two finalists making it to Division Four. The winner of the third-place playoff would remain in the division, and the remaining five teams would be relegated back to their respective regions. So even one defeat in the group stage could spell doom for any side.
The two relegated teams from Division Four were the pre-tournament favourites and so it proved, with both Italy and Jersey taking 100% records into the semi-finals. Group A was clear-cut, with Qatar taking the second berth ahead of Guernsey and a poor Cayman Islands team who ended up going without a win in the whole tournament. Group B was a lot closer. Jersey came through with no problems, but the final round of games had the other three teams fighting for second spot. In the end an extraordinary innings of clean hitting by Vanuatu’s Patrick Manautaava, scoring a 57-ball hundred to propel his team past Germany and into the semi-finals on run rate. I wrote in a previous post how I thought the Germans could be the next team to look out for so I acknowledge my mistake here for the record – having said that they were unlucky to miss out but such are the margins at this level.
Momentum is a huge thing in WCL cricket and Vanuatu and Manautaava showed why with a stunning victory over Italy in the semi-finals. Just the 83 from 60 balls for Manautaava this time and they won quite easily, with over 10 overs to spare. Italy’s collapse in the final overs saw them post a well under par total of 183 and Vanuatu chased it down with ease. Whilst Vanuatu deserve there success, I must post a criticism of the format. I think missing out on promotion by virtue of a solitary defeat is very harsh, particularly as Italy had the best record in the group stage. Perhaps a better format would be to have the two group winners play each other, and the loser gets a second chance against the winner of the third and fourth placed sides, similar to AFL and some other sports. With the current format the overall final becomes something of a procession, and by changing it up every game would still have context and would provide a reward for the group leaders.
Jersey negotiated their semi-final with ease, knocking off Qatar by five wickets. Their all-round strength and experience of the WCL format stood them in good stead, and they carried on to become Champions with an easy win over Vanuatu in the final. Italy continued their slump by being defeated by Qatar. Relegation for a team once considered a strong presence in the upper divisions in the WCL shows how far they have fallen. A reliance on older players with no real signs of youth coming through does not bode well for them in the future.
Vanuatu now join Jersey in next years WCL Division 4 and leap into the top 30 in the world rankings for the first time. An exciting team who have given a further shot in the arm to the East Asia/Pacific region. For the rest it’s back to the wilderness of regional cricket, with no meaningful fixtures on the horizon. Such is the cutthroat nature of WCL cricket.