It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Division Five of the World Cricket League was completed, with Jersey and Oman being promoted. When it comes to this tournament, those who gain promotion have the momentum behind them as the next rung on the ladder comes along pretty quickly. For those relegated or remaining in the division, it could be nearly two years since they last played competitive 50 over cricket. Whilst I think the WCL is a great innovation and provides more exciting cricket than many a bilateral Full Member series, it does seem a shame that these tournaments are so few and far between for those who missed out last time.
Anyway, this round of the WCL is taking place in Los Angeles, starting this comng Saturday. Since the ICC suspended USACA, the governing body in the States, they have basically taken over the day-to-day running of the sport. Previously the USA entered tournaments underprepared and poorly coached, mainly due to the rank ineptitude of USACA. It is a different kettle-of-fish this time around though, as there has been an extensive selection process to choose a squad and the team have had some strong warm-up matches, culminating in the three match Auty Cup against Canada last week, which ended in a 2-1 win for the tourists. This, coupled with home advantage, makes the USA among the favourites for an immediate return to Division Three.
Oman would be my next tip to go up. Although only just promoted, they have more experience playing the top sides as they have T20 international status, and recently beat Ireland in a T20 match. Their 50 over form has been a little more patchy over the years but they have one of the best batsman at this level in Zeeshan Maqsood. He also took one of the best catches you’ll see in the aforementioned victory against Ireland. Their bowling attack contains plenty of spinning guile and looks to be dangerous for any team.
Denmark has a very strong batsman too in the form of Freddie Klokker, who has county cricket experience with Warwickshire. I actually saw Klokker bat for Denmark in the ICC Europe T20 semi-final, where he hit an astonishing 129 against Guernsey. It was a stupendous innings, full of clean, powerful hitting, and he can be a very destructive batsman once he gets going. The Shah brothers are the lynchpin of the bowling, and have the potential to cause problems. Expect them to retain their position at the very least.
Jersey were the other promoted side but have suffered a big blow coming into the tournament with the loss of Ben Stevens through illness. His all-round prowess made him one of the best players in WCL5 and his absence leaves a huge hole. Their young squad can build on the back of their recent success though and I think they might just have enough to stay up.
The other two sides making up the division, Italy and Bermuda, look the weakest. The latter seem to be in disarray, with a late injury to their vice-captain coming on the back of some poor performances in their warm-ups. Italy don’t seem to have made much progress since I saw them in 2013, and have picked an inexperienced squad this time around. I think they will fight Jersey to avoid the second relegation spot.
So, I’m going USA and Oman promoted, Denmark and Jersey to stay put, Italy and Bermuda relegated. Whatever happens it will be enthralling, high pressure cricket. The WCL always is.