“You mean cricket has a world cup? Since when??”
I wondered to myself a few days after the national men’s team - the Cricket Cranes - emerged champions in the just recently concluded Division four World Cricket League (WCL) tournament. I had just read an article in one of the dailies that mentioned how this particular victory marked the beginning of their dream to play in the world cup and I thought, hold up. How does that work? And with all the twenty something years I have lived on this earth, why I am just getting this information now? Some cricket fan I am!
Obviously, the next question would be, how does Uganda qualify for the ICC World Cup?
I figured this simple question would have an equally simple answer, but because life has never been easy, this answer followed suit. Nothing prepared me (and accompanying reactions) for the answer I received! From confusion to surprise to shock and even anger at some point, this somewhat clueless fan embarked on a journey towards discovering what it would take for the Pearl of Africa to reach the ‘big leagues’, so to speak. And this seemingly innocent question opened my eyes, and maybe will open yours as well, to a whole new world of cricket that I never knew existed but first, things first…
Understanding the basics
Firstly, it’s the Cricket World Cup not the ICC World Cup. Are we clear? Good.
Secondly, do you know that cricket is probably the second most popular sport in the world? With populous countries like India, Australia, and even Pakistan being so obsessed with it – it’s not difficult to see why. (And yes, soccer is probably the most popular) so it is only plausible that it would have world a tournament of its own that features the world’s top national teams. But I asked myself, why have I never heard of it until now? And more importantly, has my beloved Uganda ever featured in it?
Thirdly, ‘ICC is to cricket as FIFA is to soccer.’ The International Cricket Council or ICC for short, governs cricket all over the world and their headquarters are based in the luxurious city of Dubai, UAE.
Last but not least, the Cricket World Cup much like the FIFA World Cup, takes place every four years and within that period are a series of qualification tournaments that cricket nations participate in order to make the cut. But like most things, the devil is always in the details. I was in for a rude awakening.
The qualification process
Whereas the FIFA has continental tournaments, where a particular number of the best in each of the six continents are selected to participate in the world cup, the ICC has two major qualification tournaments that cricket nations can participate in to possibly make it to the Cricket World Cup namely, the ICC ODI Championships and the World Cricket League.
ODI is short for One Day International, a format of limited overs cricket played between cricket nations with international status where two teams face a fixed number of overs normally fifty. It’s like a verification badge on twitter; if you don’t have it, then the limited overs matches you play are not recognized as international. Out of the 107 cricket nations world-wide, only 16 nations have this status and no, Uganda is not one of them.
Why? Because, 12 of the 16 are Test nations and thus have permanent ODI status. The remaining four join this league of elite based on their performance at the preceding World Cup Qualifier, but unlike the 12, these four get temporary status for a period of four years or until the next world cup tournament.
I know what you are thinking, what about the rest? Well, the other 92 try their luck in the next qualification process which you’ve come across here often; the World Cricket League or WCL for short. It consists of five divisions having the grand total of 24 participants (I sense another question, but hold your horses), who have to compete amongst themselves to be promoted or at the very least keep from being relegated from the league. So again, what about the rest? It seems the ICC ranks all the cricket nations based on their finishing position in the most recent qualifying tournament and only 24 get to be in the league of which Uganda is among! Exclusive, right?
And exclusivity seems to be one of ICC’s strongest features when it come to the World Cup. While other world cup tournaments for sports like soccer have up to 32 participating nations, golf with 28, volleyball with 24, rugby with 20 and even netball with 16 nations and so on ICC only allows ten participating nations.
Ten nations! The entire process of qualifying for the Cricket World Cup is akin to carrying out a sieve analysis on 20 kilograms of sand using a 0.045mm sieve – annoyingly slow and so selective! And that is not even the half of it. One would assume that, like in Religious Education, participation in the qualification tourneys is either one or or the other. You lose out in one, you try again in four years but it surprisingly doesn’t work that way. Remember that elite group of 16? Those who don’t qualify in the first round actually get another opportunity, while the rest get theirs a lot later – four years later to be exact. Why? How? Maybe looking at how Uganda would qualify could help explain things.
The journey - hypothetically
Uganda is unfortunately out of the running for the next Cricket World Cup, which will take place in 2019. But with the next one being in 2023, the journey has to start now, because as you have probably seen, the competition is stiffer than a board!
Important to note, however, is that out of the ten available spots in the Cricket World Cup, eight of them automatically go to the host nation and the seven best teams in the ODI Championship. The remaining four then proceed to the World Cup Qualifier, waiting for the six representatives from the ICC World Cricket League, to compete for the two remaining spots.
Lacking the ODI status, Uganda’s best alternative for qualification would have to be through the World Cricket League but the team has to get to the qualifiers first.
World Cup Qualifiers
Composed of five divisions, only the top four nations in division one and top two in division two of the World Cricket League get to progress into the World Cup Qualifiers. But with Uganda in Division three, the Cricket Cranes have to play through their division’s tournament and emerge in the top two in order to be promoted to Division two. (You can actually catch this particular tournament from 9th – 24th November 2018, in Oman or you can follow @CricketUganda for updates and news regarding this on their social media platforms.)
Uganda and the other nation it would be promoted with, say Kenya (EAC patriotism, right?) would then compete with the four teams from the preceding ICC World Cricket League Championship, who are also the top four in Division one, to determine the final two spots in the 2023 World Cup Qualifier. Basically, 24 teams compete for only two World Cup Qualifier spots and aiming for one of two remaining Cricket World Cup slots that they may not even get because four of ODI status nations who already had a chance before, are also gunning for the same!
Just let that sink in for a minute.
With the ten nations determined, the teams would be split into two groups of five each, playing a round robin match. Uganda would then have to finish amongst the top three in their group to be able to proceed to the next round of play known as the Super Six whereby results, net run rates as well as the points attained for the progressing teams are carried forward. The ‘super six’ then play the qualifiers from the other group while those of the bottom two teams in each group are discarded, instead playing for the remaining positions seven to ten. The teams unlucky enough to emerge in the bottom two positions are relegated to WCL Division 2. Imagine having your ODI status stripped away like that - embarrassing.
With the two remaining spots going to the best two teams in the Super Six, of which one would have to belong to the Cricket Cranes. And that friends, is how Uganda would qualify for the Cricket World Cup. But despite all this I found myself down the proverbial rabbit hole, puzzling over some things like, why the rigidity and small numbers at a World Cup? Maybe I will have my answers next week, in my quest to understand the big leagues more.