After the riveting league phase, the men’s ODI World Cup qualifier has reached the Super Six, where Zimbabwe, Netherlands, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Scotland and Oman will contest for two spots at the main event in India later this year.

The cut-throat nature of the qualifier has already left West Indies, who were pre-tournament favourites along with Sri Lanka, on the brink of elimination. Unless the stars align in their favour in a big way, they – champions in the first two editions in 1975 and 1979 – will not feature in the ODI World Cup for the first time. This, after they had failed to make it to the T20 World Cup in Australia last year.

West Indies’ head coach Daren Sammy was open about their steep fall, saying that the loss against Netherlands was a true reflection of the state of West Indies cricket. They made life difficult for themselves by dropping at least 13 catches across four games in this qualifier, and Sammy admitted that West Indies are the worst fielding side in the competition.

Netherlands kept pilfering singles – and doubles – from right under the noses of West Indies’ fielders with the stealth of a pickpocket. And West Indies sleepwalked their way from one fumble to another and their bowling wasn’t great either. They repeatedly missed their lengths and allowed the Netherlands’ batters to access the shorter boundary. Though Akeal Hosein is a good defensive spinner, the injury to wristspinner Yannic Cariah has stripped West Indies of an attacking spin option in the middle overs on the placid pitches in Harare.

Fast bowler Alzarri Joseph has stepped up as West Indies’ enforcer in the middle overs, but his fielders have let him down. The illness to Shamarh Brooks and an injury to Kyle Mayers have also meddled with the balance of the side. Though Nicholas Pooran was unavailable to bat in the Super Over because of the time spent off the field prior to it, it was particularly surprising to see Shai Hope join Johnson Charles, ahead of power-hitters like Brandon King and Romario Shepherd. All told, West Indies have been outbowled, outbatted, outfielded and out-thought by their opponents.

West Indies captain Hope has conceded that they are still smarting from the chastening defeats against Zimbabwe and Netherlands, but he now has the unenviable task of motivating his team for the Super Six. A loss against Scotland, who had also toppled them at the 2022 T20 World Cup in Hobart last year, on Saturday will send them crashing out.

“Certainly, there is going to be a lot of pain and hurt in the dressing room,” Hope said on Tuesday. “But we know that still there’s always a chance for us to move to the next step. So, we’re always communicating amongst each other. The main thing is to get the guys as uplifted as possible to make sure we get the best result going into the next game.

“That [disappointment among fans in the Caribbean] is completely understandable. One thing I can guarantee is you guys can never be as deflated as us. I’m sure the pain is more severe here in the dressing room. But the one thing I ask from you guys is to continue supporting us; we’re certainly trying to put our best out there. The results won’t always go our way, but we definitely need to find ways to turn it around very quickly.

“We have a huge legacy behind us, and we know that, but we have to create our own legacy and make sure that whatever we do we represent the people of the West Indies proudly.”

As for Sri Lanka they look much healthier than West Indies, with their wristspinner Wanindu Hasaranga and mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana dominating sides with their variations. They could continue to raze oppositions that aren’t used to facing such elite spin.

Dimuth Karunaratne is no dasher, but his presence at the top has lent stability to the team and set the stage for Kusal Mendis and Sadeera Samarawickrama. Dushmantha Chameera is working his way back from a shoulder strain, but Kasun Rajitha’s swing and Lahiru Kumara’s hit-the-deck hustle has served the attack well so far.

Along with Sri Lanka, hosts Zimbabwe are the only other team to carry four points into the Super Six. The local fans have packed the stands and created such an aura that Zimbabwe head coach Dave Houghton believes that they are the team’s “12th, 13th, 14th and 15th man”.

Sean Williams and Craig Ervine have led the way with the bat. Sikandar Raza continues to conjure magic – both with bat and ball. Blessing Muzarabani and Richard Ngarava provide the attack with a potent point of difference with their height and ability to generate trampoline bounce even on flat decks. Tendai Chatara is also tall and can move the ball at appreciable pace. Even some of the top teams in the world don’t have the luxury of having two tall quicks at their disposal. After having missed the last ODI World Cup, Zimbabwe look poised to make the cut this time, with the crowd jiving and grooving to their tunes in Harare and Bulawayo.

You can’t count Netherlands out either, especially after their stunning Super Over victory against West Indies. They are missing a number of first-choice players, who have prioritised county cricket over national commitments, but they keep finding new heroes. Teja Nidamanuru, who was born in India and raised in New Zealand, has been responsible for Netherlands’ only ODI hundreds since 2015, with both tons coming in 2023.

After years of toiling away in the wilderness for Netherlands – and for Wellington and Canterbury in New Zealand domestic cricket – Logan van Beek has finally carved his own niche in international cricket with his double act in the Super Over against West Indies.

In a quirk of fate, van Beek will come up against his former Wellington coach Glenn Pocknall, who is now part of Scotland’s backroom staff, in the Super Six. In about three months, he could well come up against New Zealand, for whom he hopes to play for one day. Who knows?

For Scotland and Oman, who finished one and two in the World Cricket League 2, this is another opportunity to prove that they belong to the big stage and keep the flag flying high for Associate teams.

With the stakes at their highest in the Super Six, will teams stick or twist?

Source: ESPNCricinfo


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