League 2 action is heating up as seven teams vie for three automatic Cricket World Cup Qualifier spots.
With each team taking part in nine tri-series and playing a total of 36 matches, League 2 sits in between the ongoing Super League and Challenge League competitions on the road to the 2023 Cricket World Cup in India.
Oman lead the running at League 2, though have already played 32 of their 36 matches in the competition, winning 19. At the other end, it’s been a campaign to forget for Papua New Guinea, winning just once so far in 20 attempts. Forced to make a number of changes ahead of the campaign, Ahmed Raza’s UAE have exceeded all expectations, sitting in third in what has been an admirable team rebuild.
For the bottom four teams of League 2, all is not lost. They move to a Qualifier Playoff, where they are joined by the top team of each of the two Challenge League groups.
As we move towards the end of the cycle, we take a look at each side’s run home.
1st – Oman – 40 points (32 matches)
Chances of securing an automatic CWC Qualifier spot: Likely
Setting the pace in points, but also in matches played, Oman’s 16-point lead on the League 2 table is a little misleading, though a top three position and an automatic spot at next year’s Cricket World Cup Qualifier remains probable.
The success of the side from the sultanate is a testament to their depth, with 24 players used since the start of the campaign. Six players average over 30 with the bat, and the side has pressed its claims in spite of losing Aqib Ilyas (801 runs at 61.61 in 15 innings) to injury. The aggressive Jatinder Singh leads the competition in runs (985) and in centuries (three), though his exploits are enabled thanks to the stability of the middle order, led by skipper and 2021 ICC Associate Player of the Year Zeeshan Maqsood.
Maqsood’s left-arm orthodox has contributed with 39 wickets during the campaign, with Khawar Ali (34 wickets at 30) transforming from a part-time leg-spinner to a key frontline bowler. New ball spearhead Bilal Khan continues to lead the attack, claiming 69 wickets at just 18.
Oman travel to the USA in June for their final tri-series of the tournament, and will be eager watchers of the remaining series to see if their tally is enough.
> Watch Nepal, Oman, Scotland, UAE and USA battle for Cricket World Cup League 2 points – live and FREE on ICC.tv
2nd – Scotland – 24 points (16 matches)
Chances of securing an automatic CWC Qualifier spot: Strong
Creating a distance from the middle of the pack, a strong recent series in UAE has proven the Scots’ mettle.
Holding on in two final-over thrillers against Oman, Kyle Coetzer’s side swept the most recent tri-series, accounting for PNG twice and passing UAE to move into second spot.
Coetzer himself has played his way back into form with a half-century against PNG, and the side boasts a set batting line-up, with five players in the top seven playing every match of the campaign. Thirty-five-year-old Richie Berrington (655 runs at 50.38) is showing no signs of slowing down, while the aggressive hitting of George Munsey and Michael Leask is proving to be a handful.
Left-arm orthodox spinners Hamza Tahir and Mark Watt lead in Scotland’s wicket column (24 and 17 respectively), with their fast-bowling bolstered by Gavin Main, who has claimed nine wickets in his last two outings.
3rd – UAE – 22 points (18 matches)
Chances of securing an automatic CWC Qualifier spot: Healthy
Sitting in third halfway through their campaign, a number of senior players have proved dependable, though it’s the infusion of young talent that has arguably lifted the side to another level.
Fast-tracked into the side back in 2019, the only tests wicket-keeper / batter Vriitya Aravind hasn’t passed are the school exams he’s missed while representing his country.
A key member of his team’s T20 World Cup qualifying campaign, Aravind is approaching 500 runs in League 2, which includes a stellar 115 * (76) balls against a highly-respected Namibian attack. Karthik Meiyappan has contributed with his leg-spin, while UAE’s 2022 U19 World Cup captain Alishan Sharafu and 20-year-old Jonathan Figy provide healthy competition to the group.
Junaid Siddique (26 wickets at 22.73) has emerged as the side’s new ball threat, accompanied by Zahoor Khan, who has quietly moved to 22 wickets at 23.90.
Despite their progress in the last 18 months, there is no time for reflection, with a maiden T20 World Cup appearance in Australia wedged between their four remaining tri-series all away from home.
4th – Namibia – 14 points (14 matches)
Chances of securing an automatic CWC Qualifier spot: Precarious
Namibia will lament dropping three of their last four matches, though the run home looks favorable for the Eagles to make a push into the top three. Having played Oman all six times already, and UAE on four occasions, Namibia also have a trio of home tri-series late in 2022 to make their move.
Captain Gerhard Erasmus (481 runs at 43.72) leads the way with the bat, though the Eagles face an anxious wait after the right-hander broke his hand in a recent T20I series with Uganda.
At the top of the order, the side welcome back JP Kotze, with the left-handed opener coming out of retirement. Kotze is one of six Namibian players to average greater than 30 in the competition (276 runs at 39.42), and made 136 against the USA back in 2019, still the highest score across the competition.
David Wiese will likely be available for most of Namibia’s remaining fixtures, and the all-round talent of JJ Smit (403 runs and 23 wickets) gives the side a level of flexibility almost unmatched in the Associate game.
5th – United States of America – 14 points (16 matches)
Chances of securing an automatic CWC Qualifier spot: Precarious
With a bilateral series against Ireland canceled last December, the Americans are a tough group to gauge, having last played ODI cricket back in September 2021.
In saying that, the break may have been a blessing. After winning six matches in their first seven matches, they claimed victory just once in their last nine outings to fall back in the pack.
In a measure to remain sharp, USA Cricket ran a 26-man training camp in April, as well as the Houston Challenge, pitting a USA Invitational XI against three teams made up of the best domestic talent around the country.
With two home tri-series across May and June likely making or breaking their League 2 campaign, the Americans must hit their straps quickly if they are to finish in the top three.
6th – Nepal – 12 points (12 matches)
Chances of securing an automatic CWC Qualifier spot: In the balance
Three years is a long time in Nepali cricket. Among coaching and captaincy changes, 23 players have represented the side in 12 matches, and the lack of continuity has led to an indifferent campaign.
New skipper Sandeep Lamichhane and cult hero all-rounder Karan KC are the only players to feature in every match, and its the side’s bowlers that have kept their campaign alive. Making headlines by bundling the USA out for 35 back in February 2020, the side has kept opponents to under 200 on six occasions, though the work has been undone by mediocre batting efforts, such as failing to chase 169 against UAE in Dubai back in March .
Nepal have a packed schedule at the back end, featuring in six of the last nine tri-series, though two of their last three series are to be played at home. With their knack for prevailing in heart-stopping situations, they could make a last-minute run to sneak into the top three, providing they find some selection stability.
7th – Papua New Guinea – 2 points (20 matches)
Chances of securing an automatic CWC Qualifier spot: All but gone
After their miraculous victory at the end of World Cricket League 2 in 2019 to secure a Cricket World Cup League 2 spot, it’s been a tumultuous time for Papua New Guinea in the 50-over game.
The Barramundis haven’t been able to reach the feats of their T20 World Cup qualification, only winning their first match of League 2 on the 15th attempt. A coaching change from Joe Dawes to Carl Sandri has brought little change in fortunes, and positives in the campaign are at this stage difficult to find.
Bowling at times has kept the side in matches though ultimately Assad Vala and his men have never had enough runs on the board to defend. Vala (751 runs at 39.52) has been the only consistent performer with the bat, with all-rounder Chad Soper, usually thrown up the order to hold things together, the next best in terms of average (29.81).
Vala’s team are better than their record suggests, though they must find a formula for runs ahead of the Cricket World Cup Qualifier Play-off to prevent a horrible spiral.