Cricket World Cup 2019 Qualifiers: Who will be in England next summer?
We're in the closing stages of the qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup. Jamie Pacheco tells us what's happened so far, what could happen next and what are the best bets to be had over the next few days...
"You could make a good case for Zimbabwe actually winning the tournament at 11/4. Yes, the Windies have won their last three major finals- two at the T20 World Cup and that Champions Trophy all the way back in 2004. But that was different. They were finals that mattered."
Two places at the World Cup up for grabs
If you're a cricket fan from one of the big cricketing nations you probably couldn't care less about which two teams make up the numbers at the next World Cup. Your team is there and in English conditions, the winner is likely to come from one of England, Australia or India. Right? Well, try telling that to a supporter from the likes of the West indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland or Afghanistan.
Yes, they also know that their team isn't going to win the World Cup. But if winning the major tournaments was all anyone cared about, we'd hardly have any sport at all. This is a chance to see your players pit themselves against the very best in the world and cause a few upsets along the way that will live long in the memory. Who can forget Kevin O'Brien's brilliant century as Ireland beat England at the 2011 World Cup or Kenya's unlikely run to the semi-finals of the 2003 edition?
Two teams will gatecrash the party where the already invited guests are: hosts England, defending champions Australia, last time's runners-up New Zealand, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The ICC decided that there will be an official final for the winner of this mini-competition contested between the Top 2 teams. All well and good but the beaten runner-up will just be glad to be at the World Cup.
What happened in the first Group Stages
All matches have or will be played in Zimbabwe. Two groups of five saw the Top 3 from each progress to the Super Six stages where a further Group Stage is unfolding. Finish in the Top 2 and you'll be playing in England in the summer of 2019. Not that by the way things have gone over the past few months, it will be much of a summer.
We've already lost Papua New Guinea, the Netherlands, Nepal and Hong Kong in the first group stage.
The ever-improving Afghanistan, these days a well-respected side rather than no-hopers who boast players now playing in the Big Bash League and the IPL (in the T20 format) are fortunate to still be there.
They started slowly and only qualified for the second phase in third place through a superior net run rate after winning just the one game out of four, as many as Nepal and Hong Kong.
Afghanistan were joined in the second round by fellow group B qualifiers Scotland and Zimbabwe.
From Group A the West Indies won all four of their matches and were joined by Ireland and the UAE.
Current situation in the Super Sixes
West Indies' tight win over hosts Zimbabwe on Monday means they should really qualify from here. They're 1/2 on Betfair Sportsbook to win the qualifying tournament. They have three wins from four games (they lost to Afghanistan) and are very likely to beat Scotland in their last match.
But anyone from Zimbabwe, Scotland, Ireland or Afghanistan could mathematically be joining them at the World Cup. A tie between Zimbabwe and Scotland means they're err...tied...on five points from four games. Ireland are on four point, also from four games, while Afghanistan are on just two points but have two matches left.
Assuming the West indies beat Scotland- they're 1/5 to win- then that would put Scotland out and then it's advantage Zimbabwe for that second spot. They'd then just need to beat the UAE (the weakest side in the Super Six) to be guaranteed of a Top 2 finish.
Ireland need to beat Afghanistan and hope Zimbabwe lose, tie or that the match is washed out. Afghanistan need to win their two remaining matches against the UAE and Ireland and also hope Zimbabwe don't win.
But a shock Scotland win against the West Indies- you just never know with Chris Gayle and co- would really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
What's the bet?
You could make a good case for Zimbabwe actually winning the tournament at 11/4. Yes, the Windies have won their last three major finals- two at the T20 World Cup and that Champions Trophy all the way back in 2004. But that was different. They were finals that mattered.
The Windies never perform when the stakes are meaningless (they'll just be relieved to be at the World Cup) whereas for Zimbabwe it would be a wonderful opportunity to win something that actually matters to them in front of their own fans. They ran the Windies extremely close on Monday and had centurion Brendan Taylor hung around for just a little longer after getting his century it could have been a very different story indeed.