Jamie Atkinson and Paras Khadka say every match is a must-win encounter
The ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier New Zealand 2014 (CWCQ) will see 10 of the leading Associate and Affiliate teams locking horns to determine the final two qualification spots at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. Jamie Atkinson of Hong Kong and Paras Khadka of Nepal, whose countries will feature in Group A, feel each team must hit the ground running next month.
Both say the primary task for the sides in the fray will be to inspire a strong showing in their Group A matches and ensure a smooth passage to the Super Six stage of the tournament. The top two teams at the end of the Super Six stage will progress to the final and earn the two much-coveted places at the ICC CWC 2015.
Explaining why Hong Kong was determined to qualify for the ICC CWC 2015, Jamie Atkinson, who is also a wicketkeeper-batsman, said: “Qualifying for the ICC Cricket World Cup would be absolutely massive for the game in Hong Kong.
“That’s because there is no sports team from Hong Kong – barring perhaps the Rugby Sevens side – that’s actually made it to a full World Cup. And so, if Hong Kong were to make it to the World Cup, it would do wonders for the marketing of the game there, and get many more people involved with cricket. I’m sure that as we get exposure to a higher level of cricket, it’s all only going to help the guys.”
Hong Kong missed the previous two editions of the CWCQ (2005 and 2009), and is bidding to qualify for its second major ICC tournament this season, after securing qualification to the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014 through the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier UAE 2013.
Talking about the preliminary stage of the CWCQ in New Zealand, Atkinson, who has also played county cricket for Warwickshire, said: “I actually think our group is quite a tough one, because you already have Scotland and Canada, who have qualified here by right of being in the ICC World Cricket League Championship. So they’ve been quite strong sides for the last 10 years, been in a couple of World Cups themselves.
“And then again, we’ve played the UAE and Nepal a lot in the last 10 years as well, because we play them in the ACC tournaments. And we’ve had wins and losses against them. So there’s no particular side that we think poses more of a threat than the others. ”
Nepal captain Paras Khadka agrees with Atkinson, suggesting that it will be equally hard for all the teams in Group B (Kenya, Namibia, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea and Uganda): “I know there will be a lot of talk around which the tougher group will be in New Zealand, but I think all teams will be equally prepared.
“So each and every team needs to be positive, focus and have its plans in place from day one. We are heading to New Zealand 10 to 12 days prior to the tournament, and want to make sure we keep practising and playing hard, and, importantly, feed off our success in the UAE, where we recently finished a creditable third in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier and qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014.”
Khadka added: “For us, in particular, the challenge will be to beat teams that have ODI status in a format they’ve proved themselves in. Having said that, we’re eager to express ourselves, and to get recognised for the brand of cricket we play.”
Nepal won Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 3 in May to qualify for the CWCQ, and that win has raised expectations back home, with fans following the team even more passionately.
Khadka, however, believes that his side is under no extra pressure: “We actually don’t see all that in a negative light. We feel privileged to have such an amazing fan-following. And therefore, we would very much like to do it for our own people. Also, more than the final result, for us this will be a great learning curve. We have the confidence and we have the belief. Now we only have to go out there and prove to everyone that we belong to the biggest stage of them all.”
The ICC CWCQ NZ 2014, which will be the tenth edition of the tournament, will be played from 13 January to 1 February. A total of 48 matches will be staged at seven venues between 10 leading Associate and Affiliate teams that have been split into two groups of five each, and the finalists will earn the only two remaining berths at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.