The World Cup Qualifier begins in Zimbabwe on Sunday and will continue across Harare, Bulawayo and Kwekwe until March 25. Here is everything you need to know about it.
So, not the World Cup right?
No. It's the World Cup Qualifier.
Why should I care?
Because this tournament cuts right to the heart of the debate about cricket's growth. As many as 10 teams are battling for just two spots at the 2019 World Cup - they will join the eight Full Members who have already qualified. Yes, we know: a 10-team World Cup hardly sounds like a "world" cup but that's cricket for you.
But, as a result, it has given this qualifier a far higher profile than previous ones, and with much higher stakes at play. Four Full Members are playing (West Indies, Zimbabwe and the newbies Ireland and Afghanistan).
Whoah, whoah - does that mean
Yes, it does. The West Indies, twice World Cup winners, one of the greatest early ODI sides, might not play in the 2019 World Cup. Ireland, an ever-present at recent global events, also might miss out.
Tell me the details then.
Ten teams divided into two groups of five. The top three from each group go through to a Super Six stage. There the teams play three games each against the sides they did not meet in the group stages. All points won in the groups will be carried over to the Super Six stage apart from those gained against the bottom two from each group.
You'll get used to it. Ultimately the top two teams from the Super Six will play a final, and both will qualify for the World Cup. The Netherlands, who won the World Cricket League (WCL) Championship, and the three top Associate Member finishers will earn ODI status until 2022.
And how did the qualifiers qualify for this qualifier?
Easy. Each of West Indies, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland could have qualified directly to the World Cup but because they finished outside the top 8 ODI rankings (as of September 30, 2017) they are here instead.
Netherlands, Scotland, Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea qualified as the top four sides from the WCL Championship (which began in May 2015 and ended last December). The UAE and Nepal qualified after finishing as the top two in the recently concluded six-team WCL division 2.
Sounds like I should get myself to a television set.
You should, at least for the 10 games that are being broadcast: two games from the group stages (West Indies v Ireland and West Indies v Netherlands), the seven Super Six games, and the final. Here is how you can watch. In the Caribbean you can watch it exclusively on ESPN, and ESPNcricinfo will have digital clips exclusively in the UK, Ireland and Australia.
Just 10 games though? Does the ICC not care?
Actually it's progress, given that this is the first time the World Cup qualifiers are being broadcast live. That itself is a sign of the elevated status of this tournament. And there will be fairly extensive digital clip coverage besides. But there won't be any live streaming of the games. Star Sports, which holds digital rights for all global ICC tournaments, has opted not to stream.
Will there be DRS?
Nope. As a number of games are not being televised, and for conditions to be consistent for all matches, the ICC has decided not to use DRS for any of the games. Also, it's worth bearing in mind this isn't a profit-making event for the ICC so anything to keep costs down is the way forward.
Wait, why is Zimbabwe, a Full Member mostly in name only, and where cricket is undergoing a severe financial crunch, hosting anything?
Good question. The ICC were keen on a Full Member hosting the event and given the time of the year only Zimbabwe fit the bill. Ordinarily Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) would be in no position to host such a tournament but this is an ICC event, so the governing body picks up all costs. Still, the stadium and infrastructure upgrade required for the four venues (including Bulawayo and Harare) has cost ZC.