The 10 sides taking part in the ICC CWCQ NZ 2014, formerly known as the ICC Trophy, have been split into two groups of five teams each, with top ranked United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Group A alongside 2005 winner Scotland, 2009 finalist Canada, Hong Kong and Nepal. Group B includes 2001 champion Netherlands, two-time finalist Kenya, 2001 finalist Namibia, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Uganda.
The top three sides from each group will progress to the Super Six stage, where they will play the teams from the opposing group. The top two sides from this stage will progress to the 1 February final, which will be played at Bert Sutcliffe Oval in Lincoln.
The finalists will join the 10 Full Members as well as Afghanistan and Ireland in the ICC CWC in Australia and New Zealand, which will be played from 14 February to 29 March 2015.
The winner of the 1 February final will join co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, alongside Afghanistan, Bangladesh, England and Sri Lanka in Pool A, while the runner-up will team up with defending champion India, Ireland, Pakistan, South Africa, West Indies and Zimbabwe in Pool B.
Four matches will be played on day one of the ICC CWCQ NZ 2014, with top seed UAE taking on Nepal at Rangiora Oval, Christchurch, second seed Netherlands facing Uganda at Bay Oval, Tauranga, Kenya meeting PNG at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, and Scotland going head to head with Hong Kong at Queenstown Events Centre, Queenstown.
All the 34 matches will have reserve days (please refer to Law 12.1 of the playing conditions).
With so much at stake, the teams have been pulling out all stops to prepare for the tournament.
In Group A, Khurram Khan will be leading the UAE, which finished third in the ICC World Cricket League Championship (WCLC), a tournament that saw Ireland and Afghanistan earn automatic qualification to the ICC CWC 2015 by virtue of claiming the top two spots.
The veteran said that the ICC CWCQ NZ 2014 will provide a golden opportunity for his side. "If we qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, it's going to do a lot of good to the UAE cricket.
"Even though it is the top seed, it will be difficult for the UAE right from the group stage. The conditions in New Zealand are completely different to those in the UAE. So it will be a challenge for our batsmen to score heavily and for the pacers to handle the pressure of leading the attack."
Netherlands is the top-ranked team in Group B, and captain Peter Borren was confident that his side can go all the way to the final.
"I would say that we have a very good chance of qualifying. I think we have a well drilled side which has a great balance of talent and experience.
"Conditions in New Zealand can vary quite a bit from venue to venue. I believe that we have a squad with the experience to deal with those variations. Most of our players have been around long enough to adjust," he said.
Borren, the Christchurch-born who also represented New Zealand in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup, was delighted with his side's preparations in New Zealand. "The team spent a fantastic week training and playing in Whangarei. I think we have achieved what we needed to during the preparation phase, with bowlers getting overs under their belt and batsmen spending time in the middle."
Third-seeded Scotland will be skippered by Kyle Coetzer, who said his side needed to continue its positive momentum. "It will be a tough tournament and we will have to win every match. But our momentum is good. We've got the leading spin bowlers in Associate cricket - Majid Haq especially," said Coetzer.
Canada, which is seeded sixth in New Zealand, is aiming to revive its fortunes under new coach Andy Pick and new captain Jimmy Hansra, who has taken over the reins following Ashish Bagai's retirement.
Hansra said his team's first target was to progress to the Super Six stage. "The tournament format means there will be no meaningless matches. So we'll have to be on our toes throughout, as we aim to advance to the Super Six stage.
"The reason we came in early was to practice. The practice game allowed us to acclimatise, and we're looking forward to the tournament matches. The guys have refreshed, and we're very happy and excited with our preparation. This group is very hungry," said Hansra.
Hong Kong, which qualified for the ICC CWCQ NZ 2014 after finishing fourth in Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 2 in 2011, recently qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 Bangladesh 2014 after finishing sixth at the ICC WT20Q UAE 2013, and captain Jaime Atkinson said his team had been training hard to carry the momentum into the longer format of the game.
"Our confidence is high after the ICC WT20Q. We trained hard in Hong Kong over Christmas and the New Year, and then arrived on 2 January," remarked Atkinson.
In the lead up to the tournament, Hong Kong played two practice games against a local Canterbury side, which the captain believed had been vital for his side's preparation.
"We lost both the matches but the games benefitted us. The lads got used to the conditions, and the matches helped us get over the jet lag and give the lads an opportunity to put their hands up for selection."
Ninth-seeded Nepal will be led by skipper Paras Khadka, who said the tournament was an enormous opportunity for his side.
"It is a dream to get to the 50-over World Cup. We've already qualified for the World Twenty20 and are very happy about it, so now, we will go out all guns blazing for this tournament," Khadka said.
Nepal trained in Sri Lanka before arriving in New Zealand on 28 December, and the all-rounder said of the preparation: "The main reason we came here early was to acclimatise. We felt that in Bermuda for WCL Division 3 in April 2013, the first week was really hard - the time difference, the temperature. It's really helped us to have the time here."
Namibia captain Sarel Burger, who also played in Namibia's sole campaign at the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003 said: "I think qualifying for the ICC CWC 2015 would be a dream come true for any cricketer from Namibia."
"The wickets in New Zealand are quite quick and quite greenish. I think they favour seam bowlers a bit better. But at the end of the day, you must be prepared to play in any conditions, and the team must be prepared to play wherever."
PNG will be aiming to qualify for its maiden global ICC event, and captain Chris Amini believed his side was well prepared for a tough tournament.
"We competed in the South Australia Cricket Association's (SACA) Premier League and won the inaugural T20 Cup. It's a good sign leading into the ICC CWCQ and we've got momentum leading into the tournament," he said.
The 29-year-old continued: "We're confident after our performance in the ICC WT20Q in the UAE. It's a different format here, but we're confident. We've shown that we can compete and beat the top teams on the biggest stage."
Uganda's Davis Karashani Arinaitwe was hoping to lead his side to qualify for its maiden ICC CWC, something he said would be an historic achievement for his country. "For us as a nation, it would be a very, very big honour. Personally, it would be a dream come true," he said.
The Uganda team arrived in New Zealand on 3 January and played and won two practice matches. But the skipper downplayed the results.
"It's never about the results when you are playing practice games. It is about getting used to the weather and the wickets. It's about acclimatizing and getting into the New Zealand time zone. We achieved what we wanted in the first few days, so we are good to go for the tournament," he said.
The two groups are:
Group A - UAE (A1), Scotland (A2), Canada (A3), Hong Kong (A4), Nepal (A5)
Group B - The Netherlands (B1), Kenya (B2), Namibia (B3), PNG (B4), Uganda (B5)
Provided they qualify, each of the top three teams will retain its ranking from the Group stage through to the Super Sixe stage, regardless of its finishing position in the group. For example, UAE will be ranked A1 whether it finishes first, second or third at the end of the group stage. If the fourth-ranked team in a group qualifies for the Super Six stage, it will adopt the ranking of the team that it has replaced. For example, if Hong Kong qualifies at the expense of the UAE, Hong Kong would follow the fixtures for A1 in the Super Six Stage.
Match schedule for Monday 13 January, Tuesday 14 January and Wednesday 15 January (starting at 1030 local time)
Monday 13 January
The Netherlands v Uganda, Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, North Island
Kenya v PNG, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, North Island
UAE v Nepal, Rangiora Oval, Christchurch, South Island
Scotland v Hong Kong, Queenstown Events Centre, Queenstown, South Island
Tuesday 14 January
Wednesday 15 January
The Netherlands v Namibia, Bay Oval 2, Mount Maunganui, Tauranga, North Island
UAE v Canada, Rangiora Oval, Christchurch, South Island
--IBNS (Posted on 11-01-2014)