Harare – West Indies captain Jason Holder on Monday praised star batsmen Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels for making themselves available for the upcoming 2019 World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe.
The two-time World Cup winners failed to automatically reach next year’s tournament in England and Wales after slipping outside the top eight in the world one-day international rankings, leaving them to fight it out with cricket’s lesser names for one of the last two spots.
The 26-year-old Holder has experienced pair Gayle and Samuels at his disposal, despite the decisions of other key players Darren Bravo, Sunil Narine, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard to skip the qualifiers to play in the lucrative Pakistan T20 Super League.
“I must commend Chris and Marlon, who have come here with the motivation to do well for the Windies and give themselves a chance to play another World Cup,” said Holder ahead of his team’s first Group A game against the United Arab Emirates on March 6.
“We’ve got a well-balanced side, quality side with experience. Hopefully, we could gel together and make things happen in this tournament.
“As I said to the group, it may be an opportunity for guys to finish their careers well, it’s also an opportunity for guys to make a spark in their careers by playing in the World Cup.”
The Caribbean outfit, who won the first two World Cup tournaments in 1975 and 1979, also face Papua New Guinea, Netherlands and Ireland in the group stage, with the top three sides to progress to the Super Six.
Holder, though, already has one eye on lifting the title next year and becoming only the second three-time world champions.
“We know what is at stake,” he added.
“It is an opportunity for us to grab some momentum heading into next year’s World Cup, get some games under our belt, just finalise some combinations, get things straightened, and hopefully turn (around) our cricket in terms of the ODI format.”
Teenage leg-spin sensation Rashid Khan is set to lead Afghanistan for at least the early part of their campaign after usual captain Asghar Stanikzai underwent emergency surgery to have his appendix removed on Monday.
The 19-year-old Khan, who was bought for $1.41 million by Sunrisers Hyderabad in last month’s IPL auction, is the world number one bowler in ODIs and closing in on becoming the fastest-ever to reach 100 wickets.
Afghanistan’s 4-1 series victory over Zimbabwe earlier this month sees them as favourites to qualify alongside West Indies.
“It feels good to see that Afghanistan is a favourite to qualify,” said Khan.
“I think we should show it on the ground, it’s not only on paper that we should look good.
“We have to take every match seriously. We have to play good cricket against every team. Hopefully it will go well and we will get four points and go to the next round.”
Afghanistan open their campaign against Scotland in Bulawayo on Sunday, ahead of further Group B matches with Nepal, Hong Kong and Zimbabwe.
The tournament runs from March 4-25, with the two qualifiers to be decided by the end of the Super Six round on March 23.