Oman and Papua New Guinea will get the T20 World Cup under way on Sunday in the humble surroundings of Al Amerat, with both sides determined not to be reduced to the role of warm-up acts at the global showpiece.
Originally scheduled to take place in Australia and then India, before being chased out of both by Covid-19, the seventh edition of the event begins with a double-header at the 3,000-seat venue outside Muscat.
Later on Sunday, Bangladesh face Scotland before Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands and 2010 champions Sri Lanka join the fray on Monday.
The eight teams in the first round of qualifying are chasing four places in the Super 12 stage.
England, Australia, South Africa, defending champions West Indies, India, Pakistan, New Zealand and Afghanistan will be waiting with all matches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
The top four will then progress to the semi-finals before the final in Dubai on 14 November.
There is plenty at stake for the teams having to qualify. A place in the next round guarantees a spot in the 2022 T20 World Cup.
There is also a financial incentive. Teams exiting at the first hurdle take home a modest $40,000 with the same amount awarded for each victory.
The eventual champions pocket a $1.6-million winner’s cheque.
Oman are playing in their second T20 World Cup having shocked Ireland at the 2016 tournament.
Their team are made up almost exclusively of semi-professional South Asian expatriates who combine cricket with full-time work. Many train at 5:30am.
Papua New Guinea are making their T20 World Cup debut.
They have already acclimatised to conditions in the Gulf having been in Oman for a month.
“It is really a proud moment for me and the boys,” said PNG skipper Assad Vala.
Bangladesh have just one victory at the tournament since 2007 but with a world ranking of six, will be heavily fancied to make the second round.
They go into the tournament with home series wins over Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe under their belts.
The Scots have fallen at the first hurdle in their three previous T20 World Cup appearances, in 2007, 2009 and 2016.
They claimed their first and only win at the tournament five years ago – an eight-wicket triumph in a rain-affected match against lowly Hong Kong.
Once the qualifying is completed, many see Eoin Morgan’s England as narrow favourites to become double world champions.
The top nations will join the event – played in stadiums 70% full – on 23 October, with Australia and South Africa meeting in the opener of the Super 12 stage and England up against the West Indies.
England beat New Zealand to win the 50-over title at Lord’s in 2019.
Morgan’s team will, however, be without Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, who played key roles in their one-day World Cup triumph.
England had to defend 19 runs in the last over of the 2016 T20 final in Kolkata, but the West Indies’ Carlos Brathwaite famously hit Stokes for four straight sixes, giving the Caribbeans their second world T20 title.
Many of that winning team will be back, led by Kieron Pollard and old war horses Dwayne Bravo (38) and 42-year-old Chris Gayle.
Asian giants India will begin their campaign against arch-rivals and fellow former champions Pakistan on 24 October, with Virat Kohli looking to go out with a bang before stepping down as captain of the T20 side.
Kohli will seek to repeat India’s triumph in the inaugural tournament in 2007.
The IPL, which wrapped up on Friday, allowed many stars the chance to get used to the UAE pitches.
Glenn Maxwell, for example, scored 513 runs, including six half-centuries, in the world’s most popular cricket league, a performance that will boost Australia’s hopes of a maiden T20 title.
Trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand, led by Kane Williamson, will also be eyeing two successive world crowns after they won the inaugural World Test Championship, beating India in the final in June.
© Agence France-Presse