Dubai: Cricket's lesser lights, including Jersey and Nigeria, are chasing a "dream" as qualifying for next year's T20 World Cup gets underway on Friday, but the start of the tournament will be overshadowed by three United Arab Emirates (UAE) players being charged with corruption.
Scotland are the highest-ranked team in the competition, with 14 nations vying for six places in the opening round of next year's World T20 in Australia, where they would join Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in attempting to reach the 'Super 12s'.
But the hosts' preparations for the tournament in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have been thrown into disarray after captain Mohammed Naveed was one among the trio of UAE players charged by the International Cricket Council (ICC) on Wednesday.
Batsman Shaiman Anwar and right-arm pace bowler Qadeer Ahmed have also been charged by the ICC, the players facing a total of 12 counts of breaching the governing body's anti-corruption rules, as well as being axed from their country's squad for the qualifiers.
"My family is let down, my friends are let down. Everybody is let down. This was my mistake," the 32-year-old Naveed told The National newspaper.
Naveed added that he had made a mistake in failing to report an approach made to him by a "fixer" who had pretended to be an official representing a franchise in the T10 League, to be held in the UAE in November.
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Ireland are the only Test team having to go through qualifying and will be expected to book a sixth straight appearance in the tournament.
"We are here to compete at the world stage," said Irish skipper Gary Wilson. "We have a great record in the Middle East and the boys are looking forward to a great tournament and ensure we finish right at the top again."
The winners of each group of seven will qualify automatically, with the four remaining spots to be decided in playoffs.
Scotland, 11th in the world T20 rankings, claimed their first-ever win at a global ICC tournament in the 2016 edition by beating Hong Kong but will be looking to put the pain of agonisingly missing out on the 50-over World Cup earlier this year behind them.
They had two chances to secure a place during last year's qualifying in Zimbabwe but lost to Ireland before rain cut short their tense run chase against two-time world champions the West Indies.
"It is vitally important not only for us as Scotland but for every team here," said Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer.
The Netherlands, who reached the 'Super 10' round in 2014, Oman, Hong Kong and the UAE will all be among the favourites to qualify. But the likes of Nigeria, Jersey and Singapore insist they are not going to just make up the numbers as they bid to give cricket a boost in their countries.
There was already a shock in the Asian regional qualifiers, with Singapore reaching this stage ahead of Nepal, the world's 13th-ranked outfit.
Island team Jersey are playing in their second consecutive qualifier, having fallen short four years ago despite surprise victories over Hong Kong and Nepal.
"For Jersey, it would probably be the biggest thing that has happened in our sporting history," admitted captain Charles Perchard.
"It's a dream of ours to potentially play in a World Cup next year."
Nigeria have reached the final stage of qualifying for the first time as cricket continues to grow in the African country, with their youth side booking a spot at next year's Under-19 World Cup in South Africa.
"It would be a great thing to be at the World Cup. It would be a great history for Nigeria," said their skipper Ademola Onikoyi, after his team took the place of Zimbabwe following their suspension by the ICC, which was lifted on Monday.
Singapore, led by Amjad Mahboob, are also debutants at the qualifying event.
The qualifiers get underway on Friday, with Scotland facing Singapore in the opening Group A game, while Ireland take on Hong Kong and the UAE play Oman in Group B.
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