What does the path to the 2027 ODI World Cup look like?

The 10 team captains pose with the World Cup trophy Matthew Lewis / © ICC/Getty Images

The road to the next men's ODI World Cup started in Kirtipur last week, with the first of 24 triangular series in the Cricket World Cup League 2 (CWC L2). The 2027 event, scheduled for October-November, is an expanded event and will have 14 teams competing in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia over 54 matches. While as many as ten Full Member sides go through based on rankings and host status, some sides will have taken the long, scenic route to the main event.

Who are the automatic qualifiers?
Two of the three co-hosts, South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as eight of the other ten top-ranked teams on the ICC's ODI rankings. No cut-off date for when they will look at the rankings have been announced yet, however.

What about the third co-hosts?
Namibia will have to go through the qualification pathway. Should they not make it to the tournament, we could have a scenario where matches are played in Namibia, but Namibia are not involved in the tournament.

So what do they have to do to get to the World Cup?
Namibia are part of the CWC L2, the eight-team competition that runs over the next three years. The top four teams from that competition go through to a World Cup qualifier. The qualifier is a ten-team event, made up of the two bottom-ranked Full Members in the ODI rankings (other than South Africa and/or Zimbabwe, whose rankings don't matter), the top four teams from CWC L2, and the top four teams from a World Cup Qualifier Playoff. Out of these ten teams, the top four advance to the World Cup.

The bottom four teams from CWC L2 go into another tournament with four teams from the Challenge League (essentially cricket's third division) called the World Cup Qualifier Playoff. The format is yet to be decided but the top four from this eight-team playoff will advance to the World Cup qualifier. That means teams in CWC L2 have two opportunities to get to the qualifier, and it also opens up the possibility that a Challenge League team could earn a place at the main event.

Who plays in CWC L2 and how does it work?
Other than Namibia there are: Netherlands, Scotland, UAE, USA, Nepal and Oman - all of whom were part of the World Cup qualifiers last year - as well as Canada, who were promoted from the Challenge League. These eight teams will each play 36 ODIs spread across nine triangular series, between now and December 2026.

Who are some of the players to look out for in this league?
Netherlands captured everyone's attention with the likes of Bas de Leede (ESPNcricinfo's Associate batter of the year), Logan van Beek and Max O'Dowd, but there are loads of others to look out for.

Scotland allrounder Brandon McMullen, who was their leading run-scorer and joint-highest wicket-taker at last year's World Cup qualifier, is a player for the future. Namibia's captain Gerhard Erasmus led his team inspirationally to the Super 12s of the 2021 T20 World Cup and will be in charge at this year's tournament, where you will also see Nepal, whose opening batter Kushal Bhurtel oozes class.

Oman left-arm seamer Bilal Khan made waves at last year's World Cup qualifier with 14 wickets. From UAE, 18-year-old allrounder Aayan Afzal Khan has shown talent with his left-arm spin and decent strike rate with the bat, and USA have a selection of fiery quicks, led by Saurabh Netravalkar, to keep an eye on. Newly promoted Canada regained ODI status last year and will showcase a host of new talent too.

And tell us more about the Challenge League?
There are 12 teams in this league, some of them being decided currently with a tournament being played in Malaysia, which is scheduled to conclude on March 3.

For now, Papua New Guinea, Jersey, Denmark, Hong Kong, Kenya, Qatar, Singapore and Uganda are confirmed in the Challenge League. Four out of Bermuda, Italy, Kuwait, Bahrain, Tanzania and Vanuatu will complete that line-up.

Once the participants are finalised, they will be divided into two pools of six and each will play three round-robin tournaments over the cycle. The top two teams from each pool will move on to the World Cup Qualifier Playoff.

So how many teams are in the running to get to the 2027 World Cup?
A grand total of 36. That will be whittled down to 32 once the Challenge League participants are confirmed. Considering that there will be ten automatic qualifiers from the rankings (and hosts), realistically that means 22 other teams (including two Full Members) will be in the running for four spots.