The ICC on Saturday called off an ongoing qualifier for next year's Women's ODI World Cup in Harare following the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant in the African region, paving the way for Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh to make the cut on the basis of rankings.
Travel restrictions have been introduced from a number of African countries after detection of the new variant in South Africa stoked fears around the world. The ICC said the decision to stop the event was based on its concerns about how the participating teams would head back in the wake of the Omicron variant's rise.
The decision was taken during the preliminary league phase of the nine-team tournament, that was to decide the final three qualifiers for the World Cup 2022, to be played in New Zealand, as well as two additional teams for the next cycle of the ICC Women's Championship.
"The qualifiers will now be decided according to the team rankings as detailed in the tournament playing conditions. Therefore, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the West Indies will now progress to the event in New Zealand," said the ICC in a statement.
Play in two of the three matches scheduled for Saturday – Zimbabwe v Pakistan and USA v Thailand – started as scheduled but the third fixture of the day, between the West Indies and Sri Lanka, could not be staged as a member of the Sri Lanka team support staff tested positive for COVID-19.
"We are incredibly disappointed to have to cancel the remainder of this event but with travel restrictions from a number of African countries being imposed at such short notice, there was a serious risk that teams would be unable to return home. We have explored a number of options to allow us to complete the event but it isn't feasible and we will fly the teams out of Zimbabwe as soon as possible," ICC Head of Events Chris Tetley said.
The teams who have qualified for the World Cup are Australia, England, India, South Africa, New Zealand (hosts), Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh. The mega-event will be held in New Zealand from March 4 to April 3.
"The number of teams in the third cycle of the ICC Women's Championship (from 2022-2025) has been increased from eight to ten, and these teams will be Australia, England, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Ireland," the statement added.