Vettori and Bracken praise minnows' enthusiasm

Afghanistan celebrate a wicket International Cricket Council

Six teams will take the first step on the road to qualification for the 2015 World Cup on Sunday when the ICC World Cricket League Division 7 gets underway in Guernsey.

The hosts begin as one of the favourites for the tournament, although it is difficult to predict who will finish in the top two and gain promotion to Division 6 in Singapore later this year. The other competing teams taking part in this competition are Bahrain, Gibraltar, Japan, Nigeria and Suriname.

With the attention of the world's biggest international sides very much on preparations for the ICC World Twenty20 this summer, some of the leading names in world cricket have revealed that they did not know the game's lower-ranked teams are already setting out on the road to qualification.

"It's amazing to think that teams are already starting their bid to qualify for the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, even though the tournament is still six years away," said Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain.

"Having teams like Bahrain, Guernsey and Japan vying for places in the tournament shows the growing interest in cricket around the world and it's great to see that there's a commitment to the sport outside the leading countries.

"It's fantastic for the game that all these teams have a shot at playing at the highest level and I wish them the best of luck in their efforts."

Like Vettori, Nathan Bracken, the Australia fast bowler, was similarly impressed by the enthusiasm of these less-established nations.

"When I came to the ICC Awards in Dubai last year I watched a programme on the plane about how 12 teams were playing a tournament in Jersey to try and qualify for the 2011 World Cup," said Bracken. "Just by watching the footage of teams such as Afghanistan, you could tell how much it meant to the sides to win and they all seemed to play with the same intensity that you would find in a top international match.

"Having been lucky enough to play in a World Cup-winning side, having the chance to play in that tournament is one of the highlights of your cricketing career, and I am sure that all players from the smaller countries want to follow the successful example of Kenya and Ireland at previous events and experience what it is like to play at the highest level.

"I am sure most people didn't even know that teams like Nigeria and Suriname even played cricket at international level so having a global qualifying structure that involves so many countries trying to take part in the 2015 World Cup is a great opportunity to raise the profile of the sport in different parts of the world and hopefully encourage more people to play the game.

"It will be very exciting for our guys to have the chance to play a World Cup on home soil in front of our own supporters. I remember watching the last tournament to be played in Australia in 1992 and I am sure all of the players taking part in the event in Guernsey will be hoping to progress through as many qualification rounds as possible and perhaps even make it to 2015."

One person who will be in Guernsey, who knows more than most about what it takes to appear in a World Cup final, is Steve Bucknor, who recently retired from ICC's Elite Panel of umpires after a long and distinguished career. Bucknor, who has stood in every final since 1992, has agreed to be part of the umpiring team at the event with the aim of passing some of his vast knowledge and experience to some of Europe's up-and-coming match officials.

The matches for the tournament begin on Sunday, with the group stages concluding on Saturday May 23. The top two sides gain promotion to the ICC World Cricket League Division 6. Teams that finish third and fourth will play in Division 7 again in 2011, while the bottom two sides will be relegated to Division 8 in 2010.

Click here to read the diary of Guernsey captain Stuart Le Prevost. Cricinfo will have exclusive dispatches from the leading players over the coming week