Marsh's Uganda moment shows Cup's beauty and disparity

Aussie skipper delights at impromptu meeting with African team as 20-team World Cup event readies for launch

Amid a "disjointed" lead-in to a World Cup for which Australia's squad remained still not fully assembled days out from their first match, Mitch Marsh had an unexpected thrill this week.

In Trinidad, where the Aussies who did not feature in the Indian Premier League's playoffs blew out cobwebs in warm-up matches, Marsh was presented with a playing shirt from the Uganda cricket team at the Port of Spain hotel the two teams were sharing.

Both Marsh and David Warner mingled and posed for photos with players from the small landlocked east-African nation. The Aussie squad members (at least the ones who had arrived) signed and returned the jersey to the Ugandans.

David Warner meets the Uganda squad // Innocent Ndawula

"That was a really special moment," Marsh told reporters in Barbados, where the Aussies kick off their tournament against Oman on Wednesday (Thursday, 10.30am AEST).

"It's things like that – it's not just about the cricket throughout these World Cups. It's about opportunity and teams having earnt the right to be here."

The pictures of Marsh delighting a rival team by donning their kit underlines both the beauty and the disparity on show at an ambitious World Cup.

Mitch Marsh was thrilled to receive a Uganda jersey from the team // Innocent Ndawula

This tournament features 20 teams playing matches in three US states and on six Caribbean islands. Australia's Group B will see three – Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia – during the region's steamy wet season.

Marsh is leading an Australian team gunning to become the first side to simultaneously hold every major men's and women's ICC trophy. Uganda's eager cricketers, on the other hand, are making their own history in their country's World Cup debut.

Their sheer joy at simply qualifying (at the expense of a stunned Zimbabwe) can hardly be expected to be felt with the same novelty by the many players at this tournament who will be playing in their fourth white-ball World Cup in as many years.

The schedule squeeze is being felt no more heavily than the captain of the tournament's defending champions, England's Jos Buttler.

He found himself seated awkwardly between Marsh and Scotland's Richard Berrington for Saturday's ICC press conference six-and-a-half-thousand kilometres from home where his third child was born just days ago during England's bilateral series against Pakistan.

"That's part of a professional sportsperson's job really, life still goes on outside of the game," said Buttler, whose England team face Australia in Barbados on Saturday (Sunday, 3am AEST).

"It was an amazing day, really special … but when I'm on the field I'll be fully focused."

For Australia, avoiding mid-tournament burnout for the final members of the 15-man squad who were scheduled to link up with the team this weekend and who are coming off a taxing 2023, a full home summer and an IPL, has been front of mind.

"Things may look a little bit disjointed at the beginning, and I think most teams are in the same boat with guys that are playing the IPL," said Marsh of their decision to allow the likes of Pat Cummins, Travis Head and Mitchell Starc a few days at home after the IPL.

"That's the nature of the beast of international cricket these days, we come from all over. We'll get around each other for the next few days."

These are problems most of Australia's first-round opponents would eat several of Trinidad's infamous scorpion chilis to know.

While riding the same Friday evening Caribbean Airlines flight between Port of Spain and Bridgetown is about the only thing Australia have in common with Oman, Scotland and Namibia, few are expecting complacency from the one of the tournament's top dogs.

Namibia skipper Gerhard Erasmus noted the major teams now have enough access to enough footage to analyse players from lower-ranked nations that major teams like Australia have never faced before.

But the emerging sides hope their sheer hunger can help them achieve great things.

Take Oman, whose captain Aqib Ilyas earnestly nominated himself as one of his team's 'players to watch' before revealing he also planned to be player of the match in at least two of his side's four first-round games.

"I have to name myself. Over the past, I have done very well," a smiling Ilyas said after labelling Bilal Khan and Zeeshan Maqsood as his team's other standouts.

Two of the Oman squad members were also spotted picking the brains of the Australians in Trinidad, with Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Ellis passing on tips to two of their fast bowlers at their hotel.

What the less-credentialled teams lack in consistent exposure to the game's top players (a reality eloquently outlined by Namibia's Erasmus) they possess in experience in cut-throat matches.

Qualifying for major tournaments can be the difference between an Associate player having a job or not, can decide how big their country's slice of the ICC's revenue pie will be, or the difference between simply being able to afford to put on games.

"Tournament cricket normally suits the Associate nations. They only have something to gain," said Erasmus.

"That type of pressure and consequence on the games, it would be interesting to see how other teams, especially teams that go really hard up top, (handle that).

"Unfortunately, it doesn't come around enough for the Associate teams and they're not exposed to it year around. Making that jump up in a tournament and making it very quickly is really challenging, but really cool at the same time."

Namibia made the main stage of the 2021 World Cup that Australia won, and took a major scalp by beating Sri Lanka in Hobart in the first match of the 2022 edition, yet they have not faced the Aussies in any format since the 2003 ODI World Cup.

Despite a drubbing at the hands of a nine-man team in a practice game last week, Erasmus insists his side will not be intimidated when they face Australia in Antigua later this month.

"It's not that big a novelty to play against the higher-level guys (anymore), guys who are playing in professional set-ups all year long. The gap is definitely closing," the 29-year-old Windhoek-born captain of a squad featuring several players who have played in overseas franchise T20 leagues.

"There's not that feeling of being overwhelmed any more, that feeling of not belonging, stepping on a field with a bunch of aliens.

"It's more about stepping over the line against your peers. We won't be stepping back to any of the Test nations."

2024 ICC Men's T20 World Cup

Australia's squad: Mitch Marsh (c), Ashton Agar, Pat Cummins, Tim David, Nathan Ellis, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa

Australia's Group B fixtures

June 6: v Oman, Kensington Oval, Barbados, 10.30am AEST

June 9: v England, Kensington Oval, Barbados, 3am AEST

June 12: v Namibia, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua, 10.30am AEST

June 16: v Scotland, Daren Sammy Stadium, St Lucia, 10.30am AEST

Super Eights, finals to follow if Australia qualify

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