Associate Cricket: WCL 2 Preview
Russell Degnan

"Confusing" is the best way of describing the context of this tournament; in a week it has gone from being a key plank in world cup qualifying, to something much less. The ICC preview tells us the teams are capable of "securing more funding in the world of cricket" which gives a good sense of their priorities. But the true prizes: - a chance to play against the division 1 associate teams, and most importantly, the last two places in the Intercontinental Cup (the only multi-day international cricket tournament there is) - are up in the air. Most likely, the top two place getters will proceed to the I-Cup, but there are rumours it may be done via committee, and may therefore consider the two I-Shield finalists (Namibia and the UAE) regardless of the final result. But there is definitely something to play for, even if the teams don't know exactly what they need to do.

Freed from the constraints of television networks - although it is an enduring mystery why the ICC can't find a network to broadcast associate cricket, satellite channels play anything - this is a short and snappy tournament. 5 rounds, then finals, 18 games in 8 days.

Of the teams, Namibia start favourite, with a youthful squad but the pedigree of I-Shield champions, and 2008 I-Cup finalists. They had a relatively difficult year amongst the amateurs of the South African second division, but were never outclassed and won enough to make an impression. Their batting looks to be the best in the division by far. UAE, at home, also I-Shield finalists, have a slightly better head-to-head ODI record against Namibia, and are likely to make the final as well; they have a tendency to collapse badly which could make them vulnerable to upsets. There is strength in the other team as well. Uganda have consistently challenged teams above them with recent a victory over Kenya. Hong Kong, won the WCL3 after looking to their youth, albeit with an inferior record at the group stage to PNG who could be the dark horses for the final. The only team I expect to struggle is Bermuda, still capably led by David Hemp, but slowly falling behind their larger associate opponents.

If "competitive" cricket was really what the public wanted to see this would be must-see viewing as there is very little between these six teams. Personally, I hope Namibia do well, as it was a travesty for them to be relegated to the I-Shield in 2009 after their performance the previous year. I also fear Uganda may be relegated, but hope otherwise, as their bright yellow uniforms and home-grown team is good to see.

In other news, the under-strength East-Asia Pacific region had their WT20 division 2 competition between Indonesia, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, Philippines, and South Korea in Samoa. Samoa are on track to win, having topped the group over the Phillipines with some ease. The competition was relatively tight in below, with South Korea taking their first two wins in international competition. Indonesia were probably the biggest disappointment; given their population and apparent growth they ought to be one of the stongest sides in the region, not coming last behind the minor islands.

Also starting tomorrow, Americas WT20 division 2 between Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Panama, Suriname, and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Brazil are the real demographic outlier amongst this group, and a nation it would be great to see take to cricket in a big way, but also probably the weakest team. Belize, having progressed from the lower league will have some experience in the format which will hold them in good stead, but although Suriname are probably favourites, there is nothing between the other sides, and any could make their way to the division 1 qualifier in July.

Cricket - Associate 8th April, 2011 23:19:58   [#]