Associate Cricket: Asian T20 Cup Review
Russell Degnan

A belated review, owing to not posting much of anything the past few months. An excellent tournament with a large number of close games, a thrilling finish to the group stage in group B, and an excellent final. I saw most of Nepal's matches - streamed from Nepalese TV - including their thrilling, if fortunate, win against Kuwait (a 1 run win, but off a ball that was either a leg-side wide or the best stumping I've ever seen), their thrashing at the hands of Afghanistan in the semi-final, and their thrilling, if fortunate victory over Hong Kong when Irfan Ahmed had a melt down in the last over.

The big surprise was the failure of UAE to progress through to the semi-finals, and the WT20 qualifiers. They'll unfortunately now host them without participating. Upset by Hong Kong, their quest to qualify on NR/R was stymied by an incredible innings by Hammad Saeed, scoring 63 (of 115) off 38 balls to scrape easy-beat Saudi Arabia past the target needed for Nepal to qualify in their place.

Oman scraped into second place in group A with a 3 wicket win over Malaysia that I wish I'd seen: 29 runs came off the last 2 overs, including a last ball boundary when 3 was still required. In the semi-final they were close, but Munir Dar (74 off 46) and Irfan Ahmed 3/20 (4) and 23 (10) - one of the real stars of the tournament - got Hong Kong home in the last over. In the final Hong Kong looked like competing a huge upset, needing only a run a ball off the last 5 overs with 6 wickets in hand. But Dawlat Zadran 2/21 (4), Hamid Hassan 3/12 (4) and some poor running left them eight short.

The regional qualifiers now concluded, the wait now begins for the World T20 qualifiers scheduled for March 13-24th. The format for this tournament is both insanely packed, and confusing. In short, there are two groups of 8, each team plays group games on the 13,14,15,16,18,19 and 20th, followed by a day of rest.* The winner of each group will play a preliminary final for the first final place; the second and third placed teams will play (across groups) elimination finals, for the right to play the winner of the elimination finals in another elimination final; the winner of which will play the loser of the preliminary final in a qualification final, for the second final place. With only two places on offer this is relatively fair, as it puts the onus on group places, rather than the crap-shoot of lengthy play-offs. But it means winning the group is essential (a 75% chance of qualifying vs. just 12.5% for second and third place).

I'll preview the groups closer to the event. It looks like group A might be slightly easier overall, but it is much of a muchness in the top-3, and any team will need to overcome one of Afghanistan or Ireland to make their way to Sri Lanka.

* Cynics will note the ICC has no problem scheduling a 16 team, 2 group, group stage across just 8 days for associate members, but blames the number of teams on the length of the World Cup proper

In other news, England is to play a combined Associate/Affiliate XI as part of their warm-ups for playing Pakistan in the UAE. I have my misgivings about the idea, as in the long-term it might undermine the push for associates to play test cricket, and devalue the I-Cup if they are subsumed by a combined team that plays regularly. But as a one-off it is something to look forward to. The side is composed of Irish, Scottish, Afghani and Namibian players, meaning it could be stronger, but is still a quality outfit, capable of matching most test sides in the bowling - though England will probably dominate them, and the batting looks weak.

William Porterfield (captain, Ireland),
Saqib Ali (UAE),
Kyle Coetzer (Scotland),
George Dockrell (Ireland),
Majid Haq (Scotland),
Hamid Hassan (Afghanistan),
Mohammad Nabi (Afghanistan),
Boyd Rankin (Ireland),
Mohammad Shahzad (Afghanistan),
Paul Stirling (Ireland),
Christi Viljoen (Namibia) and
Craig Williams (Namibia)

In a positive sign for associate cricket, the game will be streamed online by QuipuTV. Hopefully this will be carried forward and streams of all the top-tier of associates will occur, including (particularly) the World T20 qualifiers in March. The price is quite steep for three days ($9.99 USD), but they need to cover costs and create demand. Supporters of associate cricket might see this as a useful donation for raising the profile of the game world-wide. Frankly, the ICC is insane and short-sighted not to subsidise the stream out of their own pocket. But I'll take what I can get.

Cricket - Associate 5th January, 2012 19:00:22   [#]