Associate Cricket: Mega-Update
Russell Degnan

The last month has seen a glut of associate cricket with three regional competitions and two editions of the world cricket league, played in four different regions. Afghanistan, Malaysia, Tanzania, Ghana, Bhutan and Nepal all played across two competitions, the latter winning both, and a possible sign, following their strong performance at the WT20 qualifiers in February, that their potential may be being finally realised.

World Cricket League Division 8 was a triumph for the East-Asia Pacific sides. Vanuatu won through to the WCL7, along with Ghana, whose batting let them down, and Japan retained their place in the division - if it exists next time around - with a third-place victory over Belgium. The latter result may have been fortunate, with all four teams in group B losing their play-offs to group A sides, there was a clear mismatch in their relative strengths. In particular, Bhutan and Suriname struggled throughout. The Americas side continuing their consistent record of recent relegations.

On the positive side, fans of leg-spin will note that 15 y/o Ghanaian Vincent Ateak led the economy rates, and 15 y/o Japanese spinner, Makoto Taniyama took 5/55 in their third place victory. The development of home-grown talent being paramount, the amount of youth and talent at this level is definitely a good sign.

A few steps up the ladder, World Cricket League Division 4 represented the only chance remaining for sides still holding out for a place in the 2015 world cup. As always, the cricket was closely fought going down to the last few overs, and net run-rate calculations, over-lapping with those of Duckworth and Lewis. Surprisingly, the home side weren't involved in those. Malaysia struggled throughout, beating only a disappointing Tanzania. Nor, except academically, were Nepal, who stormed the tournament, led by their dominant bowling - particularly Regmi, who took 21 wickets @ 6.66, they won every game comfortably, taking their first title.

The United States, although inconsistent, scraped past Singapore and Denmark despite a loss to the latter requiring them to smash the former on the final day. They succeeded because of the emerging talents of Taylor and Allen, and the consistency of Nadkarni. With WCL tournaments generally a crap-shoot, both Nepal and the United States are good chances of making it into the qualifier proper from the WCL3 in Bermuda next year. For the rest there are WT20 qualifiers to worry about. Singapore, in particularly, needing to promote themselves from the ACC Trophy Challenge in December.

Those qualifiers proceed apace, with the European T20 Division 2 held in Corfu in September. Like the WCL8 the groups lacked balance, with group B clearly stronger, and proving as such as the Isle of Man and Sweden emerged - not without difficulties - to go on to division one. Not that there were big differences in performance. A few teams struggled, but Sweden, who won group B, needed a last ball, last wicket victory over Spain when chasing 191 in their semi-final. Greece and Finland finished equal on points with victors Isle of Man, and Israel topped group A, although they eventually finished fourth. There is, unfortunately, a surfeit of ex-pats in the European competitions, and they'll need greater development to progress at a world level. Further reporting from my end on this tournament seems unnecessary, as both Cricket Europe and Darren Talbot of T20 International covered it extensively. What Europe lacks in raw cricket numbers, if more than makes up for in organisation and outreach of its major tournaments...

... and if you doubt that go and find the scorecards for the Africa T20 Division 2. The ICC outsources this, and it was sort of available on Web Cricket if you managed to click through an obscure link on the actual ICC site, obscured by the WT20 site, and didn't mind most of the results being missing. This isn't good enough. Not least when non-ICC tournaments like the Euro Twenty20 Cup (won by Poland by the by), are readily available.

Rant over. Tanzania and Botswana qualified through, with Zambia just missing out on net-run-rate Ghana, who had qualified from the previous edition, came fourth, with four losses, which speaks highly of the depth of African cricket. Sierre Leone and Swaziland made up the bottom two. I'd add more, but there is little to add, although the Tanzanian and Ghanaian press reported on the preparations and games, for those looking for more details.

Finally, the Asian Trophy Elite kicked off more or less the same day as the semi-finals of the world T20, which might have been embarrassing for the ACC if Afghanistan had done better in Sri Lanka. As it was their recent poor form continued, losing to the UAE (again) in the semi-final and coming third. The winners - and there were two, no super-over here - were Nepal, led admirably by Paras Khadka, whose recent form is remarkable, and the UAE, who overcame an early loss to Nepal to qualify for the semi-finals over Hong Kong and Kuwait, who each finished with two wins (as in the recent T20 qualifiers, the ACC groups were ludicrously unbalanced).

A closely fought tournament then, and a useful corrective to those who claim Afghanistan and Ireland are the only quality associate sides. The gap to the older full members might be large, but there are masses of sides on the other side of it, full of young players. Hong Kong is particularly remarkable on this score, sporting a sea of teenagers, although the UAE remain an enigma with a lot of older plauers, and a lack of home support. With Oman and Afghanistan likely to get associate status in the near future, and Qatar building a stadium of unusual size there are a lot of interesting developments in Asian cricket.

And one more worth watching. Apart from Africa, Asia may be sport the weakest full members in women's cricket. That may be a good thing this week, as they'll be joined by Thailand, Japan, China and Nepal in the Women's T20 Asian Cup. The relatively lower playing bases in women's cricket mean bridging the gap is considerably easier - though the gap in performance amongst the top sides is much larger - which has certainly been the case in football. The efforts than of the home team, China, and another potentially large market in Japan will be worth watching.

Cricket - Associate 22nd October, 2012 00:04:55   [#]