Associate Teams - Chasing A Different Goal From The Rest
From Zimbabwe beating Australia in their first One-Day International match during the 1983 World Cup to Ireland beating England in the last version of the tournament, there has been no lack of unexpected and dramatic results in cricket’s show piece event.
In recent years, some of the most memorable matches in the World Cup cricket history involved the Associates.
Kenya humiliating West Indies in 1996, Bangladesh’ shock win over Pakistan in 1999 – which prompted the ICC’s decision to give them an untimely entry to Test cricket - and then Ireland’s victory over Pakistan in 2007 World cup; the list of such upsets are long. This time also no one can overlook the chance of a few upsets.
Like the 2011 edition, this time also four non-Test playing countries have qualified for the World Cup. Interestingly, only Ireland, arguably the best team among the Associates has qualified in both.
Meanwhile, the remaining three teams are different from the last World Cup. Kenya, Netherlands and Canada are replaced by Scotland, United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. It clearly shows how these Associates are closely matched with each other and barring Ireland there is arguably no other so-called ‘Big Boys’ in the second tier of international cricket.
Among the Associates, only Ireland is arriving with a serious goal of reaching the knock-out stage of the tournament. In the past they have already proved that they can compete with the Test-playing nations.
In the current format, the top four teams from each group will qualify for the next round and Ireland will target Zimbabwe, UAE and another top team like West Indies to beat and advance to the second round. Especially in current form, West Indies looks like a possible target and also with India and Pakistan in the group you never know when one of them might have a bad day.
Ireland is now quite an experienced team with seven players having played more than 50 ODIs. William Porterfield is a handy opener and has a steady head to lead this team. The spark will be mostly provided by veterans like the O’Brien brothers, Kevin and Niall, as well as youngsters like George Dockrell and Paul Stirling.
Stirling is an attacking opening batsman and could be very successful in the World Cup with his powerful hits.
For Ireland, the area of concern is the inexperienced fast bowling line up. Boyd Rankin’s decision to switch to England to play Test cricket was a big blow for Ireland and now Trent Johnston’s retirement and Tim Murtagh’s injury meant that Ireland is going to the World Cup with a significantly inexperienced bowling line-up. They are taking advice from Brett Lee and it will be interesting to observe how their young fast bowlers deliver in the tournament.
The other concern for Ireland could be the high age group for their key players but with a lesser workload compared to the players from India, Australia and England, the fatigue factor should not be a big concern.
Squad: William Porterfield (captain), Andrew Balbirnie, Peter Chase, Alex Cusack, George Dockrell, Ed Joyce, Andrew McBrine, John Mooney, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien, Max Sorensen, Paul Stirling, Stuart Thompson, Gary Wilson, Craig Young
Sport at times throws some of the most romantic stories of life. Stories of heroes, team work and love for the game in the most difficult of times. This country has been turmoil for more than a quarter of a century now and as their captain Mohammad Nabi has pointed out, cricket is that positive news to cheer the people of Afghanistan from all the other news of fighting.
A refugee who was born and raised in a camp with his family near Pakistan border, Nabi had started playing cricket with the other inmates in some corner of his refugee camp. He quickly got noticed by a local cricket body and after countless hours of hard work and dedication, he is now able to represent and lead his country in the only sports allowed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
This is not a unique story for Nabi,as for the entire team the stories are quite similar. They are already heroes to a nation for their love and passion of the game. Qualification for cricket’s biggest stage is a reward for them and whatever their performance may be in the World Cup they will be lauded as heroes.
But they do not want to stop here. Nabi has already mentioned about targeting Bangladesh in their first group league match. It is not a fatuous claim because they have already beaten Bangladesh in both ODIs and T20Is – in Bangladesh, no less, last year.
If they can register wins against Bangladesh and fellow Associates Scotland that will be a huge boost for them. And you never know, a big upset by them with one of the Test-playing nations and Afghanistan may book a seat for the knock-outs.
Hamid Hassan, the fast bowler is their biggest weapon. He is quick and can swing the ball both ways. Some of the conditions in Australia and New Zealand will add extra zeal to his bowling and if he can remain fit and gets into his rhythm early in the tournament there could be more moments of joy of the Afghan public back home.
Squad: Mohammad Nabi (captain), Javed Ahmadi, Aftab Alam, Mirwais Ashraf, Usman Ghani, Hamid Hassan, Nasir Jamal, Nawroz Mangal, Gulbadin Naib, Samiullah Shenwari, Asghar Stanikzai, Najibullah Zadran, Shapoor Zadran, Dawlat Zadran, Afsar Zazai
Scotland has a long history of cricket in their country and can boast of Scots like Mike Denness who have captained England in past. They became an independent ICC Associate nation in 1994 and have qualified for two previous World Cups in 1999 and 2007.
However, they have lost all of their previous eight World Cup matches and for them the first target would be to not let that count go to 14.
Scotland should also focus on Bangladesh and Afghanistan for any realistic chance of a win. With the other teams, the gap is too big and they would hope that someone like Glenn Maxwell or Brendon McCullum do not go all guns blazing against them, otherwise quite a few ODI batting records may be under threat.
The captain Preston Mommsen and Kyle Coetzer will be the mainstays of their batting line up. With half a dozen players in the squad with experience of county cricket, Scotland will fight hard. Their athleticism and fielding will be something to look forward to.
Squad: Preston Mommsen (captain), Kyle Coetzer (vice-captain), Richie Berrington, Freddie Coleman, Matthew Cross, Josh Davey, Alasdair Evans, Hamish Gardiner, Majid Haq, Michael Leask, Matt Machan, Calum MacLeod, Safyaan Sharif, Robert Taylor, Iain Wardlaw
A team of part-timers, analysis of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) squad throws up some interesting numbers. Eleven of their squad members are over thirty with their captain and vice-captain being the joint oldest players in the tournament. They are close to 44 years old, born on the exact same day and are older than Sachin Tendulkar.
Unlike most of the squad members who were born in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, captain Mohammad Tauqir was born in the Emirates and is a handy off-spinner. Khurram Khan, the vice-captain, is the team’s batting mainstay who now holds the record for becoming the oldest One-Day International centurion with his hundred against Afghanistan in November.
With a host of medium and slow-medium bowlers, UAE’s bowling looks weak on the pitches of Australia and New Zealand. Their first wish would be not be humiliated while facing big guns like South Africa and India.
UAE is remembered for their captain Sultan Zarawani’s heroic-but-not-so-intelligent act of facing Allan Donald without a helmet in their previous appearance in World Cups in 1996.
This time they will hope that a few good innings or some good spells from their players will be remembered after the tournament is over.
Squad: Mohammad Tauqur (captain), Khurram Khan (vice-captain), Fahad Al Hashmi, Amjad Ali, Shaiman Anwar, Nasir Aziz, Andri Berenger, Krishna Chandran, Manjula Guruge, Saqlain Haider, Amjad Javed, Rohan Mustafa, Mohammad Naveed, Swapnil Patel, Kamran Shahzad
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