With each passing year, the associate teams continue to raise the bar; 2023 was no different. In fact, what this year has shown is that the gap between the associate teams and the full members is narrower than ever.
For the first time ever, the T20 World Cup in 2024 will have as many as 20 teams – nine of them will be teams from the associate world, which is indeed a welcome move.
If you thought 2021 and 2022 were good years for associate cricket, 2023 has taken their game to an all-new level, with plenty of teams punching above their weight. Let’s take a quick glimpse of those who made an impact :
Uganda's rise from playing Division Three a decade ago to now qualifying for the T20 World Cup has been a phenomenal one. For many, their qualification for the T20 World Cup could be surprising, but they have been at their dominating best in T20 Internationals (T20Is) this year.
They have the most wins (29), they have two batters and as many bowlers among the top five leading run-getters and leading wicket-takers respectively. In the Qualifiers, they pipped Zimbabwe to make it to the marquee event next year – perhaps the biggest moment in their cricketing history.
Lawrence Mahatlane, their former coach, played a huge role. Although he resigned just ahead of the Qualifiers, he had initially instilled belief in the team that they can actually play at the World Cup, 43-year-old Frank Nsubuga revealed in a chat with Cricket.com.
In a country where cricket is not even among the top five sports, the Cricket Cranes would certainly hope that they have inspired a generation to look at the sport as a potential career opportunity.
Like most associate nations, they too have an influx of players from the subcontinent, like Alpesh Ramjani, Dinesh Nakrani, Riazat Ali Shah and Bilal Hassun, who have been the backbone behind their success. In addition, with plenty of homegrown players in the side already, Uganda will hope that they will continue to churn out more.
Uganda’s rise is a testament to how well the African region has been doing. Namibia have made it to their third T20 World Cup in a row, while countries like Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda too have made the region a competitive one.
Sam Walusimbi inspired Nsubuga to take up the sport back in the 80s. Nsubuga will hope that he inspires the next generation, if he already has not yet.
Not to forget, Uganda Women too have a chance of playing the T20 World Cup in Bangladesh next year. They will take part in the 10-team global qualifier early 2024, from where two teams will make it through to the main event. The earned the right to play in the global qualifier after finishing among the top two teams in the T20 World Cup Africa Region Qualifier 2023.
Nepal take giant strides
Since Monty Desai took over as Nepal’s head coach, they have looked like a refreshed unit. Desai has clearly brought a sense of calmness into the side that has helped the Rhinos up their game. His “happy dressing room” and “one-ball battles” are certain theories that have been put into practice and have borne fruits.
The year 2023 has to be Nepal’s best year in international cricket. From potentially losing their One-Day International (ODI) status to giving themselves a chance to play the 50-over World Cup, Nepal have had one heck of a ride.
They won 13 of their first 14 ODIs this year, which saw them not just finish third in League 2, but also enabled them to play the World Cup Qualifiers. They also won the ACC Premier Cup at home, which took them to the Asia Cup 2023, alongside India and Pakistan. They may have won just two of their last eight ODIs, but they have given a glimpse of what they can do when the stakes are high.
Moreover, they have also qualified for the T20 World Cup in the US and West Indies next year after finishing runners-up in the Qualifiers.
Nepal had a record-breaking year in T20Is, where they made the quarter-final of the Asian Games in China. In a game against Mongolia at the Asian Games, Nepal batter Kushal Malla registered the fastest T20I ton (34 balls) and in the same game, Dipendra Singh Airee scored a fifty of just nine deliveries – another world record.
Not to forget, Nepal also added another T20I and ODI venue to the cricketing map, with Mulpani Cricket Ground in Kathmandu becoming the latest entrant.
While Sandeep Lamichhane’s off-field drama and the retirement of Gyanendra Malla has put a damp on the celebrations, it has certainly not taken the sheen out of a terrific year for Nepal cricket on the field.
The Netherlands lead the way
The Netherlands have set the benchmark and it is indeed quite high. With T20 World Cup Qualification already secured, they proved their worth in the 50-over format in 2023.
And why wouldn’t they? The Dutch have a cool and composed skipper in Scott Edwards, and a head coach in Ryan Cook, who has a clear vision and roadmap for the team.
Despite not being at their full strength at the Qualifiers and at the World Cup, the Men in Orange showed that they have enough depth to compete at the highest level. They also knocked over a few big teams along the way, including Zimbabwe and West Indies in the Qualifiers, and in the World Cup, they thrashed Bangladesh and South Africa.
Moreover, they did not have to take part in the T20 World Cup Qualifiers, as they had finished in the top eight in the previous World Cup in Australia, thereby booking their place to the US and West Indies in 2024.
One cannot help but admire Netherlands’ performance. They have the likes of Sybrand Englebrecht and Teja Nidamanuru, among others, who have a full-time job yet have the capability and the talent to go toe-to-toe with some of the big guns in world cricket. In a way, they carried the weight and hopes of every other associate member in the World Cup and without any doubt, the Dutch did them proud.
With the scrapping of the ODI Super League, Netherlands will not have to play in League 2 with other associate members, which is a pathway for a chance to play in the 2027 ODI World Cup.
In the meantime, they also have the T20 World Cup next year to look forward to and will be hopeful of having all their big guns at their disposal at the mega event.
The Netherlands did not play any competitive cricket after the ODI World Cup Qualifiers last year. Hence, head coach Cook sent out a plea, requesting teams to play against them. But it fell on deaf years, until Karnataka stepped in and offered to play them just ahead of the 2023 ODI World Cup. The Netherlands made the best of it, got the much-needed match-time and got a chance to acclimatise, further showing how serious they were to compete.
Namibia & Oman push forward
Namibia have been so good over the last few years that their progress to the World Cup is no longer seen as a surprise. During the T20 World Cup last year, they knocked over Sri Lanka, who came into the tournament fresh from their Asia Cup triumph. They could very well knock a few more over as well in the coming year.
Namibia (11) are the highest-ranked T20I side among associate nations, even above full-members like Ireland (12) and Zimbabwe (13).
There are so many men behind the Eagles’ success, including their head coach Pierre de Bruyn and Albie Morkel. But they are indeed blessed to have a terrific all-round cricketer like Gerhard Erasmus, who has led the side with distinction. The experience of David Wiese has also been pivotal. The likes of Jan Frylinck and JJ Smit, too, have grown in stature and have, on more than one occasion, given match-winning contributions.
Namibia, as a result, have shown that they have match-winners from No. 1 to 11 and are not dependent on just one or two more players.
The same can be said about Oman as well, who like Namibia, will play their third T20 World Cup, winning the Asian Qualifiers. They have plenty of players like Zeeshan Maqsood and Bilal Khan who came to pursue their dream of playing cricket and have gone on to etch their name in history.
Added to that, they also have a star all-rounder in Aqib Ilyas, who fought off cancer to continue putting his best foot forward. He was a key figure in the qualifier as well, and has done incredibly well to get back in the team, especially after being dropped in the middle of the World T20 in 2016.
What Oman possess is a series of extraordinary fast bowlers. Other than Bilal, they can also bank on someone like Fayyaz Bitt, Khaleemullah, and Mohammad Nadeem to support him well.
Discount both Namibia and Oman at your own peril.
Mixed bag for Scotland & PNG
Other than the fact that they had a 100% T20I win record in 2023 and will take part in the T20 World Cup next year, nothing really connects Scotland and Papua New Guinea (PNG).
PNG played their maiden T20 World Cup in 2021, and it ended on a disappointing note as they failed to register even a single victory. It has been a rough couple of years for the Barramundis, who finished last in the League 2 standings and also failed to hang on to their ODI status.
They lost all their five matches in the Cricket World Cup Qualifier play-offs, finishing below Canada and Jersey in the tournament – which has to be a new low even for PNG.
Moreover, their head coach, Carl Sandri, was removed after plenty of underwhelming performances, and since then, Mark Coles, who was appointed on an interim basis too, has left. While PNG may have won all their T20Is in 2023, they have barely shown glimpses of any form of consistency. On top of that, they are yet to show any sort of signs of their ability to put up a fight with the big guns, even though the chances have been little.
They are heavily reliant on their skipper Assad Vala, who is their leading run-getter in ODIs and T20Is this year, and he has chipped in with 13 wickets across formats. It is high time players like Charles Amini, Norman Vanua, Tony Ura and others take more responsibility and take the team forward. 2024 could just be that for PNG.
Coming to Scotland, they rang in a new era following the retirement of their inspirational skipper Kyle Coetzer. Coetzer played a huge role in ensuring Scotland won the League 2, amassing 1062 runs at 34.25, but took no part in the ODI and T20 World Cup Qualifiers.
Despite that, Scotland held their own in the ODI World Cup Qualifier. They did absolutely everything right. They beat Ireland in dramatic fashion, and then just eased past West Indies and also favourites Zimbabwe. Only the Netherlands stood in their way after that.
Despite putting up a competitive 277 on the board, a freak all-round performance from Bas de Leede dashed Scotland’s hopes…again.
2018 saw Richie Berrington receive a howler against the West Indies that denied Scotland’s progress into the 2019 World Cup and now, five years on, he returns to the same tournament as captain and faces the same heartbreaking result.
The good news for the Scots is that they will be part of the 2024 T20 World Cup. Having beaten West Indies and Bangladesh in the last two editions, Berrington’s men will be hoping to add a few more to their list.
Scotland Women skipper Kathryn Bryce became the only associate cricketer to be picked in the Women's Premier League (WPL) 2024 auction. She was snapped up by Gujarat Giants for her base price of INR 10 lakh. She will be only the second associate player to feature in the tournament after USA's Tara Norris turned up for Delhi Capitals in the inaugural season.
USA & Canada make a mark
The United States vs Canada was the first-ever international match played in 1844 in New York. 140 years later, they will compete across various cities in the US at the T20 World Cup.
In between both the sides have often found themselves in the news for plenty of impressive performances, be it John Davison’s 67-ball hundred against New Zealand at the 2003 World Cup, or more recently Jaskaran Malhotra smashing six sixes in an over against PNG.
Moreover, Canada have attained an ODI status and will be part of the CWC League 2 for the upcoming cycle, which gives them more matches in the next four years and a chance to go toe-to-toe with some of the best associate nations in the world, if not more.
For the US, co-hosting the T20 World Cup – a tournament of this magnitude will surely be a massive boost for them, which is something former skipper Saurabh Netrvalkar agrees.
With plenty of top international cricketers from New Zealand, Pakistan, India and others eligible to play for them at the tournament, alongside some well-established talent, the US could very well be the dark horses in the tournament.
Perhaps their highest point was winning the Cricket World Cup Qualifier play-offs, which enabled them to play the ODI World Cup Qualifiers in Zimbabwe. Canada, though, finished fourth in the competition, but secured an ODI status.
While the US did not have to play regional qualifiers for a place in the T20 World Cup as they were the co-hosts, but Canada won the Qualifiers, pipping Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Panama in the regional final.
Watch out for hard-hitting batter Aaron Johnson and left-arm pacer Kaleem Sana, who finished with 15 wickets at 4.60 in the tournament.
A special shout out
The UAE also deserve a mention here. They played the last two T20 World Cups, but missed the plane this time around. They have a lot to be proud of, though. They launched the International League T20 (ILT20), with six teams in the inaugural edition, which allows plenty of their players to mix with some of the top international cricketers in the world.
In a massive boost, the ILT20 has also received a List-A status, which means that the following season, slated for January 2024 will count as official T20 matches.
The finished sixth in League 2 – just above PNG – won just one game in the ODI World Cup Qualifiers and narrowly missed out on playing in the Asia Cup. However, what would hurt them the most is the fact that could not make it to their third straight T20 World Cup, crashing out in the semi-final in the regional final.
However, they were not short of explosive performances, especially Muhammad Waseem, who with on excess of 800 runs in the format in 2023, is not just the highest run-getter in the format this year, but no other associate batter has scored more than him in a calendar year.
In a massive boost for them, they beat New Zealand in August and ended the year with a superb win over Afghanistan, further underlining their ability to take compete with some top teams in the world.
Not to forget, UAE have introduced some really exciting players in Ali Naseer, Aryansh Sharma, Nilansh Keswani, among others, this year. It is certainly encouraging to see their talent pool get wider every year.
Even at the youth level, UAE did a commendable job. Under the leadership of Aayan Khan, the UAE Under-19 beat the likes of Sri Lanka and Pakistan to finish runners-up at the U-19 Asia Cup held at home.
While 2023 was colossal for associate cricket, it could very well be just a trailer for what’s in store for 2024. Hold on to your hats, it’s going to be an extravagant year for them.
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