Associate nations stand tall in a memorable year

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30 Dec 2021 | 11:02 AM
authorPramod Ananth

Associate nations stand tall in a memorable year

From shining at the T20 World Cup to setting world records, 2021 was a year to remember for the associate nations

The year 2021 brought some sort of normalcy back in the world of cricket after the pandemic had wreaked havoc for most parts of 2020. The scars still continue, giving an indication that we are in this for a long haul. However, with new challenges everyday, cricket has found a way to be a regular feature in the calendar throughout the year, which includes a successful T20 World Cup among other multi-team and bilateral series.

The world has been treated to some enthralling cricket, be it in the Indian Premier League (IPL), historic bowling performances, and dashing batting displays, from some of the top teams and players in the world. However, it is often easy to look past the performances of some lesser-known nations, who have made giant waves and put themselves on the map.

We at Cricket.com brought to you a series called ‘Know Your Associates’ ahead of the T20 World Cup 2021, which focused on the five associate nations who took part in the tournament with some like Papua New Guinea (PNG), Oman and Namibia taking part in the mega event for the very first time in their history. Of course, there were some teams like Scotland and Netherlands, who are no strangers to taking part in such big tournaments and have more often than not, left the world craving to see more of them on a regular basis.

Cricket is no longer restricted to some 11 or 12 countries anymore. Many nations continue to embrace the sport – slowly but steadily – and with a bit of backing, they too can certainly push for a place in big tournaments like the World Cup or even make their way up in the pursuit to become full-members, thereby expanding countries that would play Test cricket.

On that note, we take a look at how a few associate nations fared this year and what lies ahead for them in 2022.

The Netherlands

Positives

Like many associate countries, the Dutch too have been craving for some regular cricket and their wish has been granted as they currently play in the ODI Super League, which is one of the pathways for qualification for the 2023 World Cup.

They got off to a brilliant start with a 2-1 series win at home against Ireland. Moreover, this was the first-ever time cricket was telecast live in the Netherlands. However, their next series against South Africa was called off after the first ODI was washed out as the new Omicron variant was detected in the country, forcing them to fly back home earlier than expected.

It was an excellent year for the Netherlands in ODIs, having lost just once in six matches, but in the shortest format, the Netherlands had a year to forget.

The downside

Given that this was a World Cup year, the Dutch’s preparations were hampered by a lack of game time in the lead up to the tournament – as was the problem with other associate nations. Their last T20I before the start of the T20 World Cup in October was back in April against Nepal.

Netherlands coach Ryan Campbell in a chat with Cricket.com had therefore said that he did not know who his best XI for the World Cup was as the team could not squeeze in many games (barring a couple of warm-up matches) ahead of the mega event.

Netherlands, who had won the qualifiers in 2019, failed to make little impact in the tournament, losing all three matches. Their sorry campaign finally came to an end when they were embarrassed by Sri Lanka, bowling them out for just 44 – the second-lowest score in T20 World Cup history.

Their most experienced player Ryan ten Doeschate will no longer be in the Dutch fold, as he announced his retirement after the T20 World Cup, which is surely a massive blow.

Silver lining

Netherlands have a couple of ODI series coming up in 2022 against Afghanistan, England and New Zealand, which will put their skills to the test. Not to forget, they will also take part in the T20 World Cup Qualifiers, which feature teams like Ireland, Oman, Papua New Guinea, Zimbabwe among other formidable units. 

Among individual performers, Max O’Dowd was Netherlands' top-scorer in ODIs (194 at 38.80) and T20Is (295 at 49.16). He was Netherlands’ standout performer in the T20 World Cup, scoring back-to-back fifties against Ireland and Namibia. Campbell also mentioned that he would certainly be one of the players who would be an asset to any team in franchise cricket.

However, there’s little doubt they will have to start from scratch, rebuild, and with many fixtures coming up, put up a good show in the T20 World Cup Qualifiers, keeping one eye on the ODI Super League. Fixtures-wise, things have never looked better for Netherlands, but it is now on them as to how they make the best of it.

Namibia & PNG

Namibia and PNG scripted history making their first-ever T20 World Cup. With a combined population of less than 12 million, both countries defied the odds and went on to compete against some of the big boys in world cricket.

PNG had a fairytale entry to the World Cup. They were 19 for 6 in the Qualifiers against Kenya in 2019 and went on to win the match by 45 runs. Their determination and grit got them this far, but this is as far as they could get. They lost to Oman, Bangladesh and Scotland in the T20 World Cup and could not make it past the first round. 

The fact that Joe Dawes stepped down as coach just months before the World Cup did not help either. New coach Carl Sandri and his support staff, which also consists of former Australia Test pacer Chad Sayers, had very little time to impose their methods and barring a few sparkling individual performances, PNG never looked the part. With some time in their hands, they now have a chance to make it to the next World Cup, which will be held in Australia. We could see a much-improved PNG taking part in 2022.

Namibia, on the other hand, registered a win against a full-member nation for the first time in their history, when they beat Ireland to qualify for the Super 12s. Getting David Wiese into the fold turned out to be a masterstroke, as he finished as his side’s highest run-scorer in the tournament (227 runs, 127.52 SR) and brought all his experience into play with the ball striking six times at an economy rate of 7.42.

ALSO READ: Craig Williams: Namibia blessed to have Gerhard Erasmus as captain

Special mention has to go out to skipper Gerhard Erasmus who played the tournament despite a finger injury that needed surgery. Impressively, he scored a fifty against Ireland that took Namibia into the Super 12s. 

While Namibia qualify directly into the first round of the 2022 edition, courtesy of their qualification into the Super 12s in 2021, PNG will have to play the qualifiers. They will be among the 12 teams who will look to seal a berth in the mega event in 2022.

What about the 2023 World Cup?

In the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2, Namibia are well with a shout of automatically making it to the qualifiers. They have 10 points from nine games and lie fourth in the table, but have played lesser matches than the three teams above them. Remember, the top three make it to the 2023 Qualifiers directly. In the recent series, Namibia won one and lost one against Oman in Windhoek.

The PNG Barramundis on the other hand have not won a single game in the tournament. They have lost all 12 matches in the tournament but they still have a chance. If they finish below the top three, they will have a crack at the Qualifiers play-offs. All is not lost.

Speaking of World Cups, Namibia will co-host the 2027 50-over World Cup in 2027, which is terrific news for a country, who are slowly getting on the world map.

Oman & Scotland

If there was a match that comes remotely close to an upset in the T20 World Cup was when Scotland defeated full-members Bangladesh on the opening day of the tournament. Scotland are no strangers to the tournament, having participated in 2007, 2009 and 2016, but all they could do is muster a win against Hong Kong in 2016 in Nagpur.

However, they started off the World Cup this time in fine fashion and ended up beating Bangladesh after they were reduced to 53 for 6 in the 12th over. The adversity gave Scotland a new hero in Chris Greaves, who had batted just one time in T20 cricket before that and managed to hit a 28-ball 45 and along with Mark Watt rescued his side to guide them to a competitive 140. 

ALSO READ: Scotland not bogged down by defeats in T20 World Cup: Safyaan Sharif

Watt and Greaves picked up 3 for 38 in seven overs between them, which gave Scotland a memorable victory. Despite registering three wins out of three in the first round, Scotland lost all five matches in the Super 12. However, like Namibia, they too make it directly to the World Cup in Australia next year. There’s a silver lining after all!

While Oman’s performances were not as good as Scotland’s their rise over the years in international cricket has been nothing short of phenomenal, as highlighted by their head coach Duleep Mendis, who has been at the helm for a decade now.

They beat Ireland in the 2016 edition and started off 2021 with a comprehensive 10-wicket win over fellow associate member PNG. While their T20 World Cup campaign may have been done and dusted after just three games, they are very much well on course to making it to the qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup in India, as they currently sit top of the Cricket World Cup League 2 table. 

Scotland are just behind them in second, having played eight games fewer and 13 points behind. They have plenty of time to make up for it and Oman as a result cannot afford to sit back as though it is done and dusted. 

USA & Nepal

Two teams who have had their captains changed this year for completely different reasons, Nepal and USA will hope that they usher in the new era with the success that they have always craved for. USA replaced long-serving skipper Saurabh Netravalkar with Monank Patel as he wanted to focus on his bowling, while an internal conflict with the board and the players has seen 23-year-old Sandeep Lamichhane take over as Nepal captain from Gyanendra Malla.

Since taking over as captain, Netravalkar has led USA to nine wins from 19 ODIs, while the US managed to win just twice in the eight T20Is.

Nepal under Malla have been dominant in the T20Is, winning nine of the 12 matches he led in, while in the 50-over format, they have been victorious six out of 10 times. Nepal can be proud of the fact that they are the highest-ranked associate nation, even above a full member, Ireland. 

However, in one of the best moments for the United States, a full-member visited their shores for the first time for a bilateral series. Ireland played a couple of T20Is to start off, followed by three ODIs. In fact, USA defeated the Irish side in the first game to usher in a new era in cricket in the country.

The US have also made excellent progress in the World Cup League 2019-23 as well, as they are just behind Oman and Scotland in the third position, which is an excellent position to be in at the moment.

Moreover, USA will co-host the 2024 T20 World Cup along with West Indies, which could be a terrific platform to bolster the sport in the country. Things are looking up for the US, where the market for cricket is immense.

Cricketers like Unmukt Chand, Corey Anderson, Sami Aslam and a few others have quit their home domestic system and have enrolled themselves in the US, and over the next couple of years, they could play a pivotal role in taking the country to greater heights.

The Minor Cricket League could very well unearth the future of US Cricket. 

What’s happening elsewhere?

While UAE’s chance to play international cricket has been limited this year, they still managed to sneak in a T20I series win against Ireland and also beat them in an ODI. The Omicron scare ensured that their tour of Namibia did not go ahead, which denied them a chance to make progress in the Cricket World Cup League 2. 

However, they have unearthed a host of local cricketers thanks to tournaments like Abu Dhabi T10 League and Emirates D10 League to name a few. 

In the Africa qualification, Uganda were simply unstoppable as they won the competition in their region to make it to the T20 World Cup Qualifier. No team has been as dominant as them in the regional qualifiers.

In the 2021 T20 World Cup Africa Sub-regional Qualifier A, Uganda won all their six matches to make it to the regional final. Barring a narrow one-run loss at the hands of Kenya, they on their other five matches to book their place in the qualifiers. 

Courtesy of winning the tournament, they are now placed in the T20 World Cup Global Qualifier Group B, which will consist of seven other teams like PNG, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, hosts Zimbabwe among others. The matches will be played between 8-18 July 2022. The top two from this group will go into the first round of the T20 World Cup 2022 in Australia.

18-year-old fast bowler Peter Aho is making excellent strides in international cricket. Earlier this year, he had registered the best ever T20I bowling figures in Men’s T20I, pipping India’s Deepak Chahar’s 6 for 7. Incidentally, a week before Aho broke the record, Uganda’s Dinesh Nakrani, who has been the major reason for Uganda’s resurgence, emulated Chahar’s figures against Lesotho in Kigali.

In one of the most heartbreaking moments, Thailand Women missed out on a chance to qualify for the Women’s World Cup slated to be played in March. 

The Qualifiers in Zimbabwe was called off due to the Omicron scare and as a result, the ICC decided to give Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh a berth in the main event. This is despite Thailand winning three of their four matches, including victories over Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

It was a cruel way to end the year for the Thailand Women, who had first participated in a global event in the Women’s T20 World Cup 2020 in Australia. They could have been well on course for the second world event in two years, but they have been cruelly denied.

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ICC World Twenty20, 2021NetherlandsNamibiaPapua New GuineaOmanUSAUnited Arab EmiratesGerhard ErasmusRyan CampbellMax O'DowdKyle Coetzer

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