OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE
Kenya seem to have taken their on-field troubles home with them, with news that Captain, Coach and Chair of the Board have all resigned in quick succession. © Getty
As the top flight touched down in Zimbabwe ahead of the pinnacle event of the Associates calendar, assembling for the World Cup Qualifier which gets underway in just six day’s time, the week’s only competitive international Associates cricket was to be found on the other side of the world and at the other end of the ladder.
At the ACC’s Eastern Region T20 in Bangkok (one of two stand-alone tournaments organised for those Associates that will miss the Asia Cup Qualifier), Bhutan staged a remarkable upset to claim the title, edging a last-ball victory over Thailand in the final – Thinley Jamtsho’s final delivery splitting Sarbjot Singh’s stumps with the hosts still three runs short.
The four-team, four-day tournament also included China and perennial also-rans Myanmar. That Burmese beat China twice in two games – once in the group stages and again in the third place play-off – is a result that is at least as surprising as Bhutan’s victory, and bodes ill for the game’s progress in Asia’s other giant.
An equally snappy little tournament is slated to kick-off today in Buenos Aires, but the less-than snappily-named ICC Americas Southern Sub-Regional T20 Qualifier is part of something rather larger, signaling the start of qualifying for the ICC World T20, to be held in Australia in 2020.
The three-team tournament sees Argentina, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands compete for two slots at the Americas Regional final, where word is they will be joined by at least two other teams from another Sub-Regional qualifier slated to be held in Los Angeles later in the year, with the USA, Canada, Belize and Panama reportedly pencilled in as participants.
Though the structure of the qualification pathway has not yet been officially announced by the ICC, a fair amount can be discerned from the scheduling of a number of such tournaments. In what will likely be the most inclusive qualifying process of any major ICC tournament, it seems that the games’ five regions have been further split into sub-regions, with perhaps as many as 12 Sub-Regional Qualifying tournaments on the cards.
Details are still scarce, with venues for the European and African tournaments not yet confirmed, but Kuwait is set to host the first of two Asian qualifiers in April when they will welcome the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the Maldives and Qatar to compete for two spots in the Asian regional final.
Similarly Fiji and the Philippines have been selected as venues for the two East Asia Pacific sub-regionals. Fiji will face off against PNG, Vanuatu and Samoa with two slots in the EAP final on offer whilst the Philippines, Japan, China or Korea will all be chasing a single finals berth.
From these finals a total of eight teams (two each from Asia, Africa and the Americas and one apiece for Europe and EAP) will progress to the Global Qualifier, where they will be joined by the bottom six teams from the 2016 edition of the WT20. There will likely be six qualifying spots to be won at the 14-team tournament, with top teams advancing to the “First Round” of the WT20 itself.
Meanwhile no less than two ambitious T20 projects actually were announced in Canada. As was widely reported in the Indian press, Canadian businessman Roy Singh disclosed plans for a ten-team two-division professional franchise T20 competition centred on Toronto and dubbed the Canadian Premiere League, and was confident of attracting global stars to participate. The more skeptical might point out, however, that this is hardly the first time that Singh (also known as Rohit Ablacksingh) has announced such a venture, and that the Canadian Premiere League has been unveiled regularly since 2012, usually accompanied by plans to construct a multi-million dollar indoor stadium in Pickering or Brampton. Neither have yet materialised.
Cricket Canada at least seemed unconvinced, releasing a statement on their website noting that it had received no application for sanction from Singh, and hastening to announce plans for its own, ICC-approved competition called either Twenty20 Major League Cricket or Canada Global T20. Together with his Indian partners at Mercuri Media, Cricket Canada president Ranjit Saini was hopeful of launching this summer. At a schools cricket event during his tour of India, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with cricket bat in hand and sporting Cricket Canada gear, reportedly welcomed the news.
Canadians Nikhil Dutta and Junaide Siddiqui will be hoping to get some T20 franchise experience this summer regardless, as together with ten other associate players they’ve put their names forward for the CPL draft. Anshuman Rath, Babar Hayat and Nizakat Khan of Hong Kong, Adnan Mufti and Muhammed Naveen of the UAE, Scotland’s Kyle Coetzer, Kenya’s Irfan Karim, the USA’s Ali Khan, Suffyan Mehmood of Oman, and of course Nepal’s Sandeep Lamichhane will all also have their fingers crossed come the March 1.
Meanwhile, Kenya seem to have taken their on-field troubles home with them, with news that Captain, Coach and Chair of the Board have all resigned in quick succession following a winless World Cricket League Division 2 which saw Kenya relegated to the third tier of Associates cricket. Kenya’s next competitive cricket will be WCL Division 3 later this year, where they and Oman will join the USA, Singapore and two qualifiers as they look to forge a path back to the top division, or at least avoid slipping further. Hoping to meet them there will be neighbouring Uganda, who completed the Indian leg of there Division 4 warm-up tour last week with a record of 7 wins and one loss.
They will all be sitting out the action next month however, with the UAE and Nepal joining PNG, Scotland, Hong Kong and the Netherlands as well as Full Members Ireland, Afghanistan Zimbabwe and the West Indies for the World Cup Qualifier which gets underway on Sunday.
Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong and the Netherlands have a fair bit of match practice under their belts already, having spent the last week in Pretoria for a warm-up quadrangular. Ireland look the form team, notching a comfortable win over the Netherlands, looking marginally ahead when the rain settled their match against the Scots and closing out a narrow win over Hong Kong. Paul Stirling especially looks in sublime nick, hitting another 156 against Hong Kong to match his score against Northerns/Easterns the previous week.
The Netherlands highly-rated pace attack looks to have struggled for penetration in Pretoria, and the loss of opener Stephan Myburgh to injury will likely have lengthened the odds on their claiming a surprise spot in the final and a berth at the World Cup. Nonetheless most of the top order have runs under their belt, and the depth of the Dutch squad is greater than it has been in the past.
Hong Kong will likewise take comfort from the form of Anshuman Rath, Ehsan Khan and Babar Hayat despite being winless in the warm-ups thus far. A victory over their North-Sea rivals will have bolstered Scottish confidence too, though of course both Hong Kong and Scotland will be under considerably more pressure than the Dutch in the coming weeks.
The Netherlands, having won the World Cricket League Championship, are guaranteed to have their ODI status restored following the tournament, but for Scotland, Hong Kong and PNG their status, and the opportunities and funding that go with it, will be in grave jeopardy. With ODI status for all but the Dutch decided on the basis of final standings at the end of this tournament, failure to reach the Super Six stage will almost certainly mean that a team’s status for the next four years will be decided by one single game.
To the UAE and Nepal that may look like an opportunity, for PNG, Scotland and Hong Kong, it’s a cliff edge.