OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE
In chilly St Moritz, a veritable constellation of stars from the recent past tried their hand at Ice Cricket. Photo credit: St Moritz Ice Cricket © Agencies
It’s been another busy week in Associates’ cricket, with some of the biggest names in the global game turning out in eye-catching locations – Hong Kong’s now well-established T20 Blitz finding itself competing for the world’s attention with the somewhat eccentric spectacle of veteran stars plying their trade on a frozen lake at Cricket Switzerland’s Ice Cricket Challenge. Meanwhile, World Cricket League Division 2 is in full swing in Windhoek, as the build-up to next month’s World Cup Qualifier begins in earnest.
Now in its third season, this year’s Blitz saw Hung Hom JD Jaguars claim their first title in front of what was almost certainly the largest global audience ever drawn by an Associate event, and whilst Sri Lanka legend Kumar Sangakkara topped the run aggregates at this edition, the Associate overseas stars and Hong Kong locals gave a more than credible account of themselves.
It was the host’s own Nizakat Khan that bagged man of the match in the final, his 93 from 52 balls at the top of the order setting up the Jaguars’ six-run win over Sangakkara’s Galaxy Gladiators Lantau. Scotland’s Kyle Coetzer also extended his excellent record at the competition, hitting the only century of the tournament for City Kaitak in their opener against HKI United, while the Netherlands’ Paul van Meekeren picked up the man of the match award for his three wickets and three catches for Kowloon Cantons in their final game against United.
On the other side of the world in chilly St Moritz, a veritable constellation of stars from the recent past were trying their hand at the venerable Swiss art of Ice Cricket. Shahid Afridi’s Royals clean swept Virender Sehwag’s Palace Diamonds in the two-match T20 series in front of a sizable TV audience, although freezing temperatures kept the local crowd size modest.
The games themselves were nothing if not entertaining, Sehwag and Jacques Kallis especially seemed unencumbered by age or bulky clothing as they treated onlookers to a bracing display of clean hitting, whilst Owais Shah and Andrew Symonds took to the format with such gusto that they risk being pigeon-holed as ice cricket specialists.
We can only hope that the success of the event provides an impetus to resolve the long-standing issues in Swiss Cricket governance, where the continued rivalry between Cricket Switzerland and the competing Swiss Cricket Association has kept the country out of the ICC since 2012.
Canada registered their third consecutive win in the World Cricket Division 2. © Cricbuzz
Meanwhile, in Namibia, World Cricket League Division 2 looks to be turning out into a cracker of a tournament. Pre-tournament favourites, UAE, opened their account with an emphatic 218-run thrashing of Kenya before sliding to two consecutive defeats – first against Canada and then Nepal, who had earlier shocked hosts Namibia in a low-scoring, last-over, last-wicket thriller. The Delhi fans will be pleased to hear their newest Daredevil Sandeep Lamichhane played a key role in both wins.
The hosts themselves may feel a little unlucky, with rain intervening – or failing to – at the worst possible times. And that after a protracted drought. Whilst the weather relented to allow Nepal to recover from a losing DLS position to claim the win, Namibia themselves had no such luck after bowling Kenya out for their second sub-hundred score of the tour. They did claim their first win of the competition, however, with Gerhard Erasmus rescuing them from collapse and seeing them to a nervy win over Oman with two balls to spare.
Unbeaten so far, Canada look to be inching ahead of the pack and Kenya find themselves in a near-irrecoverable hole, the tournament remains remarkably open – with all six teams still in contention for a top-two finish and a berth at next month’s Qualifier in Zimbabwe.
In other on-field news, the United States finally picked up their first scalp in the West Indies Regional Super-50, knocking over the Leeward Islands for 134 after posting 193 in Antigua. An 81-run opening stand between Sunny Sohal and Jaskaran Malhotra had laid the groundwork, and a career-best 4 for 38 from Nosthush Kenjige ensured the Islanders didn’t get close to the total.
The win was the culmination of markedly improved performances from the Americans. They had Jamaica at 169 for 8 at one stage, but let them get past 250, and three quick wickets killed the chase off before it began, whilst in their match against Kent they also briefly threatened, though Kent’s total of 215, underpinned by skipper Joe Denly’s 96, proved beyond them in the end.
Also getting a head start on WCL preparations are Uganda, who will join the USA, Denmark, Jersey, Vanuatu and hosts Malaysia for Division 4 in April. Currently, in Qatar under the eye of coach and former Kenya great Steve Tikolo, Uganda have shared honours thus far in a warm-up series against the national side and a Presidents Select XI, with two games left to play before they move on to India.
Away from the field, there was a measure of good news for the USA and Nepal, with positive noises regarding their potential readmission to ICC membership emerging from the ICC meeting in Dubai earlier this week. Also confirmed at that meeting were substantial funding increases for recent Associate graduates Ireland and Afghanistan, though given that the the lion’s share of this additional funding is likely to be sourced from the Associates budget – at the expense of the remaining Associate members – Ireland and Afghanistan’s erstwhile peers have little cause to cheer the news.
Looking ahead, next week will see rematches for the USA against Guyana, Kent and Jamaica, which will be their last three fixtures in the Super 50 unless they can contrive to come back from the last place to claim a top-two finish in their group. The next few days also promise an exciting climax to WCL Division 2, and by next week we’ll know who will be joining Zimbabwe, Windies, Afghanistan, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland, Hong Kong and PNG at the Qualifier.
Their opponents have already begun their preparations, with PNG currently training in Brisbane under the direction of new coach Joe Dawes, while Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong and the Netherlands are en route to Pretoria, where they’re slated to play an unofficial warm-up quadrangular series starting from Friday (February 16).
Something of a damper was put on the excitement of the build-up to the Qualifier, however, when details of the rather underwhelming broadcasting schedule for the tournament emerged. It seems that provision has only been made to televise two games from the group stages – the Windies matches against Ireland and the Netherlands – and seven games from the Super Six stage, with no matches from Group B in Bulawayo scheduled to be broadcast at all.
In total, less than a third of the matches at the Qualifier are slated to be televised, fewer even than at the WT20 Qualifier in 2015, running the risk that the climactic Associate tournament of the 2012-2018 cycle will pass by comparatively unnoticed.