Wednesday, 7 March 2012

World Twenty20 Qualifier

This post is about cricket, and since cricket is an esoteric subject to the minds of many readers of this blog, it contains a number of hidden sections, reached by clicking on the hyperlinks, designed to elucidate matters for those interested in finding out more and/or with a lot of time on their hands.

What's Cricket?

March, as well as being the traditional time for basketball madness, also hosts the qualifier for the World Twenty20 Cricket Tournament, held this year in Sri Lanka.

What's Twenty20?

Twenty20, the format of the game most likely to ever break into the Olympics (and a very outside chance at that), is also the format that the ICC has determined will be the proving ground for associate and affiliate sides moving into the future, as the ODI World Cup will be reduced to just ten teams in 2019 and beyond, and as every associate and affiliate will have a chance, however small, to qualify for the tournament every time it occurs.

ICC? Affiliates?

In the future there will be more teams in the World Twenty20 competition, but the 2012 edition will feature only twelve teams, including all ten of the full-member nations, and thus only two spots are up for grabs for the associates and affiliates (let's call them A&A teams for now). This means a large-scale round-robin tournament to be played in the UAE, amongst the cricketing minnows to decide which teams get to compete on the big stage in Sri Lanka. This is, for an avid cricket fan interested in the development of these sides, a very exciting event.

Because few of the A&A teams are professional or well-funded and the cricket-playing world is as far-flung as the Commonwealth of Nations, opportunities for them to play other teams from diffent regions are few and far between, and when they occur, they are between only a few teams. This bigger 16-team tournament, then, is a great chance both for teams to show their collective mettle and through success increase the profile of cricket in their home countries, but also for individual players to shine in the richest form of the sport, and hopefully pick up contracts to play in higher-level domestic competitions in other countries to dramatically improve their skills.

The six ODI-playing nations (Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Netherlands and Scotland) automatically qualified for the tournament, and they are joined by ten teams who won through a series of smaller qualifing events from the regions, two (Namibia and Uganda) from Africa, three (Hong Kong, Nepal and Oman) from Asia, two (USA and Bermuda) from the Americas, one (Papua New Guinea) from the Pacific and two (Denmark and Italy) from Europe), the number of teams from each region being determined by the approximate quality of the teams in the region. Thus, each team has played a number of games over the last six months to prepare, and it should be one pretty high-quality tournament.

The top three teams after the round-robin stage in each of the two groups will go through to a series of finals. The top team in each group playing each other for a free pass to the grand final and thus automatic qualification for Sri Lanka, with the loser playing a series of elimination games against the other teams that reached the final for the last spot in the tournament.

So, how's it going to pan out? Well, as an Australian who has never seen an affiliate team play, is utterly ignorant of current form and has only a limited understanding of Twenty20 tactics, I am perfectly placed to make a full analysis of the teams and their chances, and shall now proced to do exactly that for your delectation, dear reader.

Group A

The great success story of cricket in the past five years, Afghanistan have shot from playing in the lowest international division to being the number nine ranked team in the short few years since 2008, an even won this qualifying tournament to play in the 2010 World Twenty20. Based on this success, cricket has become extremely popular in Afghanistan, but the playing ranks are still somewhat thin, with the top-level players being mostly raised in Pakistani refugee camps rather than in the country. That said, the under 17 and 19 sides are also very strong, and Afghanistan could rightly be considered the favourites to win this tournament once again. They recently played an ODI against Pakistan (the first time an affiliate nation has ever played against a full member national side), and were very impressive although they were defeated comfortably.

A few short years ago Bermuda was considered one of the better of the minnow sides and actually had ODI status, but they now rank in at number 22 in the world cricket league table, and only just qualified for the tournament, having been beaten by the lower-ranked USA in the qualifying matches. They're talking up their chances, but I expect them to collapse after winning a game or two against sides in similar situations, failing utterly to adapt to Asian playing conditions.

As one of top six A&A sides with a number of good results behind them in recent years, Canada automatically qualified for this tournament, but their recent string of losses in the West Indies domestic cricket competition suggest that they're not at the level that we've come to expect from them just at the moment. A team made up mostly of ex-pats from the subcontinent since few native Canadians play cricket, this team punches above its weight, but I expect them to crash and burn under the pressure and get beaten by a number of lower-ranked teams. I have no real reason to think this, but there you go.

Another team that has flagged in recent years with the retirement of their last generation of players, the Danish team is now considered the fifth-strongest European associate, after Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands and Italy, and they had an easy qualification tournament against a large but pretty rubbish European field this year. They unseated Italy in the final (the "big 3" having already qualified), and are arguably in better form coming into their tournament, but since Italy is in the other half of the tournament I expect that Denmark will come bottom of this group unless Bermuda has a bad day when they play each other.

Current rankings say that Hong Kong is the second-best Asian team in this tournament, with the normally very consistent UAE having been unseated on points in the qualifiers, but I expect that they will be out performed in this group (as they have been so many times in recent meetings) by their great regional rival Nepal, who they will play on the first day of the tournament.

Cricket is the biggest game in Nepal, the little team made up almost entirely of indigenous players that I would be rooting for if I weren't throwing my weight behind Pacific number one team PNG, but the mens team has never lived up to expectations given how well their junior teams always seem to do. I think that this will be their year, but for the sake of PNG cricket I hope that they come fourth in this group, not third. To do that they'll have to out-perform Canada, which will be quite an ask, but their continually good performance in regular Asian tournaments should stand them in good stead in the conditions in the UAE.

Probably the most regularly impressive of the associate teams, the Netherlands are always strong when it comes to these events. I'd expect them to come out second in this group after Afghanistan, based on the strength of a number of players who play domestic cricket in the major nations (including Tom Cooper for my South Aussie Redbacks). Like most European sides, the Netherlands struggles to field teams of born and bred Dutchmen, but since just one of born or bred is all that is required, expect them to be a force to be reckoned with and the real yardstick in this group as to the quality of the other teams, being more consistent than Afghanistan.

The team that I'm backing in this tournament, for emotional reasons rather than belief that they can really win it. PNG are the strongest A&A team in the Pacific, not really a particularly impressive feat given that their closest rival is Fiji, all the way down at number 38 in the rankings. That said, the PNG team all play club cricket in Australia and their development program in the last few years is rumoured to be very good. They rank about in the middle of the tournament, but with the addition of former England wicket-keeper Geraint Jones providing a little extra hitting power and experience I expect them to do very well.

Group B

No discussion of A&A teams would be complete without mention of Cricket Ireland, who are the team next in line to achieve Test Status should the ICC ever deign to admit that actually, they're pretty good. Ireland is developing a strong domestic competition and this is flowing through into a very strong team, particularly in the batting department. Widely expected to win or come very close, Ireland should be the standout in an already strong group.

Cricket is not a particularly popular game in Europe, but the Italians have been consistently not terrible for a number of years now. Although outclassed by most of the teams in this group due to not playing as much cricket as the African or Asian sides, it is my fond hope that they will be competitive and courageous in this tournament, even if it's hard to see them acheiving a win unless it's against the United States.

Powerhouse of the African A&A sides, I'm predicting that this one just won't be Kenya's year, as I feel like their squad just hasn't got enough games under their belt in recent times to be able to deal with difficult Asian pitches. African sides that rely of fast bowlers can be expected to struggle on sticky wickets where spin is often the preferred option. I expect them to be outperformed by both Namibia and Uganda , and to fail to get even to the preliminary rounds of the finals.

African teams traditionally rely on home-grown cricketers, and this Namibia side is a good one in that vein. More consistent than the other African sides, Namibia won each of their qualifying matches to get to this tournament before bombing out against Uganda in the final, and I'm thinking that they'll do much the same here, qualifying into the knock-out rounds and then suffering a batting collapse against a strong bowling team.

Oman are the real wild-card for me in this tournament, because I really can't even begin to guess how they might do. Effectively the home team for this tournament after combining with Hong Kong and Nepal to knock out the UAE, they should be familiar with the conditions and do well. But Oman are always second fiddle in Asia, and being in the other group from the rest of the Asians it will be interesting to see how well they do. I'm tipping them to upset a few of the higher ranked teams too, but just miss out on the finals.

Scotland, my UK team of choice, is not doing that well at the moment. As I write this, they've lost three quick wickets to the UAE and look like struggling to score a decent total in their Intercontinental Cup match (Update: they did alright, but still lost pretty easily). Thus, though I was confident about their chances earlier I am now ranking them as number three in the group below Namibia but above Kenya. The numbers all say that I've got to wrong about someone in this group, though, and for the sake of African cricket in the future I hope that it's this, and that Scotland fall of their faces letting two African teams (or one and Oman) into the finals.

Always teh African team that I barrack for, what with their bright yellow uniforms and impressive pace bowling attack, I think that Uganda, like Kenya, will struggle this tournament, and I'm tipping a tustle between the tow and Oman for the 4-6 postions in the group that will come down to points and be too close to call. I hope that I'm wrong, and Uganda are coming off of some good form, but I don't like their chances.

Oh USA. What to say about the USA, excpe that US cricket is in disarray without and end in sight. The team is hoping that a good performance will raise the profile of the sport and convince the association to sit up and behave themselves and maybe even have some elections some time, and many pundits think that it could happen. I myself won't be laying any money on it, and think that they'll be hard pressed against Italy to get out of the bottom spot.

Thus my projected results, without going through and guessing all the individual results yet:

Group A:
1. Afghanistan, 2. Netherlands, 3. PNG

Group B:
1. Ireland, 2. Namibia, 3. Scotland

Afghanistan d. Ireland, PNG d. Namibia, Netherlands d. Scotland
Then Netherlands d. PNG
Then Ireland d. Netherlands

Grand Final:
Ireland d. Afghanistan

So, there you are, the tournament according to the owl. If you think you have a better idea of how it's going to go down, why not join my tipping pool and try your luck? The password, incase you need it, is the automatically generated 'burgswab'.

1 comment:

Michael5000 said...

U.S.A.! U.S.A! U.S.A.! U. -- wait, we have a... really? We do? I'll be damned.