Associate nations eye Caribbean prize
Two places are up for grabs the ICC World Twenty20 in West Indies when the qualifying tournaments gets underway in UAE on Tuesday. It is a major prize for the successful sides and Cricinfo takes a look at the eight teams chasing glory.
As the leading Associate nation, Ireland start the qualifying tournament as clear favourites and such has been their success in recent years that it would class as a shock if they didn't reach West Indies. At the last World Twenty20 in England they secured a Super Eight berth to follow their similar success at the 50-over World Cup two years previously. However, their production line of impressive players has come at a cost and they are suffering a drain towards county cricket and, ultimately, the England side which is a major hindrance to their future development. They have big plans for the future with an ambitious plan to become a Test nation, but that is a long way away and the Twenty20 arena (coupled with increasing exposure in one-day internationals) as their best route to firmly establishing themselves as the next-best outside the top nations.
One to watch Niall O'Brien - the hard-hitting wicketkeeper will open the batting and has the ability to launch the innings in style.
As one of the most experienced sides in the tournament Scotland will be hoping they can challenge fellow frontrunners Afghanistan and Ireland for the trophy and secure a third consecutive place at the World Twenty20. After a tough year in 2009 where they missed out on qualification to the 50-over World Cup, they have been in good form in the four-day Intercontinental Cup competition, where they top the table. They can draw on a wealth of experience in the squad and memories of last year's World Twent20 in England where they smashed 89 in seven overs to give New Zealand a scare in a rain-reduced fixture at The Oval. Led by Gavin Hamilton, who played a Test for England, they have a host of full-time professionals on their books who need to prove to a football-mad nation they are worth every penny.
One to watch Kyle Coetzer - He showed his potential when he butchered 33 off 15 balls against New Zealand and followed it up with 42 off 32 balls against South Africa a game later in the World Twenty20 last year. He has developed his game with County Champions Durham and will be key to Scotland's hopes of posting big totals.
Afghanistan are the romantics choice for the tournament and, after a sterling rise in international cricket over the last year, start with a strong chance of qualifying for the World Twenty20 which would continue their extraordinary story. Despite being mired in domestic turmoil the country has developed an insatiable taste for cricket and have enjoyed a superb start in the Intercontinental Cup, beating both the Netherlands and defending champions Ireland. They will take on USA on February 11, in an intriguing fixture that will reverberate throughout and beyond the cricketing world. They will start as favourites for that game but are placed in the difficult Group A and will also need to beat one of Scotland or Ireland to keep their dreams of playing in an international tournament alive.
One to watch Mohammad Nabi - His allround ability will be key to Afghanistan's chances. His hard-hitting approach in the middle order usually lifts the total and momentum for his side and his miserly, clever offspin bowling can strangles opposition line-ups.
USA remains one of the great untapped markets for cricket and Twenty20 offers the best route for the game to take hold, but the national team needs to play their part by performing which it hasn't often done. The ICC clearly see the potential if the game can spread in the USA and fast-tracked the team in the qualifying tournament when on purely cricketing terms they barely deserved to be involved. Their one appearance on the global stage was at the 2004 Champions Trophy when an ageing team was humbled and since them the game has gone backwards in the states largely due to poor administration, but Don Lockerbie, the new chief executive, has bold plans for Twenty20 tournaments, international matches in the States and even professionalism. To be taken seriously, though, they need to qualify for a major tournament and that is unlikely this time.
One to watch Lennox Cush - A former first-class cricketer with Guyana, Cush has come to fore in the world of Twenty20 and earned a place in the Stanford Superstar team and is now an important cog with bat and ball for USA.
The Dutch produced the shock result of 2009 - and one of the biggest upsets of all time - when they beat England in the opening match if the ICC World Twenty20 at Lord's. When Stuart Broad missed his final-ball run-out chance Netherlands secured the most famous victory in their history. With qualification secured for the 2011 World Cup, success in this tournament would make it a notable double for Netherlands and keep them firmly on the world stage. They probably find themselves in the slightly easier group and have the experience to keep themselves in contention. Following the retirement of Jeroen Smit the side will led by Peter Borren.
One to watch Ryan ten Doeschate - Netherlands' key player in both disciplines he brings with him a wealth of county experience and one of finest Associate cricketers in the world.
The previous powerhouse of Associate cricket, Kenya have slipped down the pack in recent years with off-field political issues coupled with a declining team on it. From their peak in 2003 when they reached the semi-final of the World Cup in South Africa, and had a chance to become the second-best side in Africa, it has been a steady decline. They failed to qualify for last year's World Twenty20 and controversy never seems to far away. However, they remain a talented team and have shown impressive form during the warm-up period with convincing victories against Scotland and Uganda during the recent tournament in Nairobi. The short nature of the qualifying event could suit Kenya as they only have to sustain their skills for a brief period. Expect them to be in the mix.
One to watch David Obuya - Kenya aren't short of shot-makers and Obuya leads the charge at the top. His recent form has been strong with two fifties in the tri-nations tournament and he averages 42.50 in T20 internationals.
Having secured a spot in the 50-over World Cup with an impressive display in the qualifiers last year, Canada will be hoping to continue their good form in the shortest format, and qualify for a tournament they are yet to compete in. They had a surprise win against tournament favourites Ireland in the Sri Lanka Associates T20 series, when 18-year-old debutant Hiral Patel clubbed an unbeaten 88 off 61 balls to set up victory. The side has a good blend of old heads and youngsters and could spring a surprise in Group B.
One to watch Ashish Bagai - Captain and wicketkeeper, Bagai was the player of the tournament in ICC World Cricket League Division One in 2007 and has two one-day international centuries to his name, against Scotland and Ireland.
Hosts and wildcard entrants United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be praying home advantage and an enthusiasm for the game can help them cause the odd upset or two when things get underway. They have been competitive in the 50-over game, reaching the super-eight stage of the World Cup qualifying tournament. Their most notable appearance in a global event came at the 1996 World Cup, but they also faced Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the Asia Cup.
One to watch Saqib Ali - He was named in 2007-08 Intercontinental Cup Team of the Year, and was the only player to score a century for his country at the ACC Trophy Elite event in 2008. With 326 runs, he was also the top run-scorer for the UAE at the Cricket World Cup Qualifiers in 2009 and will be the man UAE's batting will pivot on.
Andrew McGlashan and Sahil Dutta are assistant editors of Cricinfo