January 2, 2010

The year of Afghanistan

Theirs was a story straight out of a fairytale, but 2011 for the Associates in general could be one spent in the dungeons, courtesy the Evil Queen, the ICC

We look at how the leading Associates fared in a year in which they were dealt a major blow with the decision of the ICC to, in all likelihood, bar them from the inappropriately titled World Cup from 2015.

The success story with no sign of running out of steam. Afghanistan showed their adaptability by winning the ICC Intercontinental Cup at the first time of asking, ending the Celtic dominance of the tournament. It was no fluke, either: they handed out heavy defeats to some of the better-funded and better-resourced Associates, and their remarkable effort in making 494 for 4 to beat Canada was the ninth highest fourth-innings run chase in first-class cricket. Victory in the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifiers earned them a place alongside the big boys for the first time in the main event in the Caribbean, where they lost to India and South Africa but were far from disgraced. Third place in the World Cricket League Division One in the Netherlands was a creditable showing - and their two defeats came against Ireland and Scotland, sides with far more experience of European conditions - and overall seven wins from 13 ODIs in 2010 underlined Afghanistan were here to stay. In the background remain some uncertainties - one leading chief executive sniffily dismissed them as being no more than a "Pakistan A team" - and without playing major opposition in their own country it is hard to see how the game can be expanded. Despite that, they will be sorely missed at the World Cup as they would have drawn big crowds and probably were the best chance of providing the upset the turgid tournament format will be crying out for.
What 2011 holds Maintaining the success of recent years will be hard but there are no signs the momentum is slowing.

Another year of stagnation, with far too much time devoted to an increasingly bitter dispute between the core of Cricket Canada and its biggest province, Ontario. The profile of Canadian cricket was hardly helped by the acknowledgement that it was not in a position to host the Under-19 World Cup in 2012, a fact many appear to have known from the outset. By taking on the responsibility only to hand it back to the ICC with little having been done, Canadian cricket was the only loser and critics of the board were handed a stockpile of ammunition. On the field it was another so-so year but three heavy defeats in the ICC Intercontinental Cup and a mixed return from ODIs did not bode well for the future. The World Cup could be a hard slog.
What 2011 holds Infighting and self-interest will continue to undermine the Canadians.

They still have the boasting rights as the No. 1 Associate but Afghanistan are snapping hard at their heels. The successful defence of their World Cricket League Division One title was the high point of the year for Ireland, and they also managed to inflict one-off ODI defeats on Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In Twenty20 they reached the World Cup in the Caribbean but rain robbed them of a possible upset after their bowlers had restricted eventual winners England to 120 for 8. Ireland's enthusiastic young chief executive Warren Deutrom maintained the team's profile with his indefatigable efforts, but towards the end of the year even he appeared to grow weary at the shunning of Associate cricket by those at the top of the game. A real plus was the return of Ed Joyce after his dalliance with England, evidence that traffic to the Full Members need not be one-way. Of the four Associates, Ireland, as was the case in 2007, are the ones with the depth and confidence to bloody a few noses at the World Cup, even if the doctored format means progressing beyond the group stage is unlikely.
What 2011 holds Ireland will continue to push hard at the bottom-end Full Members and despite a paucity of opportunities will bloody more than a few noses.

Their decline might be slow but at the moment it is hard to see how it can arrested. Much will depend on new chief executive Tom Sears. If he can drive through desperately needed reforms in the face of the rampant self-interest of clubs and some administrators then Kenya might, just might, be able to regain its position as the leading Associate. The initial signs are promising, with plans for a national league and the long-overdue acceptance that things have to change. But it will be slow, and in 2010 the old spectre of player strikes - even the all-but-unknown ladies' side got in on the act - tarnished the country's profile, as did constant sniping by former and current players conducted through the mischief-making local media. The World Cricket League Division One, which Kenya won in 2007, was a disaster, with all matches lost, and a home series against Indian state sides brutally exposed the deficiencies in Kenyan cricket. As with Canada, the World Cup could turn out to be a grim few weeks.
What 2011 holds Post-World Cup the old guard will need to be ditched, and a year or two of rebuilding - and struggles - will follow. But if Kenya can weather that then the medium-term future is brighter.

Netherlands cricket is in a period of transition and by the admission of chief executive Richard Cox, there is not any strength in depth among those likely to form the nucleus of the side in the immediate future. However, the impressive Ryan ten Doeschate was named ICC Associate Player of the Year for the second time in three seasons. The on-field highs came with victory over Bangladesh in an ODI in Scotland, and over Derbyshire in the Clydesdale Bank 40, admittedly the only success in 12 matches, although the experience of taking part in the tournament can only help bring players on. When it mattered, Netherlands failed to compete with other leading Associates, poor returns in the World Cricket League and ICC Intercontinental Cup showed there is a lot of work to be done. Another country that will travel to the World Cup in trepidation.
What 2011 holds A strong batting line-up continues to paper over cracks but it will be another difficult year.

A few years back Scotland seemed on course to turning into one of Associate cricket's big guns, but since then things have not necessarily progressed as hoped. A combination of funding issues and sketchy availability - who inside the ICC thought the amount of time amateurs or even semi-professionals could take off work was unlimited? - has meant Scotland risk being left adrift, although there are enough glimmers of hope through an active development programme to suggest the future might not be that grim. Second place in the World Cricket League was heartening, as was making the final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup, although the drubbing once there by Afghanistan was less palatable. In the Clydesdale Bank 40 there were two wins against Leicestershire.
What 2011 holds Consolidation will be the order of the day.

A year that started full of promise ended with the sudden and unexplained dismissal of the high-profile Don Lockerbie as chief executive. When the USA Cricket Association, again operating behind a wall of secrecy, broke cover to announce a "multi-million dollar deal with New Zealand Cricket", the jury remained out on its actual value, as many of the grand promises contained therein had been made before, mainly by Lockerbie, but had never come to anything. An attempt to stage a Twenty20 event featuring Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Florida cost USACA a lot of money and did little to show that the US was ready to host top-level cricket; it may also have been a major factor in Lockerbie's removal. Attempts by the ICC to fast-track the USA into the Twenty20 World Cup floundered in the qualifying event, but there was good news as the side continued their rise up the World Cricket League.
What 2011 holds If - and it is a massive if - some of the promises of USACA come to light then the future might be more promising. But recent history contains so much unfulfilled rhetoric from USACA, few are holding their breaths.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa