The Ireland story and others
It was another year where, despite the hard work in many quarters within the ICC, Associate and Affiliate countries were left feeling like unwanted guests at a party. Barely had the hype died down after the World Cup final than the ICC, with astoundingly ill-advised timing, given Ireland had bloodied England's nose during the tournament, announced the 2015 tournament would be anything but a World Cup, limiting it to Full Members only. As a sop, it gave Associates six places at the World Twenty20. Only those on the self-serving ICC executive could have been surprised by the level of the backlash, which was led, understandably, by Ireland. Less than three months later the ICC did a complete about-face, reverting to allowing four Associates for the 2015 World Cup but reducing their participation at the World Twenty20 to two countries.
After three years where they could do no wrong and during which time they dominated the second-tier headlines, 2011 was much quieter for Afghanistan. The year started with them missing out on a party where their involvement would only have been a benefit, highlighting an absurd World Cup qualifying system based on who the leading countries were two years earlier. As a result Afghanistan only played two ODIs all year, beating Canada twice away from home, but they underlined their credentials with a comprehensive win against the same opponents in the Intercontinental Cup, followed by a draw against the improving UAE. The Under-19s did qualify for the World Cup but were pushed to the final round of matches in Ireland. The year was rounded off with victory in the Asian Cricket Council Twenty20.
What 2012 holds An important start to the year, with their first ODI against a Full Member nation when they meet Pakistan in Sharjah. Other than that, all they can do is keep beating whoever is put in front of them.
Canada won their World Cup tie against the other Associate nation in their group, Kenya. It was their only win in ten ODIs through the year, with Afghanistan and Ireland both securing 2-0 series victories against them. Those losses, which came in the ICC Intercontinental Cup One-Day competition, which doubles as a qualifier for the 2015 World Cup, left them already struggling to make that tournament. That poor form was repeated in the Intercontinental Cup proper, where they were heavily beaten by Afghanistan and Ireland. The U-19 side failed to qualify for the World Cup after a below-par campaign in Ireland, but a crumb of comfort came with victory at the ICC Americas Division One, where they won all five matches. The off-field infighting that blighted 2010 continued unabated, although that did not prevent Michael Dighton, the former Tasmania batsman, from signing on as coach in October.
What 2012 holds It is hard to see a reason why things will improve, certainly in the short term, and defeat in important Intercontinental Cup One-Day matches against Namibia in April would leave Canada facing a bleak year or two. Whatever happens on the field, the internal bickering has to end.
The unquestioned leading Associate were responsible for one of the headlines of the year when they beat England at the World Cup, but failure to progress to the knockout stages, which hinged on a narrow defeat at the hands of Bangladesh, was a disappointment by the high standards they set themselves. The rest of the year was also rather flat, with home ODI defeats by Pakistan, England and, more surprisingly, Scotland. In general among the Associates, Ireland continued to be the team to beat. Victory in all four Intercontinental Cup One-Day matches put them on course for the 2015 World Cup, and they also ended the year top of the four-day table after wins in both games. Their tireless chief executive, Warren Deutrom, continued to be the flag-bearer for Associate nations, successfully leading the attack against the ICC's World Cup cull. He also persevered with ambitious plans for Irish cricket, outlining his ambition for a first-class structure.
What 2012 holds Irish cricket benefits from a well-organised structure, a dynamic CEO, and a determination not to be deterred by the antipathy of Full Members or the ICC. They should continue to open a gulf between them and other Associates while nipping at the heels of the lower-ranked Full Members.
Last year we wrote: "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." That reforms, and sweeping ones, did happen was a result of a wretched World Cup campaign. All six matches were lost and the on- and off-field performances were so abysmal that the government demanded action. The coach and captain were sacked, a number of senior players put out to grass, and a new performance-related system of contracts implemented. A root-and-branch overhaul of the domestic structure was undertaken and new East Africa 50-over and Twenty20 competitions, aimed at providing a higher-standard bridge to the national side, were introduced. A young side faces a tough spell as they find their feet but the long-term gains should be worth the short-term pain.
What 2012 holds Tough times on the field, but failure to produce results should be seen in the light of what has gone before and the impact of long overdue reforms.
It's hard to escape a feeling of gradual decline when talking about Dutch cricket. The World Cup was a damp squib as they failed to win any of their six matches and never really threatened an upset either, after a strong start against England. There was some solace in the Clydesdale Bank 40, where they won five out of 12 matches and finished above Yorkshire and Worcestershire. But concerns over the reducing number of homegrown players in the national squad - close to half those used in 2011 developed overseas - are only likely to grow. And it was not just the men. At the end of the year the women's side lost their ODI status after 25 years in the top flight.
What 2012 holds While their problems are not as serious as those faced by Canada and Kenya, the future is not bright for Netherlands.
After threatening so much a few years ago, Scotland have slipped back into the second tier of Associates, grand plans for a professional structure foundering as financial realities hit home. Reduced circumstances mean they struggle to compete with sides they once hoped to usurp, although there were signs that they can still be a force to be reckoned with, as they registered morale-boosting ODI wins against Ireland and Netherlands. And four wins in four in the ICC Intercontinental Cup One-Day competition leaves them in a good position to qualify for the 2015 World Cup, even if they have tougher games to come.
What 2012 holds An interesting year. If they can capitalise on improvements seen in 2011, they could again be the team to be snapping at Ireland's heels.
Yet again, the stories have centred on the inability of the USA Cricket Association to act in anything resembling a competent manner, and the year ended with endlessly postponed elections and the all-too-familiar board infighting raising the risk of a third international suspension. All this against a backdrop of possible massive financial and commercial benefits as the wider world looks to capitalise on a potentially lucrative market. On the field the senior side was relegated from the ICC World Cricket League Division 5, while the U-19s failed to qualify for the World Cup, as did the women's side at the end of the year.
What 2012 holds The kind of top-to-bottom reforms undertaken by Cricket Kenya are long overdue in the USA, but they will only happen if someone not steeped in the tribalism that has held back US cricket emerges. Until then, more of the same is all that is in store.
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa