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Associating with the big boys

Cricinfo picks the best 11 Associates of the 2007 World Cup

The Associates, or minnows, have been roundly criticised in some quarters for their involvement in the World Cup. Too old, too foreign, too inadequate. Here, Cricinfo picks out 11 of the brightest to have shone

Tikolo: Kenya's class © AFP
Steve Tikolo
Probably the most gifted of the lot - certainly the most consistent - he once again propped up Kenya's fragile lineup with two slick 70s. The first took Kenya to a convincing thumping of Canada while his 76 against England was Kenya's only innings of substance in their meagre total of 177. The next highest score was extras, with 22. And with his tidy offspin - never turning it a great deal, but varying his flight and pace to great effect - his performance was head-and-shoulders above the rest of his team-mates. An unexpected doosra to bowl Ed Joyce, and the accompanying celebrations, demonstrated a man who, even at 38, is integral to his side and one who continues to hone his skills.
Jeremy Bray
While the media have attacked the Associates' reliance on mercenaries, Australian-born Bray is one who has proved their worth. Against a depressingly inexperienced Zimbabwe attack he was ruthless, driving with remarkable power and authority in his 115. Against West Indies he threatened to dominate once more, but struggled against the shorter ball, getting himself into awkward positions and highlighting the weaknesses of most Associates' batsmen against aggressive pace. He is a force for Ireland and, Aussie twang or not, they can't do without him.
Trent Johnston
Selected as much for his captaincy as his bowling - and long-levered lower-order lofting - Johnston has been an inspiration for Ireland in his determination never to give up. He rarely conceded more than four-runs-per-over and, against Pakistan in that unforgettable match, took the key wicket of Mohammad Yousuf. His athletic, diving catch to remove Kamran Akmal - whose lone 27 was Pakistan's last hope - highlighted the excellence of Ireland's outfielding in general, but moreover a man able to lead from the front.

O'Brien: Northamptonshire-bound © Getty Images
Niall O'Brien
Tidy and vocal behind the stumps, Ireland's cheerleader in chief has made an accomplished start to the World Cup, confirming - if there were any doubts - that Northamptonshire, O'Brien's club for 2007, have picked a good'un. Having kept faultlessly in Ireland's opening match against Pakistan, his nerveless 72 shone like a lone beacon in Ireland's chase: the next highest score was just 16, by his brother Kevin. It caused the biggest upset in World Cup history and, though events in the following week would overshadow O'Brien's individual excellence, he showed memorable doggedness and no shortage of class. He followed it with a fluid 63 against England in the Super Eights, further confirming his ability to rise to the occasion.
Ryan ten Doeschate
Head and shoulders Netherlands' most classy batsman, and their most gifted allround cricketer. While South Africa were lacing the Dutch en route to 353 for 3 (from a reduced 40 overs), ten Doeschate's reputation remained relatively unscathed, conceding eight-per-over. Then, marching to the crease at 6 for 2 - chasing a Himalayan 354 - he scythed 57 from 74, the only Dutchman to show some form of defiance in the face of adversity. It was a beautifully crafted innings, with eight fours and a bludgeoned six off Justin Kemp over deep midwicket. He bettered it against Scotland with a runaway 70, at better than a run-a-ball proving that his exposure to so much one-day cricket, with Essex, has paid dividends. They, more than Netherlands, will reap the benefits.
Thomas Odoyo
Consistency isn't a word you associate with Associates but Odoyo is that most rarefied of minnow beasts: a reliable opening fast bowler. "Fast" is perhaps overly generous but what he lacks in pace he more than makes up for in his disciplined lines. The most economical Kenyan in their mammoth 148-run loss to New Zealand, with 2 for 55, he allies controlled bowling with audacious lower-order slogging. Though the match was good as dead, his 42 against New Zealand at least delayed the inevitable. One of Kenya 's most valuable assets.

Mishra, one of the Associates' up-and-cummers © Getty Images
Tanmay Mishra
A bright young Associate? Whatever next? The minnows have been shelled by heavy anti-age fire in recent weeks, a perfectly reasonable line of attack, too. But in Mishra, Kenya hold a young, precious gem. A calm 35, sharing in an 84-run stand with Kenya's elder statesman and captain, Tikolo, eased Kenya past Canada. Quick across the outfield and one of their better fielders, Mishra has provided much-needed sparkle and youthful flair.
Collins Obuya
No longer the legspinning prospect he once was, demonstrated by a rather painful three overs against England in which he failed to land it on a length. His fielding is much more accurate, however. Of the three disciplines, Associates' fielding has probably been their most proficient in the tournament to date - but Obuya stands out as one of the very best. A superb, diving catch at backward point dismissed Michael Vaughan in their clash against England and he was a constant threat to batsman looking for a quick single. His batting was a disappointment, though, top-scoring with just 21 against New Zealand.
Sunil Dhaniram
Canada didn't have much to shout about during their campaign, an aging side shown up for packing their team with players well past their best. Dhaniram isn't one for the future, at 38, but he at least held his own. It was his performance against England, 3 for 41 and a competent 30, that showed he was a capable allrounder. His three wickets were memorable names; Ed Joyce, Ian Bell and the World No. 1 Kevin Pietersen. Dhaniram's celebrations increased with each wicket, but when he held onto Pietersen's return catch he could hardly contain himself. It was his first, and last World Cup, but he left with some fond memories.

High-ranking Rankin © Getty Images
Boyd Rankin
A surprise package in more ways than one. The tournament's tallest at 6 foot 8 (not an inch shorter, as he insists), his action is strong and smooth and, combined with the natural bounce he creates off a length, he is far more than a young minnow with nowhere to go. Six wickets at 23.50 in the World Cup so far - including those of Younis Khan and Michael Vaughan - are impressive statistics for someone lacking so heavily in experience. He saved his best delivery for a former team-mate, Ed Joyce - England's Irishman - who shouldered arms to one which cut back, sending his off stump flying. He has sailed the water for 2007, joining Derbyshire on a one-year contract which, on the basis of his performances in the past two weeks, is richly deserved.
Billy Stelling
Another playing closer to the end of his career than the start. Stelling, who had a stint with Leicestershire, claimed Netherlands' first wicket of the tournament when he had AB de Villiers caught behind for a duck, but that was quickly forgotten as Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis flayed the ball around St Kitts. He missed the match against Australia, but returned with a bang against Scotland and tore through the top order of the fellow Associate. He bagged the key trio of Navdeep Poonia, Dougie Brown and Gavin Hamilton with old fashioned line and length bowling as Scotland fell to 15 for 4. Netherlands cruised to the target and claimed the bragging rights over one of their leading rivals.

Will Luke and Andrew McGlashan are both editorial assistants of Cricinfo