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Page 2

The Afghan Shoaib Akhtar

Plus: Ireland's biggest fan, a Dutch squabble, and cool Prosper

R Rajkumar
Shapoor Zadran bowled a tight opening spell, Afghanistan v Pakistan, Asia Cup 2014, Fatullah, February 27, 2014

Shapoor Zadran: shape, swing, the lot... and that's just his hair  •  AFP

Admit it: you haven't paid as much attention as you maybe ought to have to the Associate teams playing in what has perhaps kindly (you say to yourself) been labelled the "first round" of the T20 World Cup.
It's okay, it's not your fault that inconsequential practice matches between Full-Member sides are being telecast live at the same time; only natural that you would choose to watch the big cats go through the listless motions of a circus act than a hard-scrabble gang of alley cats square up against each other on the mean streets. Besides, that's what we here at Page 2 are for. To go where no man has gone before (the stadiums where these Associate matches are being played, to be precise) and show you exactly what you've been missing out on.
Turns out there are plenty of good reasons to be watching round one, which on balance arguably offers more bang for the buck than the main event. Then again, ticket prices for these games have been cheaper than those for the main draw.
Let's take a look at some of the teams and why you should be watching them:
Afghanistan: Bet you didn't realise that the Afghan team counts in its ranks perhaps the only player in world cricket currently comparable to Javed Miandad. What wicketkeeper Mohammad Shahzad lacks for in height, he more than makes up for in sheer bristling attitude, not to mention increasingly nuggety contributions with the bat. Plus, he has been known to do a party impression of Javed Miandad doing a party impression of Kiran More that is simply hilarious.
But that's not all; Afghanistan can also boast the modern-day version of Shoaib Akhtar in their ranks. Shapoor Zadran's hair puts to shame that of his Pakistani counterparts, who, sadly, in recent times, seem to have abandoned the time-honoured tradition in Pakistani fast bowling culture of carrying bottles of shampoo and conditioner in their kit, and use tubs of styling gel instead. Needless to say, their bowlers do not strike the same kind of fear tinged with hilarity in the hearts of batsmen as they used to. It would seem that you simply are not as threatening when you aren't charging in with ball in hand while blinded by enviously conditioned hair spilling over your eyes (Ishant Sharma being the obvious exception to this rule). Is the Pakistan bowling coach listening? Is there even a travelling team hairstylist anymore? How times change.
Ireland: Ever since that Kevin O'Brien innings against England, the Irish have been a firm fan favourite. That fan's name is Mrs Edna O'Brien, and she is Kevin's mum. You can usually find her at the stadium whenever Ireland plays. She's great.
UAE: Probably the best chance you'll have outside of fanciful sports films of watching a World Cup team of semi-professionals captained by an airline steward. So does Khurram Khan's day job translate to his team being the politest one going around? Service with a smile, perhaps, with volley after volley of half-trackers and dropped catches, but hey, you wouldn't want to push your luck by asking for that third helping.
Bangladesh: Enjoying unfamiliar non-minnow status, everyone's favourite whipping boys are currently lording it over their rivals as the biggest fish in the pond for a change. This has in turn led to an interesting social phenomenon: for the first time in recent (see also: "distant", or "any") memory, fans of the team have the opportunity to be been seen wearing their beloved tiger masks without any sense of irony. "Grrrrrrrrrrrowl," said one supporter playfully after his team had beaten up Nepal the other day. Adorable!
On second thought, Bangladesh fans, take those silly masks off already.
Netherlands: Who says Associate cricket is boring? Not since the days when Navjot Sidhu abruptly left midway through a tour of England has there been this level of intrigue. And what a breath of fresh air it is. Always refreshing to see lower-rung teams further dispel the myth that they don't have what it takes to match Full-Member teams in self-destructive internecine squabbling.
Here you have a cricketer accusing management of illegally drafting in another player at his expense, and the management accusing the player of making up tall stories. You can't make this stuff up. Or actually you can, depending on who you talk to.
Of course, the main reason to watch Netherlands play cricket remains the same: their orange kits. The respite afforded to the eyes of fans, who have seen one too many matches featuring both teams wearing either blue or green - to the point of beginning to wonder whether one is suffering from sudden-onset colour blindness - cannot be overstated. Watching the Dutch team play ensures that at the very least it will be a match that almost definitely will not have two teams playing in the same colours. Almost.
Hong Kong and UAE: Teams that prove once and for all that you can play under one flag and still have most, if not all, members of the team derived from expat communities. "After all, what does it even mean in these days of globalism and trans-nationalism to have so-called 'native-born' players," asked a spokesman for the ECB with a hint of desperation in his voice.
Nepal: Nepal, on the other hand, take great pride in the fact that they have no expats in their ranks, proving once and for all that there's no substitute for homegrown talent. "After all, what sense does it make in the days of flag-waving nationalist chauvinism to have a 'Kevin Pietersen' in your team," asked a spokesman for the ECB with a hint of desperation in his voice.
Zimbabwe: Oh, Zimbabwe. How the never-all-that-mighty-to-begin-with have fallen. And how. Once a semi-feared team on the international stage, with a serious banana-peel factor, they are now a semi-feared team with a serious banana- peel factor at the Associate level. What are they doing here, playing against minnows plankton? I think it's safe to say that this is not what Prosper Utseya's mother had in mind for her son when she named her child. But all's well that ends well, and after a stuttering start, Zimbabwe appear, at least for the moment, to be back on track. And besides, win or lose, they will always have someone with as cool a name as Prosper Utseya in their ranks.

R Rajkumar tweets here.
All quotes and "facts" in this piece are made up, but you knew that already, didn't you?