In 2007 when I was playing for Ireland in the ICC Cricket World Cup, we tied with Zimbabwe and beat Pakistan to progress through to the final stages of the competition. Several influential people in the cricketing world suggested that we would need to beat a team in the Super Eight to prove that this result hadn’t been a fluke. So we did!
In 2011, in India, Ireland pulled off a dramatic run chase to defeat England in spectacular fashion. Has Associate cricket benefited from these victories? The unfortunate answer is NO! Perhaps the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 will produce further results which will test the status quo of the Full Member world.
Associate cricket will be represented by four teams in Australia and New Zealand. A diverse group, they all face unique challenges.
Afghanistan – This team are the real deal and are currently positioned highest of all the Associates in the ODI rankings. Any Full Member that takes Afghanistan lightly does so at their own peril (ask Zimbabwe who drew their recent series 2-2).
It represents the most complete of all the Associate teams and has been on the fastest trajectory. The Afghanistan team has some very accomplished batsmen who can hit the ball 360 degrees around the park. The team also contains quick bowlers with genuine pace who have the ability to swing the ball. Their spinners are ably led by Shenwari who is as good as any full member spinner on his day.
Its Achilles heel could be their fielding, cutting down ones in the ring, taking the high ball under pressure with millions watching around the world. However they are constantly developing in this area and could prove me wrong!
Without knowing their final squad their captain Mohammad Nabi, spinner Samiullah Shenwari and pace man Dawlat Zadran will be players to look out for.
Ireland - This is its third consecutive 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup and Ireland has undoubtedly been the dominant Associate team since 2007.
Coming into the tournament with this tag could prove a heavy burden for Ireland. It is likely to be its bowling that will come under the most scrutiny as none of its new ball bowlers have the benefit of 50-over World Cup experience.
On Ireland's recent acclimatisation tour to Australia and New Zealand, it only managed to win two from seven, and failed to gain any real momentum in an injury riddled campaign. However, if it can take early wickets and build pressure their powerful batting line up, which is as good as many Full Members, has the potential to take it to the next stage of the ICC Cricket World Cup.Ireland has always taken great pride in its fielding standards and I expect this tournament to be no different.
I believe Ireland captain William Porterfield, wicketkeeper/batsman Niall O'Brien and fast bowler Craig Young are likely to be key to its success.
Scotland - The Scots have been in rebuild mode for a few years after the new qualification rule appeared to derail them for a while. However, they are back and deserve their spot in this ICC Cricket World Cup.
With Associate Player of the Year and player of the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier 2014, Preston Mommsen, at the helm, I believe it has have the potential to upset a Full Member in this tournament. Its opening partnership of Coetzer and MacLeod has the ability to score quickly up front. Its bowling attack has height and pace, and with the quality of Sharif’s death bowling it is well represented. Like all the Scottish teams I've played over the years, they will fight to the bitter end and never give in.
Without knowing their final squad Kyle Coetzer, Majid Haq and Richie Berrington will be the ones to watch.
UAE – This team was the real surprise package of the qualifying period and remains something of an unknown quantity which will benefit it. It is coached and captained very well by Aqib Javed and Mohammad Tauqueer respectively, both very experienced campaigners.
My biggest concern for the UAE would be that its success in the qualifying tournament (they won four from five and were only defeated by Ireland) came at Sharjah in familiar low and slow conditions. It also defeated Afghanistan 3-1 in its recent series in Dubai, showing great form but also in familiar surroundings.
It will need to prepare thoroughly for a barrage of short-pitched bowling and its fielding will need to come up three or four notches if it is to be competitive. One bonus is it play South Africa in New Zealand and not at Brisbane or Perth which will help its cause.
I predict Khurram Khan and Swapnil Patel will make significant contributions for their team.
The future for these four promising cricketing nations will not be defined by their journey Down Under but it will certainly provide them with a platform to present their case for future promotion.
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