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23 February 201504:47

Don’t discount the Associates – they are here to fight

If someone had tried to sit down and write a script for how the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 would play out, it would have long been tossed in the trash

Don’t discount the Associates – they are here to fight - Cricket News

Ireland have now beaten three full member nations in its World Cup history

The unexpected happens when one-day cricket’s greatest prize is on the line and since Ireland’s win over higher-ranked opponent West Indies on the third day of the tournament, it has become clear this World Cup will be full of surprises.

All four Associate nations provided highlights in the first week. After Ireland’s epic win in Nelson, Scotland tried hard to spoil a World Cup favourite’s best-laid plans when it met New Zealand in Dunedin, taking seven scalps to give New Zealand a scare before the Black Caps sealed victory.

United Arab Emirates posted a big total against Zimbabwe and gave itself a very good chance of winning an evenly-matched contest, while Afghanistan looked set to cause a major upset against Sri Lanka on Sunday after it had already ensured Bangladesh had to work hard for victory in Canberra.

These performances have proved the Associate teams, who have already fought hard just to make it to the World Cup, are not about to let their chance on cricket’s biggest stage in 2015 slip by without causing a stir.

As Scotland captain Preston Mommsen pointed out after his team’s three-wicket defeat in Dunedin: “We've qualified. We actually have to work harder. We have to go through the whole process of playing in a pressurized tournament to win eight games in a row to qualify for a World Cup.”

For the Associate players, this World Cup is a chance to show what they are capable of: a rare opportunity to gain the cricket world’s attention, be treated like their rock-star Test-nation counterparts, and inspire a new generation of cricketers back in their home countries.

It is a responsibility they take seriously and want to make the most of, as Mommsen explained prior to the World Cup.
“As players we know we have a huge responsibility in terms of putting in a good performance to give ourselves a good name and really prove that Scottish cricket is a force to be reckoned,” he said.

“We want to inspire young Scottish people to want to get into cricket and see the potential opportunities that are available to a cricketer in Scotland.”

He echoed those thoughts after the New Zealand match: “Hopefully the performance we put on today, it gets people talking and shows people that Associates belong at World Cups.”

Likewise, United Arab Emirates captain Mohammad Tauqir hopes his team’s appearance in the 2015 tournament will encourage more locals to take up the sport, which at present is largely the domain of the expatriate population.

“Cricket is very popular among the ex-pat community in Dubai but not many Emirati play the game,” he said. “However I believe our participation will inspire more UAE nationals to follow the game with passion.” Tauqir said.

This week is a big one for the Associates.

First, Scotland is eyeing off a chance to upset rival England today in Christchurch. While Mommsen has said his Associate team has been realistic about the quality of the opposition it must play in Pool A, the players are drawing inspiration from Ireland’s wins against higher-ranked opponents.

Earning a maiden World Cup win is the main goal for Mommsen’s team, after Scotland went winless in its previous appearances in 1999 and 2007.

This time, Scotland boasts a squad of professional players, many of whom are signed to county teams in England.
Next, Ireland will play United Arab Emirates in Brisbane. Ireland will eye off a win to keep itself in a running for a quarter-final berth, while the UAE will be eager to post its first World Cup win since it defeated Netherlands in 1996.

On Thursday, either Afghanistan or Scotland will win its first World Cup match – providing Scotland has not already caused an upset against England, that is. The pair meet in Dunedin and it will be an emotional match regardless of who walks away with the points.

The World Cup is only one week old and these countries still have plenty of chances to cause an upset to rival that of Ireland’s wins over Pakistan and England in 2007 and 2011.

As Zimbabwe’s Sean Williams noted after his team’s contest with the UAE: “The gap (between Associates and full members) has closed in a very, very long way. I believe that every single team at this World Cup deserved to be at this World Cup,” he said.

“For example, any one of the top teams could be beaten by us, could be beaten by Scotland. Anyone, any cricket team on that day if they get all three departments right they'll take the top team right to the end.”

Expect Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan will produce many more highlights before the tournament is over.