A Preview of the Upcoming ACC T/20 Cup Part 1: Group A
Asian Non-test playing cricket is back in the United Arab Emirates with the ACC T/20 Cup due to start in a couple of weeks at the magnificent Sheikh Zayed in Abu Dhabi, and the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in Dubai. The tournament which was originally intended to be a qualifier for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou is now devoid of any substantial meaning as it was decided that countries should apply to participate directly with their Olympic Associations. It is, however, a wonderful opportunity for many of these teams to compete in a tournament of reasonably high quality (in the non-test cricket scenario) on international standard turf wickets. For some of the more established sides – Hong Kong, Oman, Singapore, UAE, Nepal – it provides perfect opportunity to test out new talent, toughen up promising youngsters, and test themselves under the rigours of T/20 cricket ahead of a busy 2010 highlighted by the U-19 World Cup, the ACC Elite Cup, the World Cricket League, the 2010 T/20 World Cup Qualifiers and the 2010 Asian Games.
Twelve teams have confirmed their participation with Maldives, Bhutan, and Thailand being the notable omissions. One fails to see why these countries have refused to send teams.
Part 1 of this preview is a short analysis of Group A, which consists of upcoming giants and first seeds Afghanistan, perennial challengers the UAE, a confident Singapore side fresh from an impressive unbeaten run in WCL Division 6, ACC Trophy Champions Hong Kong, an unpredictable Saudi Arabian outfit, and newcomers China.
On the back of consistently awe inspiring performances in the World Cricket League and an exceptional showing in its recent tours of Zimbabwe, and the Netherlands as an ODI country, Afghanistan have got to be overwhelming favourites for the trophy. Having played with Hamid Hassan, I am quite aware of the destructive capabilities of his bowling. Their batting, too has matured impressively especially with blossoming of opener Noor Ali, and Mohammad Shezhad. They bring with them talent, lots of experience, and most importantly a do or die attititude towards winning. While their first match against China could be one of the most one-sided in international cricket history, their second against Singapore should be an intriguing prospects and one that indicates the side’s strength and quality.
Key Players: Hamid Hassan, Nowroz Mangal (captain), Noor Ali, Mohammed Shezhad
X-Factor: the pace and fire of Hamid Hassan
Prediction in Group Stages: 1st
Overall Prediction: 1st
If there’s one side in the tournament capable of uprooting the Afghan challenge, its the UAE, however despite the presence of world class facilities, recent performances have been below par, and much has been said about the country’s continued reliance on Pakistani and Indian expats to bring home the goods. While they haven’t officially named their side yet, presumably, much will depend on the class of veteran Khurram Khan, the experience of two other stalwarts in Arshad Ali and Saqib Ali. Amjad Javed is known for his big hitting and could be a headache for opposition sides opening the batting, and bowling his skiddy medium pacers. Whoever is picked in the squad, coach Colin Wells will be hoping his boys can turn the tables and restamp their authority on the Asian region.
Key Players: Khurram Khan (if playing), Saqib Ali, Amjad Javed, Zahid Shah, Fayyaz Ahmed
X-Factor: the success of their spinners in backing up their dependable top six.
Group Prediction: I do not see them beating Afghanistan. Let me make a big call here by saying I think Hong Kong and Singapore have a one up on them at this stage. 4th
Overall Prediction: 7th.
Singapore are seeded 3rd in a tough group, but going by their recent performances they will be a handful for any team in the competition. Encouraged by the well-oiled organizational engines, and professionalism of the Singapore Cricket Association, a recent association with Trever Chappell, and their unblemished record in the recent World Cricket League Division 6 Tournament, they will be brimming with self-confidence and ambition: an ambition to no doubt lay their hands on the trophy. Buddhika Mendis was fantastic for them with a number of fifties and a hundred in the recent WCL tournament, while there were handy contributions Munish Arora, Chetan Suryawanshi, Pramodh Raja, and Dharmichand Mulewa as well. A repeat of their WCL Division 5 victory against Afghanistan could definitely see them sneak into the semi-finals, and from there on anything is possible.
Key Players: Buddhika Mendis, Dharmichand Mulewa, Saad Janjua, Chetan Suryawanshi
X-Factor: the big hitting of Sagar Kulkarni (who has scored a 200 in a domestic game), and Christopher Janik
Group Prediction: They will be competitive but will struggle in a group that includes Afghanistan and Hong Kong. 3rd.
Overall Prediction: 5th
Hong Kong have definitely emerged as one of the top competitors in the Asian region over the last three or four years. They are coming into this tournament with the tags of ACC Trophy Champions, and ACC U-19 Cup Champions (they’ve also qualified for the U-19 World Cup). That said, the abrupt departure of former England ODI player Aftab Habib as coach, and the decision to send no less than eight U-19 players to this tournament to give them more exposure before New Zealand, could hurt them.
Nevertheless, they will still be very difficult to beat with players such as the Ahmed brothers, Najeeb Amar who scored a hundred in the ACC Trophy final against UAE, and Hussain Butt, in their ranks. Two difficult games against Afghanistan and UAE in the first three days will decide their fate.
Key Players: Nadeem Ahmed, Hussain Butt, Najeeb Amar, Moner Ahmed
X-Factor: If Irfan Ahmed gets going with the bat or ball, things will become alot easier for the dragons.
Group Prediction: 2nd behind Afghanistan
Overall Prediction: Finalists
Much like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia are somewhat of an enigma. Scintillating victories against the likes of UAE, have been accompanied by ordinary losses against teams like Malaysia in the last three years. A key concern in the past has been players’ fitness over a period of more than seven days, and if the men in green can cope with the rigours and intensity of six games in the space of eight days, they could be dangerous. In all reality though, they cannot possibly be a match for any of the other sides in the group bar China. However, cricket is a funny game and we just have to wait and see.
Key Players: Suhrab Kilsingatakam is one name in the squad that has stood out over the past two or three ACC tournaments.
X-Factor: The flat decks and a lightning outfields outfields of Abu Dhabi and Dubai will suit their explosive style of batting.
Group Prediction: 5th
Overall Prediction: 10th
This tournament will be quite the learning curve for a Chinese team that is being quite keenly pushed for accelerated growth and development by the ACC and ICC. The Chinese’ only previous exposure to the rigours of men’s international cricket has seen team struggle considerably against teams like Thailand, the Maldives, and Iran, and tournament will in all likelihood see them struggle somewhere. Coach Rashid Khan, and everyone in the international cricket community will be happy to see some semblance of improvement in the team’s results over the course of the tournament. In all likelihood, however, they will be cannon fodder. I shudder to think of what will happen to them at the Asian Games next year.
Key Players: Unknown
X-Factor: Nothing I can think of. The off-chance of rain will definitely work in their favor.
Group Prediction: 6th
Overall Prediction: Last (12th)