While Pakistan and England have an almighty mess to sort out in their remaining group games of the World Cup, the Associates continue to impress through a refreshingly tenacious approach.
After Ireland humbled West Indies in their opening match, Sri Lanka survived a disaster by the skin of their teeth at Dunedin’s University Oval on Sunday against a plucky Afghanistan side.
Elsewhere, Scotland pushed the outrageously in-form New Zealand team till the end in a low-scoring fixture, while the UAE amassed their highest score in ODI cricket before narrowly losing to Dav Whatmore’s Zimbabwe.
The minnows are clearly on a mission Down Under; the International Cricket Council remains indecisive about their future in the 50-over format and have already cut down on the number of participating teams for the 2019 World Cup set to be staged in England.
Ten teams are expected to take part in the next edition of the premier ODI tournament and only two out of the top eight sides will feature via a qualifying round.
Ireland have already given the tournament a mighty shake by upsetting the West Indies at Nelson, and perhaps the most incredible aspect of their 300-plus chase was the professionalism of their batsmen — unfazed despite a daunting score against them.
There is surely a method to their madness and after recording two successful 300-plus chases in the 2011 World Cup, the Irish are the best chasing side in the tournament’s history with three of the top five biggest chases in their name.
Some cricket experts are even expecting the Irish to make it through to the knock-out stage at the expense of either the West Indies or Pakistan, especially considering Pakistan’s woeful run so far.
And there is staunch belief in the camp of the European nation, so much so that captain William Porterfield confidently claimed that the triumph over the West Indians wasn’t an upset — Pakistan must watch out.
Scotland, who line up against rivals England at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval on Monday, showed real resilience against the Black Caps. After a paltry total with the bat, the Scots refused to lie down. New Zealand lost as many as seven wickets before they finally reached the 143-run target. Only days later, England were rolled over by the New Zealand juggernaut at Wellington.
Scotland defied New Zealand twice as long as the English did and would surely carry confidence against Eoin Morgan’s wobbly team.
The UAE are also a much improved team under Aaqib Javed, the former Pakistan pacer who played a key role in the 1992 World Cup triumph of Imran Khan’s cornered tigers.
The 1996 edition was UAE’s debut in the World Cup and the experience was a true baptism of fire. They failed to qualify for the next four tournaments but have resurfaced at the world level recently under the tutelage of Javed.
Zimbabwe found the going tough in their game against the UAE at Nelson and after conceding a 285-run score, had to fight hard before prevailing with only a couple of overs remaining. The expats from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka have surely given UAE cricket a tremendous boost and the think tank there is confident of snatching a win or two in their five remaining group games.
Afghanistan also nearly shocked Sri Lanka as, chasing 233, both Sri Lankan openers were sent back on golden ducks and Kumar Sangakkara was also back in the pavilion at 18-3. It took a Mahela Jayawardene century and Thisara Perera’s late acceleration for the 1996 champions to win in the penultimate over.
The Associates have clearly punched above their weight and that has been one of the highlights of the tournament so far. It would be a shame if they are denied a chance to do the same four years down the line.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2015.