Challenges for all teams in the 2024 Asia Premier Cup

Nepal, winners of the 2023 Asia Premier Cup in ODI format, has had an intensive preparation for the 2024 T20 edition. (www.asiancricket.org)
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Updated 11 April 2024
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Challenges for all teams in the 2024 Asia Premier Cup

  • On April 12, the men’s Asia Premier Cup will open at the Al-Amerat Ovals in Muscat, Oman

On April 12, the men’s Asia Premier Cup will open at the Al-Amerat Ovals in Muscat, Oman. It consists of 10 teams. Only the one finishing top will progress to join the five major Asian teams in the 2025 Asia Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan. The prospect of this prize will make for a highly competitive and pressured competition.

The 10 teams are divided into two groups of five. Group A comprises Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nepal, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, while Group B pitches Bahrain, Cambodia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE against each other. Cambodia and Saudi Arabia qualified for the cup by claiming the top spots in the Asia Cricket Council Challenger Cup in February this year in Thailand. The other eight teams are the highest ranked ACC associate members.

As of March 23, the International Cricket Council’s T20I rankings showed a 26-place range between the 10 teams. Leading the way is the UAE in 16th place, immediately followed by Nepal, only one ranking point separating them. Oman is in 18th place, needing to take any glimmer of home advantage to challenge the UAE and Nepal. It is probable that the team which progresses to the Asia Cup will be one of these three.

Oman recently concluded a five-match T20I series vs. Namibia, against whom they will compete in the group stages of the ICC T20I World Cup in June. Namibia won the series 3-2. The last decade has been a successful one for Oman, with peaks in 2016, 2021 and 2024 through T20I World Cup qualification. In the latter case, Oman beat Bahrain in the semifinals of the Asia Qualifier, while Nepal defeated the UAE. Oman’s squad for the Asia Premier Cup is very similar to that for the 2021 World Cup when it was already considered to be aging. This may prove to be critical in the field, but the team has defied being written off before.

Nepal, winners of the 2023 Asia Premier Cup in ODI format, has had an intensive preparation for the 2024 T20 edition. Most recently it has played two matches in a Friendship Cup in India against the state teams of Gujarat and Baroda, winning both matches. Before that, it played two matches against Ireland A, winning both. This followed on from a tri-series against Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea, Nepal winning two out of three completed matches. In a preceding tri-series against Namibia and the Netherlands, two of the five matches were won by Nepal. It is a patchy recent record that the squad, under regular captain Rohit Patel, brings to the Premier Cup.

Outside of these three teams, Hong Kong is the next highest ranked in 21st position. Hong Kong qualified for the 2022 Asia Cup by virtue of beating the UAE in the final qualifying match, so its pedigree may suggest that it is well placed to reach the Premier Cup semifinals. Victory in the East Asia Men’s Cup in February kick-started its preparations, followed by three close matches against Qatar, a heavy defeat by PNG and a convincing win over Nepal. The team is led by Nizakat Khan and has a balance between experience and younger players. However, other teams in the group are lined up to provide a strong challenge.

Qatar, ranked 28th, has shown its capability to challenge, whilst Malaysia, 25th, and Saudi Arabia, 31st, are keen to show that they belong at this level. The latter has been working on fitness levels at a training camp, enjoying the opportunity, as part-timers, to train together. Confidence is high after the Challenger Cup successes in 2023 and 2024. The approach will be to play with a positive mindset, aiming to create at least one upset.

In Group B, Kuwait is ranked 26th, Bahrain is 27th, while Cambodia is 42nd. Cricket Kuwait has been an ICC associate member since 2005, having been an affiliate member since 1988. The team has produced upsets in the past, notably in 2004. Since 2019, it has won just over half of its T20Is. Bahrain became an ICC affiliate member in 2001 and an associate in 2017. Its first ever T20I was in 2019 when Saudi Arabia was defeated. In its most recent T20I matches in early March, Bahrain beat Kuwait, Malaysia, Tanzania and Vanuatu. The team has shown in the last year that it is capable of beating the UAE, emphasizing that the highest ranked teams will have to be performing at their peak.

Cambodia appears to be something of a special case, compared with the other teams, especially in terms of longevity. The Cricket Association of Cambodia was established in 2021, with ICC associate membership awarded in 2022. Then, in May 2023, Cambodia hosted the Southeast Asian Games, which included cricket across four different formats involving seven countries. The Cambodian squad received an influx of players of varying pedigree and experience from the Indian subcontinent.

This caused some disquiet, especially from Malaysia, relating to a failure to take account of ICC rankings in group selection and the eligibility of players. Cambodia claimed that they were naturalized citizens. Allegedly, passports were issued on April 23, six days before the first match and past the deadline for shortlisting players. It is noticeable that various cricket websites do not display place of birth for most of the players. Cambodia won gold in the men’s T10, T20 and ODI events, while Malaysia were runners-up in all three.

Cambodia’s rise has continued via qualification in the Asia Challenger Cup to secure a place in the Asia Premier Cup. Their leading light and captain is Luqman Butt, born in Gujranwala, Punjab. It seems clear that the sudden emergence of Cambodia is ruffling a few feathers. This tournament will test how far the team can rise in its current guise and how acceptable its strategy will be to more established teams. Most of them, of course, are also comprised of a significant proportion of players originating from the Indian subcontinent.


England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign

Updated 14 June 2024
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England thrash Oman to revive T20 World Cup campaign

  • This overwhelming Group B victory meant England recorded the largest win in T20 World Cup history in terms of balls remaining
  • Oman had no answer to England's attack, leg-spinner Adil Rashid taking 4-11, while Jofra Archer and Mark Wood had 3-12 figures

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua and Barbuda: England thrashed Oman by eight wickets as the reigning champions revived their T20 World Cup campaign with a record-breaking success in Antigua on Thursday.
Needing a heavy win to bolster their net run-rate (NRR) as they attempt to overhaul Scotland in the race to qualify for the second-round Super Eights, England dismissed Oman for just 47.
England then made 50-2 in a mere 3.1 overs, captain Jos Buttler 24 not out and Jonny Bairstow, who hit the winning boundary, unbeaten on eight.
This overwhelming Group B victory meant England recorded the largest win in T20 World Cup history in terms of balls remaining.
Oman had no answer to England’s combination of spin and pace, leg-break bowler Adil Rashid taking 4-11 from his four overs, while express quicks Jofra Archer and Mark Wood both had figures of 3-12 in an innings that ended with nearly seven overs to spare.
Number seven Shoaib Khan (11) was the only Oman batsman to reach double figures after Buttler won the toss.
Significantly, England’s NRR climbed to 3.081, better than Scotland’s 2.16. England, however, stayed third on three points, behind Scotland’s five.
Already-eliminated Oman, who ended the tournament having lost all four of the games, just scraped past the record lowest completed total of 39 at any T20 World Cup, posted by fellow-non Test nation Uganda against co-hosts West Indies in Guyana last week.
Archer did the early damage with 2-12 in nine balls.
Oman then lost two wickets in Wood’s first over as they slumped to 25-4 in six overs.
The very next delivery wicketkeeper Buttler luckily removed the bails at the second attempt to stump Khalid Kail off Rashid’s first ball Thursday as wickets continued to tumble.
Phil Salt struck the first two balls of England’s chase for six, only to be bowled off the third by Bilal Khan, but his side were on their way.
England, beaten by Australia after their group game with Scotland was abandoned due to rain, play Namibia on Saturday.
Australia and Scotland, however, will meet on Sunday after England have completed their group games.


The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

Updated 13 June 2024
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The unimaginable pressure of playing top class cricket

  • Fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperforming can mean the end of a contract or career

Fans of cricket may find it impossible to understand the pressures that professional players are under. Although some of us have played good standard club cricket and faced tight match situations, we have not had the pressure of our career and livelihood being at stake, playing in front of crowds, screened by the media and subject to scrutiny. This is now ubiquitous, both mainstream and on social media.

It was instructive, therefore, to listen to one England’s greatest batsmen, at a time before batter became the preferred term and social media existed, provide some insights into these pressures. This was none other than Yorkshire and England’s Geoffrey Boycott. The occasion marked the launch of the 11th book under Boycott’s name — “Being Geoffrey Boycott,” published by Fairfield books — 60 years since he made his debut for England on June 4, 1964. 

This was at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, against Australia. Looking at pictures of him on the day, his large glasses, cap and kit, unadorned by sponsorship logos, are a large remove from the appearance of modern-day cricketers. However, there is a commonality: that of pressure to succeed. In Boycott’s case, that pressure had been heightened when he was told, aged 17, that he needed to wear glasses. This ended his football career, during which he played for Leeds United’s under-18 team. 

In his debut match he top scored in England’s first innings but could not bat in the second because of a finger injury sustained in the first. This kept him out of the following two matches before he scored his maiden Test match century in August 1964. He would go on to score 8,114 runs in 108 Test matches in a career which had its fair share of controversy and turmoil. Between 1974 and 1977 Boycott made himself unavailable for England selection focussing, instead, on captaining Yorkshire.

In late September 1978, his mother died. Two days afterwards, Yorkshire’s committee met to inform Boycott that he was to be removed as the county’s captain because of a failure to win trophies and his unpopularity amongst the players. Boycott was asked if he had suffered from mental health issues during these years. He said no, he had been close to his mother and it had saddened him to see her deteriorate week after week. His reaction was a natural one to a deeply mourned loss. The treatment by Yorkshire compounded this, in terms of its timing and nature.

From the outside this appears a cold-hearted decision, especially its timing. Boycott was devastated. He continued as a player the following season, breaking more records. This says much about his determination to succeed against the odds. He was known for being a singular man and for spending time away from teammates after play. Cricket involves a series of battles between individuals, primarily between bowler and batter. A wicket, a boundary, a catch, a century, a five-wicket haul represents individual achievement within a team setting. Opponents look to identify and expose weaknesses.

It can be argued that this is the case in all sports. However, cricket has a difference, especially with batting. If a batter makes a mistake, he or she is not straight into the next piece of action. There is time to reflect on the reason for the dismissal. It may be days before the player’s next innings. This allows much time for introspection, analysis and self-analysis.

The fear of failure is ever present, so a premium is placed on eliminating mistakes, since continued underperformance can mean the end of a contract or career. Fear induces nervousness, breeds insecurity and anxiety, creating conditions which counteract those needed to succeed. They are also conditions which sports psychologists recognise as underpinning mental illness.

Professional cricketers, as with other athletes, have an inherent desire to succeed. The consequences of failure are evident from an early age and often result in being dropped from the team. Boycott admitted to having a fear of failure during his career, of nerves and of a determination to overcome them. He said that he was able to block out all external noise when batting. This set him apart from many other players, revealing immense mental strength. He also emphasized the need for high-quality technique and practice. This was echoed by a former Australia captain, Ricky Ponting, who contends that, unless playing a certain shot or bowling a particular delivery has not become a habit, it is almost impossible to produce that shot or delivery under pressure.

Such pressure situations have grown exponentially with the advent of T20 cricket.  These are evident in abundance in the current ICC men’s T20 World Cup. South Africa were 3 for three against the Netherlands and 27 for four against Bangladesh, but recovered to make scores that were just sufficient to earn victory. The recoveries were instigated by the middle order batters, notably David Miller. Imagine the pressure that was on him to perform, especially as South Africa has a history of losing matches which it should have won. Crucially, he reined in his natural game and adapted to the pitch conditions. Bangladesh required 11 runs from six deliveries to win against South Africa, two batters were caught on the boundary trying to hit sixes. The match between India and Pakistan went to a super over. Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir was entrusted with it but, under pressure, failed to bowl straight and Pakistan lost. 

The margins in these pressure situations are very thin. Results can go either way, determined by the performance of those who have trained themselves to be able to handle such situations. The mentality required for this was exemplified by Geoffrey Boycott’s approach to the game, completely unlike that of an all-time great Australian all-rounder, Keith Miller, who had served with the Royal Australian Air Force in the Second World War. His dashing approach to life and cricket was summed up in a single (adapted) quote: “Pressure is a Messerschmitt directly behind you, playing cricket is not.”

How times have changed.             


Rutherford rescues West Indies against New Zealand

Updated 13 June 2024
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Rutherford rescues West Indies against New Zealand

  • Rutherford hit 68 off 39 balls

TAROUBA, Trinidad and Tobago: Sherfane Rutherford rescued the West Indies from a seemingly hopeless position to a competitive 149 for nine batting first against New Zealand in a Group C match of the T20 World Cup at the Brian Lara Stadium in Trinidad on Wednesday.
Rutherford’s unbeaten 68 off 39 balls (two fours, six sixes) lifted the home side from the depths of 30 for five in the seventh over after they were put in by Black Caps skipper Kane Williamson.
He received invaluable support from the lower order, adding 28 with Akeal Hosein for the sixth wicket, 27 with Romario Shepherd for the eighth and then plundered all 37 runs in the last two overs of the innings with last man Gudakesh Motie happy to look on from the non-striker’s end.
Earlier, Trent Boult led New Zealand’s much-improved effort by dispatching Johnson Charles in the first over of the match, finishing with the excellent figures of three for 16.
He received good support from Lockie Ferguson and the recalled Tim Southee with two wickets each as the 2021 beaten finalists, humiliated in their opening fixture against Afghanistan in Guyana last week, looked tuned-in and turned-on for what is effectively a must-win situation for them in seeking to advance to the Super Eight phase of the competition.
After victories over Papua New Guinea and Uganda at the Guyana National Stadium, West Indies seemed unprepared for the challenge, until Rutherford intervened to transform what was shaping up as an abject capitulation.


Yadav, Arshdeep star as India beat USA to reach T20 World Cup second round

Updated 12 June 2024
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Yadav, Arshdeep star as India beat USA to reach T20 World Cup second round

  • Despite the defeat, the United States are still well-placed to join India in the Super Eights as they have four points while Pakistan and Canada are on two
  • India were stunned by Mumbai-born fast bowler Saurabh Netravalkar who had superstar batsman Virat Kohli caught behind for nought off the first ball he faced

NEW YORK: Suryakumar Yadav hit an unbeaten half-century and left-arm seamer Arshdeep Singh claimed a career-best 4-9 as India defeated the United States by seven wickets to reach the T20 World Cup second round on Wednesday.
Chasing 111 to win the Group A clash, India were rattled at 15-2 and then 44-3 before Yadav (50) and Shivam Dube (31) put on an undefeated fourth-wicket stand of 67 to secure a third win in three games for Rohit Sharma’s team with 10 balls to spare.
Despite the defeat, the United States are still well-placed to join India in the Super Eights as they have four points while Pakistan and Canada are on two.
India were stunned by Mumbai-born fast bowler Saurabh Netravalkar who had superstar batsman Virat Kohli caught behind for nought off the first ball he faced.
Rohit was then caught by Harmeet Singh at mid-off, again off the bowling of the 32-year-old Netravalkar in the third over.
Rishabh Pant’s 18-run cameo was ended when his stumps were uprooted by Ali Khan in the eighth over.
However, Yadav went to his 18th international T20 half-century from 49 balls with two fours and a pair of sixes.
Left-hander Dube’s 31 came off 35 deliveries and featured a boundary and a six on the same notoriously tricky and slow Nassau County International Cricket Stadium pitch where India had made just 119 in a six-run win over Pakistan at the weekend.
Earlier, Arshdeep removed recalled opener Shayan Jahangir lbw off the first ball and had Andries Gous (two) caught in the deep five balls later as the USA found themselves 3-2 after the opening over.
Big-hitting skipper Aaron Jones, who clubbed an undefeated 94 in the hosts’ opening win over Canada in Dallas, made just 11 before he fell to Hardik Pandya.
That left the US on 25-3 before opener Steven Taylor (24) and top-scorer Nitish Kumar (27) put on 31 for the fourth wicket.
Nitish became Arshdeep’s third victim, smartly caught on the boundary by Mohammed Siraj.
Former New Zealand star Corey Anderson (15) was the sixth man out with the score on 96 thanks to a running catch by wicket-keeper Pant off Pandya who completed a wicket-maiden.
With the Americans looking to push the total into three figures, Arshdeep had Harmeet Singh caught behind for 10.
Shadley van Schalkwyk (11) and Jasdeep Singh (two) ensured the United States posted what they hoped would have been a defendable total.
Both teams went into the game with a perfect four points from two wins with the USA having stunned Pakistan in a famous Super Over triumph last time out.
India join Australia and South Africa as the three teams to have so far booked their places in the next stage.


Pakistan finally gets first win at T20 World Cup, beats Canada by 7 wickets

Updated 12 June 2024
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Pakistan finally gets first win at T20 World Cup, beats Canada by 7 wickets

WESTBURY, N.Y.: Canada’s inexperienced batters crumbled against pace for yet another low score at the Twenty20 World Cup as Pakistan finally registered its first win.
The four-pronged Pakistan pace attack, led by Mohammad Amir’s figures of 2-13, contained Canada to 106-7 with only opening batter Aaron Johnson showing aggression in his 44-ball knock of 52.
Mohammad Rizwan’s unbeaten 53 anchored Pakistan, which lost to fiece cricket rival India on Sunday, to 107-3 in 17.3 overs for a seven-wicket win.
“Good for us, we needed this win,” Pakistan skipper Babar Azam said. “We started well with the bowling, in the first six overs (and) we know we had to be up to the mark.”
A washout in Florida meant former champion Sri Lanka and Nepal had to share the competition points in an outcome that ensured South Africa secured a spot in the playoffs and put the Sri Lankans on the brink of a group-stage exit.
Heavy rain in Lauderhill meant there was no play possible in the Group D match, leaving Sri Lanka without a win in three games.
At North Sound, Antigua, 2021 champion Australia dismissed Namibia for 72, with wrist spinner Adam Zampa taking four wickets for 12 runs and pace bowler Josh Hazlewood returning 2-18,
The Namibians struggled against Australia’s fast bowlers early, with Hazlewood striking in the third and fifth overs to have the African lineup in trouble at 15-3.
Zampa’s spin troubled the middle and lower order, helping him increase his career haul to 100 wickets in T20 internationals.
Skipper Gerhard Erasmus accounted for half of Namibia’s runs, with his 36 coming off 43 balls.
The Australians have had wins over defending champion England and Oman. A run of three would secure them a place in the Super 8s.
Pakistan had a tough start to the tournament and Johnson sent early tremors into the former champions with his back-to-back boundaries off Shaheen Shah Afridi’s first two balls of the match.
But Amir, who came out of retirement for the World Cup, hit the right areas straight away and buckled the batters as wickets continued to fall.
Johnson, who was dropped on 44 by Fakhar Zaman at mid-wicket, hit four boundaries and raised his half-century with his fourth six before he too was finally undone by Naseem Shah in the 14th over.
Fast bowler Haris Rauf became the third quickest bowler to complete 100 wickets in T20 internationals when he had Shreyas Movva (2) caught behind and then found the edge of Ravinderpal Singh’s bat in the same over to finish with 2-26.
“Definitely, it was a bit disappointing,” Pakistan-born Canada skipper Saad Bin Zafar said. “We wanted to play a positive brand of cricket and I think the wicket was not very helpful. It was difficult to bat early on and not a good toss to lose. We were about 25 to 30 runs short.”
Pakistan’s experiment with Saim Ayub as an opener in the World Cup for the first time didn’t work out as the left-hander struggled to score 6 off 12 balls before he edged Dillon Heyliger (2-18) to wicketkeeper inside the batting power play.
Rizwan and Babar (33) then had a 63-run stand before the Pakistan skipper banged his bat on the wicket in anger when he tried to guide Heyliger to third man but couldn’t beat the wicketkeeper. Rizwan’s run-a-ball half-century saw Pakistan over the line.
Pakistan, the 2022 runner-up, needs to beat Ireland in its last game and also hope co-host US lose both its remaining games against India and Ireland to have a chance of advancing to the Super 8s on superior net run-rate.
The United States made a history by beating Pakistan in a Super Over tiebreaker in Dallas after it had defeated Canada in a high-scoring opening game of the tournament it is jointly co-hosting with the West Indies.