Asia Qualifier Preview – Stakes raised, jeopardy abundant

Eight teams are battling it out for two berths at next year's T20 World Cup

If you feel like the ongoing ODI Cricket World Cup is lacking something when it comes to the quality of the entertainment, that the games are one-sided and inconsequential, then the right tonic might be just around the corner: the Men’s T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier.

Because if you’re looking for high-stakes and jeopardy, this tournament is well placed to deliver. Eight contenders will be reduced to two qualifiers in just 15 matches across 7 days, starting on the 30th October. The prize: qualification to next year’s T20 World Cup in the USA and Caribbean.

What’s happening?

The eight teams will be divided into two groups of four, with each group playing a round-robin before the top two in each advance to the semi-finals. The winners of each semi-final will qualify for the T20 World Cup, as well as a ceremonial final, meaning there is no room for error come the knockouts.

The whole tournament is being held in Kathmandu, Nepal, across two venues. As well as Nepal’s primary home venue, the Tribhuvan University (TU) ground, matches will also be played at the recently completed Mulpani Cricket ground. Each ground will host one of the two groups, and a semi-final each, with the final hosted at TU on 5th November. Nepal, as hosts, play their matches at TU, and are joined in their group by Oman, Malaysia and Singapore. Group B, at Mulpani, will feature UAE, Hong Kong, Bahrain and Kuwait.

 

The Front-Runners

Four of the eight teams have previously appeared at a T20 World Cup: Nepal, UAE, Oman and Hong Kong, and this quartet form the four favourites for the two spots at next year’s World Cup.

Nepal, on home turf, look to be the front-runners. After being reinvigorated in 2023 under coach Monty Desai, Nepal have maintained an excellent record over the course of the year. A streak of 11 wins in 12 ODIs took them to the ODI World Cup Qualifier, before backing it up with an Asia Cup appearance and then broke records at the Asian Games. Coupled with home advantage and Nepal look in good shape to end a 10-year spell without a World Cup.

Also shaping up well are the UAE. After taking their first T20 World Cup win over Namibia in last year’s tournament, the Emirati squad are eyeing up a second T20 World Cup in a row and a third all time appearance. Although they lost three games in the group stage of a recent tri-series against Hong Kong and Nepal, they made the final and beat Nepal with one ball to spare, emphasising the unpredictability of the upcoming tournament.

Oman, likewise, have recent T20 World Cup experience, playing in and co-hosting the 2021 event. Though they missed out on the 2022 World Cup, they remain a strong side. They began their most recent outing, the Gulf T20I, with a slow start, including a defeat to Bahrain, they bounced back to ultimately win the tournament. Though fielding an ageing side, they still pose a threat and retain a strong chance of a third T20 World Cup.

Hong Kong’s last T20 World Cup appearance was in 2016, and though they haven’t replicated that level since, they have remained competitive in the Asian region, reaching the Asia Cup in 2021. Their 2023 saw them make the quarter finals of the Asian Games, defeated by Pakistan, but have won only 3 of 11 T20Is this year, meaning they’ll need to raise their game to make the final two.

The Outsiders

The other four teams in this event may not have had a World Cup appearance before but that should not discount them in what is a very close field.

The greatest dark horse among these is Malaysia. The Challenge League side have had a positive 2023, defeating Hong Kong twice in a T20I tri-series, before dominating Singapore and Thailand in their Asian Games group and coming heartbreakingly close to defeating Bangladesh in the quarter final. If they could overhaul one higher ranked side to make the semi-finals, the World Cup dream is within reach.

Kuwait and Bahrain will also pose a challenge to the more established nations. At the Gulf T20I in September, Bahrain defeated both UAE and Oman, but ultimately finished 4th in a competitive field. Kuwait defeat Bahrain in that tournament, but ultimately finished 5th, before turning their fortunes around defeating Qatar and Saudi Arabia in the Western Regional Qualifier.

Finally, Singapore, whose fall from their 2019 peak leaves them the lowest ranked team going into the tournament, and only three wins in their last 12 T20Is. Their path to the World Cup appears the hardest, though given the competitive nature of the field, by no means impossible.

How to watch:

Matches are played on the 30th & 31st of October, and the 2nd, 3rd and 5th of November, with the all-important semi-finals of Friday 3rd November. Matches start at 09:00 and 13:30 local time (03:15 and 07:45 UTC) in the group stage, with the knockouts beginning at 11:00 local (05:15 GMT). Matches can be streamed on ICC.TV, except in South Asia where the games cen be viewed on Fancode.

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