Pan-Asian emerging cricket is a relatively rare phenomenon these days. The Asian Cricket Council’s tournaments are predominantly sub-regional affairs, pitting the same geographically proximate teams against each other. One must now wait for the ICC Cricket World Cup League 2, the ICC World Cup Challenge League, or an ICC World Cup Qualifier for some of the most intriguing regional storylines to continue unfolding.
The T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier is one such opportunity. It pits the five remaining teams in the region, all vying for one place in the global qualifier in the UAE later this year. The tournament is being played in round-robin format, with the team topping the table going through to the next stage. All matches will carry official T20 international status, and results will also count towards the ICC’s new all-inclusive T20I Rankings.
History tells us that tournaments such as these are open affairs, especially in this format, where the explosive batting of the Gulf sides has come in handy. The ACC Twenty20 Cup 2015, where Kuwait last met Malaysia and Singapore, is a case in point.
Here the two South East Asian sides have the advantage of familiarity with the muggy conditions, and the traditionally slow and low Indian Association wicket, which will break up further as the tournament progresses. Afternoon and early evening thunderstorms may impact some results; only four games begin at 14:30, and Malaysia are playing three of them.
Note also that the last game of the tournament is between Singapore and Nepal, the scheduling of which, as our Emerging Cricket podcast hosts note, possibly indicates the ICC’s ‘feel’ for who the contenders for the title may be.
Nepal (T20 World Ranking 11)
Paras Khadka (captain), Binod Bhandari (wicket-keeper), Abhinash Bohara, Basant Regmi, Dipendra Singh Airee, Gyanendra Malla, Karan KC, Lalit Narayan Rajbanshi, Pawan Sarraf, Pradeep Airee, Rohit Kumar Paudel, Sandeep Lamichhane, Sarad Vesawkar, Sompal Kami, Umesh Patwal (coach).
Nepal is the most accomplished of the five sides, and the only team to boast T20I World Cup experience. The team and its die-hard fans will expect nothing less than victory and a place in the global qualifier.
IPL star Sandeep Lamichhane who blitzed the sub-regional qualifier with 24 dismissals is again expected to be among the wickets, and will no doubt be ably supported by Basant Regmi and the pace duo of Sompal Kami and Karan KC. The batting form of Sarad Vesawkar and Binod Bhandari is a welcome sign, but Nepal will once again rely on Paras Khadka to score big up top. The opening slot remains a key concern, and Nepali fans will hope for more from Gyanendra Malla whose worrying slump continues.
Nepal’s narrow 2 – 1 T20I series win over the UAE in January followed by two relatively close encounters against Malaysia last weekend indicate a penchant for winning from tight situations.
Qatar (Rank 21)
Qatar boasts the second highest T20I ranking of the five sides, but this is largely by virtue of having played the most T20I matches amongst the four remaining teams. This is a team on the up, and like with football, have growing support from the Qatari monarchy.
Qatar has already qualified for the ICC World Cup Challenge League, and finished second behind UAE in the ICC T20 World Cup Asia Qualifier A. Qatar also went unbeaten in the group ACC Western Region T20 in Oman this January, only to be floored by a remarkable Shamsudheen Purat knock (88* off 48), which enabled Saudi Arabia to snatch the title in dramatic fashion.
The player of that latter tournament, Tamoor Sajjad, takes over the reins from veteran Inam Ul-Haq. Sajjad was famously dubbed the ‘future of Asian cricket’ for his precocious 53 as a 14-year old in the quarterfinal of the ACC Trophy 2006 against the UAE. A fixture in the national team since then, Sajjad’s leg-spin and middle-order batting will be crucial to the side’s balance.
Watch out for Muhammad Tanveer whose 157 runs in the Western Region tournament came at an average of 78.50 and a strike rate of 155.44, and the opening bowler Awais Malik whose pace and natural bounce will trouble opposition.
Singapore (Rank 23)
Amjad Mahboob (captain), Manpreet Singh (wicket-keeper), Rohan Rangarajan, Chetan Suryawanshi, Anish Param, Timothy Hays David, Surendran Chandramohan, Navin Param, Rezza Gaznavi, Janak Prakash, Anantha Krishna, Aahan Achar, Vinoth Baskaran, Selladore Vijayakumar, Bilal Asad (Coach)
This is as good a chance as any for Singapore to upset the apple cart and inch closer to a maiden cricket world cup appearance. Home advantage and extensive preparations notwithstanding, this has to be among the strongest and most balanced national squads in recent memory.
Veteran seamer Amjad Mahboob captains the side for the first time in an ICC tournament, and Manpreet Singh dons the gloves. These reshuffles will allow stalwart and one-time IPL recruit Chetan Suryawanshi to concentrate on his batting and chip in with the ball. Explosive opener Surendran Chandramohan topped the charts at the sub-regional qualifier with 148 runs at a strike rate of 125.42 and will be expected to generate firepower in the first power play. Leg-spinner Anantha Krishna leads a band of four specialist spinners in the squad. The tournament will also see the debut of Perth Scorchers and WA Warrior all-rounder Tim David who qualifies by birth.
Ever efficient and disciplined, Singapore sometimes lacks the composure to take them over the line in key moments. A collapse from 2-103 to 151 all out chasing 217 against Oman in World Cricket League Division 3, 2017 cost them promotion and a crack at ODI status. Singapore cricket fans will be hoping David is the X-factor for them this time.
Kuwait (Rank 28)
Kashif Shareef (captain), Meet Bhavsar (wicket-keeper), Usman Waheed (wicket-keeper), Adnan Idrees, Ahsan Naseer, Bilal Khan, Hamoud Jandu, Ilyaas Ahmad, Mohammed Aslam, Nawaf Ahmed, Naveed Fakhr, Ravija D’Silva, Sanker Varathappan, Shiraz Khan, Muthumudalige Pushpakumara (Coach).
Kuwait (when Saudi Arabia is not in the fray) is the ‘Pakistan’ of emerging Asian cricket. Unbeatable on a good day, Kuwait can be woeful in equal measure on a bad one. Remember this match in 2017?
Recently there have been more losses than wins, yet Kuwait finds itself with another opportunity to enter the global stage after a brief tryst with the World Cricket League in the late noughties.
Finishing fourth in the sub-regional qualifier, Kuwait gained its place in this tournament by virtue of a 5 run win against Saudi Arabia in a third place play-off (which curiously did not occur for Eastern sub-regional qualifier). The Kuwaitis backed up this performance with a fourth place finish at the ACC Western Region T20 in January losing to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, albeit in a super over to the latter.
27 year-old former Saracens Sports Club batsmen Ravija de Silva looks a class act at the top of the order, having averaged 52.83 at a strike rate of 172.28 in his seven T20Is for Kuwait. Former junior Adnan Idrees will be expected to contribute with both ball and bat after the stellar tour of Qatar last week. Keep an eye out for 15-year old keeper-batsman Meet Bhavsar who scored a glorious hundred at the ICC U19 World Cup Qualifiers against Malaysia and will also feature in the U-19 Asia Cup later this year.
Malaysia (Rank 35)
Ahmad Faiz Mohammad Noor (captain), Shafiq Sharif (wicket-keeper), Virandeep Singh, Anwar Rahman, Syahadat Ramli, Anwar Arudin, Fitri Sham, Syed Aziz Syed Mubarak, Pavandeep Singh, Sharvin Muniandy, Nazril Abd Rahman, Pasha Syafiq Ali, Aminuddin Ramli, Neville Liyanage, Sampath Perera (coach).
Malaysia is a young team brimming with talent and confidence. Although Malaysia missed out on promotion from World Cricket League Division 4, the side’s recent performances against higher-ranked Asian opposition have been impressive, particularly in the 50-over format.
Two competitive performances against Nepal last weekend followed comfortable wins in a T20I Tri-Series against the Maldives and Thailand, most importantly allowing key players to run into form.
20-year old Syed Aziz has been impressive in both warm up tournaments, and may open the batting and bowling for Malaysia. Aziz first caught the eye scoring 131 off 141 balls against Zimbabwe U-19 at Kinrara Oval three years ago. Keeper Shafiq Sharif, captain Faiz, and Virandeep Singh will be expected to do the bulk of the scoring for a top-heavy batting line up. Malaysia will rely on young left-arm spinners Anwar Rahman and Pavandeep Singh and off-spinning all-rounder Syahadat Ramli to tie things down in the middle.
One unanswered question is whether former captain and big-hitting opener, Anwar Arudin, will be in the starting XI after a poor return in the warm up games.
AM games 0930, PM matches 1400 local time (GMT+8)
All matches at Indian Association Ground, Singapore:
AM: Singapore v Qatar
PM: Kuwait v Malaysia
AM: Nepal v Qatar
PM: Singapore v Kuwait
AM: Malaysia v Nepal
FRI 26/7 (THU 25/7 Rest / Reserve day)
AM: Kuwait v Qatar
PM: Singapore v Malaysia
AM: Kuwait v Nepal
PM: Malaysia v Qatar
AM: Singapore v Nepal