WCup: Afghanistan, Ireland lead exciting batch of Associates
ISLAMABAD (AP) — For Afghanistan, the 2015 World Cup will be an historic occasion, win, lose or draw. The Afghan team qualified for the first time for the most prestigious tournament in limited-overs cricket, joining the 10 test-ranked nations plus Ireland, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates in the tournament being co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Since eliminating Pakistan from the 2007 Cricket World Cup, Ireland has been one of the most closely watched teams among the Associate Member nations.
The goal for all the four associates is to progress from the group stage to the Super Eight, but to make it happen they have to upset some of the sport’s biggest teams.
For Ireland — making its third straight World Cup appearance — that means overcoming the likes of South Africa, India, Pakistan and the West Indies in a Pool B that also includes Zimbabwe and fellow-associate the UAE.
Former captain Trent Johnston says if Ireland bowlers make early inroads, the team has enough batting resources to challenge any team in its group.
“If it can take early wickets ... their powerful batting line up, which is as good as many full (ICC) members, has the potential to take it to the next stage of the World Cup,” he said.
Johnston added that the World Cup is the perfect opportunity for the second-tier teams to improve their status in cricket.
“The best associate teams need the global exposure, which the World Cup offers, and their players deserve the opportunity to gain experience against the best in the world,” he said.
Afghanistan is drawn with hosts Australia and New Zealand along with England and Sri Lanka in a tough Pool A, but can realistically like its chances against Bangladesh and Scotland.
“A great achievement would be to qualify for the Super Eight ... it would be like winning the World Cup for Afghanistan,” coach Andy Moles said.
The rapid rise in the progress of Afghanistan nearly earned the team a place at the 2011 World Cup. Back-to-back victories against Kenya in the 2013 World Cricket League Championship earned the Afghan team a spot in 2015.
Playing mostly on the slow wickets in the United Arab Emirates, which is the Afghanistan team’s home ground away from home, they will be tested on the fast bouncy wickets in Australia and New Zealand.
“One thing which can go against us is the conditions,” Afghanistan’s former captain Nawroz Mangal said. “The pitches there are not like Asian wickets.”
Scotland will be competing in its third World Cup after winning the last qualifier in New Zealand in 2014. The Scots, who competed in 1999 and 2007, have spent their winter honing their skills under the tutelage of former England captain Paul Collingwood.
Scotland lost all eight of its matches so far at the World Cup and is yet to pass the 200-run mark in a World Cup match. That could change, with Scotland having two matches in a venue that should feel a little bit like home. The matches against New Zealand on Feb. 17 and Afghanistan on Feb. 22 are in Dunedin, which was settled by Scottish migrants and is known as the Edinburgh of the South.
The UAE, which last played at the World Cup in 1996, will be led by 43-year-old Emirati-born Mohammed Tauqir.
Tauqir is one of only three local players in the UAE team.
Former captain Khurram Khan, also 43, has played just 10 one-dayers, but scored an unbeaten century against Afghanistan in Dubai last November and became the oldest player to score a century in a limited-overs international, surpassing Sanath Jayasuriya.
The team is coached by former Pakistan international Aqib Javed, who was part of Pakistan’s successful World Cup-winning squad in 1992, so he should know the conditions in Australia and New Zealand.
“If we put on a good show against Pakistan and India, that would be the icing on the cake,” said Tauqir, who is targeting at least two wins in the group stage.