One thing with the media is that it never fails to project the culmination of any event as a victory for the sport. So, the T20 World Cup ended a couple of days back with a befitting final and all glory was hailed on West Indies. After all, winning a world tournament after 33 years is a big achievement; but not much has been analysed in relation to the event’s impact as a ‘World’ Cup. The T20 format has been projected by the ICC and its member boards as a potential gateway to cricket being an Olympic sport. We have had four such ‘World’ Cups in the last five years. Considering the number of teams has been 12-15 each tournament, the format has not really been as ‘global’ as it has been projected. Despite this, the minnows have had their share of glory in other editions of the World T20. Netherlands defeated England, while Scotland gave New Zealand a scare in 2009. Similarly, Ireland created waves in 2010. However, these performances are not substantial enough to make an impact.
This being said it is important to reflect on the performance of the newer teams. In this edition of the World Cup, the number of participating teams was twelve with Ireland and Afghanistan representing the Associate and Affiliate nations. Though, the format does not allow a ‘quota’ system for Associates and Affiliates, the fact that Afghanistan made it to their second successive World T20 event makes a strong case for their promotion as an Associate nation. Reports have already trickled in that the Asian Cricket Council has announced its support. While analysing the performance of both these countries, it should be kept in mind that they collectively faced, two former champions of the format, a team that made it to the semis of two previous events and the current defending champions. However, at the same time it should be kept in mind that both these teams are not new to the format. In fact, Ireland has played more T20Is than India and it is their third World event and Afghanistan too has had considerable international exposure.
They are the newest boys in World Cricket. Though, they do pack quite a punch, they do not seem to know that well begun is only half done. To be fair to them, to expect them to slay the defending champions England and former champions India was a bit too much. Though, the format is one where one good over with either bat or ball can change the dynamic of the game. Afghans showed quite a fight against the Indians.
When you have an Associate/Affiliate bowler touching 150.3kmph, (and NO! this is not a Victorian with a Dutch Passport by the name of Dirk Nannes!) it does show intent. Also, if you have India reeling at 22 for 2 in 5 overs in a T20 game then, it shows intent backed by hard work. Similarly, a wicket maiden against defending champions England means that you have immense potential. Thus for me, the bowler (if not the player) of the tournament for Afghanistan was Shapoor Zadran. The left arm seamer may not bowl express pace consistently but can bend his back and beat the best of batsmen for pace. What he lacks is variety.
However, these starts are like a demure cat scratching at a bigger opponent. At the international stage, the precision required is that of a tiger ripping his prey apart. As Jarrod Kimber put it in his review on cricinfo, the fielding of the side does not merely fall apart but it shatters like a crystal bowl. The fielding standards of the Afghans were so appalling that even Geoffrey Boycott’s ‘mum’ could have done better. Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina were dropped in a space of eight balls. You simply do not drop a player who scores runs at the drop of a hat.
The bowling also lacks a containing alternative. Slow bowlers like Karim Sadiq and the all rounder Mohammad Nabi leak runs at more than 8 an over which is hardly pleasing. The bowling allowed India to reach a par score of 160. Yes, Afghanistan were missing the services of Hamid Hassan, their lead bowler, who has been creating ripples on the county circuit in England but that is no excuse for not having alternatives.
Let it not be forgotten that Afghanistan was a team much like the eleven others competing for the Cup and not just there for the experience. The batting seems to be one dimensional. It is all about you either hit or you miss. While this makes for an extremely entertaining spectacle, it would not make you grow as a team. At least four out of the top 6 batsman got starts against India. There would have been instances when Mohammad Nabi was batting where MSD would have had his heart in his mouth. However, the batsman have not learnt the art of accumulation and carrying forward the momentum. This is very similar to the last World Cup encounter between Afghanistan and South Africa. While chasing a gettable total, the Afghans were at sea because they did not have a fall back option. Thus, in a way they have not learnt from their mistakes.
Against England, the scorecard read at 26 for 8, which is just painful for any professional side. Keeping this in mind, personally I think it would be a bit too much to keep heaping praises beyond this event. They are exceptionally good, have strong bench strength and do not rely on expats. However, to continue to beam sunshine on them and make them feel like the child who is given a participation certificate in school when he does not win is not the way forward. They are a professional side who do not need sympathy but need constructive support.
A first would be to grant them Associate status expediently. That should sort out the monetary needs and probably get them a better support staff. Second, would be more matches against the full nations at least in this one format. Considering that T20 finds support as the format for the future, more T20 matches against full nations could be one way. It is not just in this World Cup, but even in their recent matches against Pakistan and Australia in UAE, that the Afghans showed a lot of fight but were clueless in crucial stages of the game to apply pressure. The future of the sport in Afghanistan is bright considering that there is active interest in the sport, but giant strides are needed in terms of skill which needs to be honed. A shift has to be taken in the attitude of the side which seems to accept its role as a minnow rather than an equal on the field.
This brings me to the second ‘minnow’, i.e. Ireland. The Irish are considered to be ‘giant slayers’. Their history at the World T20 has been competitive to say the least. They qualified for the Super 8 in the 2009 edition by surpassing Bangladesh but went on to lose all their games against tougher opponents. 2010 ended in heartbreak where they had England on the mat till rain intervened and the latter qualified on net run rate. They slay England in the 2011 World Cup and were expected to cause quite a scare at this event. However, this was not to be.
Ireland would be left to rue a lot of ifs in this tournament. What if the batting could muster at least 20 more runs against Australia so that their bowlers had a little more cushion. What if rain could have stayed at bay against the West Indies for at least a five over game. Ireland met Australia in their first game. While pundits touted a competitive contest, it ended up being Shane Watson v. the Irish. An all round Watson supported by a consistent Australian bowling machine steam rolled the Irish in the opening game. The batsmen lacked rhythm and were tentative.
What is worrying is the form of William Porterfield and Ed Joyce. They are probably some of the most consistent batsmen on the English county circuit. Ed Joyce has played a 50 over World Cup for England . Therefore, there definitely is class in the batsmen which is not backed by runs. Porterfield had two first ball ducks, once holing out to short balls on sub continental tracks for crying out loud! Joyce’s stay at the wicket has been uncomfortable, being beaten by spin on both occasions. Kevin O’Brien is an aggressor. Asking him to play the role of an accumulator goes against his nature of play.
The bowling was a shade better than the batting. Tested only against Australia, it showed sparks yet, there were more instances of indiscipline than one would ask for. The last World Cup hero Dockrell was spanked to all parts of the park by the rampaging Watson. England test hopeful Boyd Rankin was wayward, while veteran Trent Johnston bore the brunt of the Watson and Warner show. Only Kevin O’Brien seemed to bowl with some discipline accounting for a respectable run a ball economy rate.
On the whole, Ireland were made to lament on their poor batting than any other form which was not adequately tested.
Let us not forget that amongst the Associates, the Irish are a league apart from the rest. They are ranked higher than full members Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and till recently, were ranked higher than Australia as well in the T20 rankings. But, somehow, they lack consistency. While, they could have made a case that their second match was rained off but with Gayle in blitzkrieg form, Ireland were certainly not the favourites.
The future for them seems grim. They are constantly feeders for the English bench strength with Boyd Rankin being the recent export after Eoin Morgan and Ed Joyce. Time will tell how long young George Dockrell can resist the temptation of winning a test cap from England. He is already touted as one of the long term replacements for Graeme Swann, who is not getting any younger. Ireland much like Afghanistan needs more T20 games at least. They need money and more lucrative options to prevent mass exodus to England. Unlike Afghanistan, they lack support of full member nations in their vicinity for a full member berth with the ICC.
The Irish and the Afghans played too little cricket in Sri Lanka to make a lasting impact though, they have been on the international mainstream map enough for them to take a stern look at their own performances. Things would not change overnight but they are the only bright spots as of now amongst the non Test playing nations. Netherlands, Scotland, Canada and Kenya are promising however, they falter way too often against these two to be promoted as future members of the big league. With the aim to be an Olympic sport, World Cricket needs success stories in Ireland and Afghanistan which did not happen at Sri Lanka. Hopefully, the Future Tours Programme allows them to play a little more! Only time will tell.