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ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier
Top Two Win Places At The WT20 2010 In The West Indies

Even a brief glance at Group A of the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier, which takes place in the United Arab Emirates from 9 to 13 February, reveals two huge occasions.

On the one hand, there will be the next installment of one of the most enduring and fiercely contested rivalries in cricket as Ireland and Scotland go head to head in a European derby the origins of which date back to 1888. And on the other, in perhaps the most unlikely sporting duals of the year, the USA will go up against Afghanistan in a match that will surely transcend the game itself.

Carl Wright will get his opportunity at an international arena to display his batting while in Dubai. Photo by Shiek Mohamed.

It is perhaps a tribute to cricket’s diversity and ability to build bridges that two countries such as the United States and Afghanistan can meet on a playing field in Dubai, coming together in a spirit of sportsmanship and setting aside the troubles that their nations’ soldiers and politicians are endeavouring to resolve.

But for the players involved, the objective is perhaps a little more prosaic – and perhaps even more realistic – than world peace. The top two teams in this event will qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 2010, due to take place in the West Indies between 30 April and 16 May and that is enough to concentrate even the most distracted mind.

Already on the crest of a wave, cricket-wise, Afghanistan came so close to qualifying for the 50-over ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 in South Africa last year and so the players will be itching to go one step further in the Twenty20 version. Seen by some initially as a flash in the pan, Afghanistan has repeatedly proved itself worthy of its place at the top table of Associate and Affiliate teams.

A confident seven-wicket victory over defending champion Ireland in the ICC Intercontinental Cup match played in Dambulla, Sri Lanka, recently was the latest shot across the bows of the more established teams. The fact it was Ireland’s first defeat in that four-day competition since August 2004 added further kudos to what was an impressive performance.

“The match against the USA will be an interesting and exciting one,” said Afghanistan captain Nawroz Mangal. “But it will just be another game of cricket in which both the sides will try as hard as possible hard to emerge winner. Like any other opponent, we respect the USA and know we cannot afford to be complacent against them.

Alot will depend on Lennox Cush, the most experience Twenty20 cricketer in the USA squad. Photo by Shiek Mohamed.

“Initially, we started off with a reputation of being a good Twenty20 side because this is the format that is played and popular in Afghanistan. But in the last 18 months, we have shown that we can adopt and excel in any format. Personally, I believe we are a better Twenty20 side simply because we have more experience in the shortest version of the game.

“Our group is a tough one with Ireland and Scotland having loads of international experience. Both the sides have played in ICC Cricket World Cups and the ICC World Twenty20. They know what is required to qualify for those events and then to perform in those tournaments. But I am quite optimistic that after narrowly missing out on next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, we’ll be able to qualify for this year’s ICC World Twenty20 2010. We just need a good start in the tournament and our big boys need to fire throughout the next week.”

The USA comes into this event with a point to prove. Invited to participate as a wildcard – along with host team the United Arab Emirates – the USA will be anxious to show it belongs at this level having dropped back in the rankings in recent years, due for the most part, to a poor administration that is now very much on the mend.

“We are feeling very positive and very confident,” said US captain Steve Massiah.

“Judging from the way we played in the last tournament, which was the Americas Cup, we feel good. We want to make the most of the opportunity to play in this event and we are all looking forward to it," said 30-year-old Massiah.

The captain believes that his experienced squad possesses the talent to compete with some of the best players outside the Test playing countries, although admitted that they will look to Lennox Cush to be one of its top performers.

“We have a very balanced team with a wealth of experience, including people who have played at the first-class level. Lennox is very important as he has had the opportunity to play a lot of Twenty20 cricket and was part of the Stanford squad that defeated England. He is very experienced and hopefully this will rub off on the other players.”

While many eyes will be trained on that fascinating match against Afghanistan scheduled for 11 February, the USA will be concentrating on what will be the opening game of the tournament against Scotland on 9 February in Abu Dhabi.

As for Scotland, the disappointment of failing to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 will still be smarting and a good performance in this format will go some way to numbing that pain.

The latest signs are good as the Scots are coming off the back of a hugely impressive victory over Kenya in the ICC Intercontinental Cup. Now, the more drawn-out stresses of four-day cricket may be the chalk to Twenty20’s cheese but when players are in form, they are in form and Scotland will be looking to the likes of Qasim Sheikh, Majid Haq, Dewald Nel and Richie Berrington, who all shone in Nairobi, to pick up where they left off.

In addition, Scotland welcomes back experienced heads Gavin Hamilton, Neil McCallum, Ryan Watson and Fraser Watts to strengthen the squad.

Despite that recent defeat to Afghanistan, and a narrow loss today (Wednesday) in a Twenty20 International against Canada in Colombo, Ireland will go into the tournament as marginal favourite to defend its title that it shared with the Netherlands in Belfast in 2008.

Over the past three years, Ireland has dominated Associate cricket with an attitude of ruthlessness reminiscent of Australia at the highest level. There are, however, one or two signs that the Irish star is fading as some recent results indicate. The recent retirement of Kyle McCallan has opened a door for Gary Kidd or George Dockrell to fill the number-one spinner role but in the absence of injured slow left-armer Regan West, it is likely both those young twirlers will get the opportunity at some stage.

But, a bit like Australia, you write off Ireland at your peril and any team with the experience, expectations and abilities of the likes of William Porterfield, Trent Johnston, Niall and Kevin O’Brien, Andrew White and Andre Botha is always going to be tough to beat on any given day.

Group A: Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan, USA

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