Opinion: Eight Associate players to watch
The World Cup is with us, and one of the joys that it brings is exposure for lesser known players from associate countries. In this addition of the World Cup there are four non-Test nations appearing, Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates.
With the introduction of a 10-team structure for this event in 2019 this could be the last time that these teams get to play at cricket’s biggest event, but for now we can relish the chance to see cricketers that are normally hidden from view.
There have been some great individual performances from associate cricketers in past World Cups. There was John Davison’s blistering hundred for Canada, Kevin O’Brien’s even faster one for Ireland, and few will forget Kenya’s Aasif Karim taking three wickets for seven runs against Australia.
So who are the associate players that we should be looking out for this time?
There are quite a few players to get excited about in the Afghanistan squad, but few get pulses racing like Dawlat Zadran. While his colleague Hamid Hassan gets more plaudits with his extra pace, Dawlat has always impressed. He has an ODI bowling average of just over 30 and has consistently troubled top class batsmen. His upright yet slinging action has helped him produced some excellent spells that have seen him dominate at associate level and pick up consistent wickets when he has got a chance against full members.
Afghanistan’s captain, Mohammad Nabi bats in the in the middle order and bowls wily off breaks. He is capable of destructive hitting, especially straight down the wicket. The issue with the Afghan batting is always consistency. All too often they find themselves four wickets down for not many, and Nabi has led many a fight back. From a bowling point of view Nabi is a master of changes of pace and gets excellent dip that can catch batsmen out. There are few better spin bowling all-rounders at this World Cup.
There have been quite a few Irish cricketers that have been either talked up as England players or made their way into the England side. The English captain at this World Cup learnt his cricket in Ireland before making the move over the Irish Sea. Ed Joyce was the first of those to make his way from Ireland into English ranks, and played against his home country at the 2007 World Cup. He was out fifth ball, bowled by Boyd Rankin who is now an England player. Now Joyce is back playing for Ireland and he is without doubt their best batsman. He had a brilliant season for Sussex and there is every chance of scoring runs aplenty for Ireland.
Few that saw it will ever forget what Kevin O’Brien did to England at the 2011 World Cup. Chasing 328 to win, O’Brien walked out to bat with Ireland 111-5 in the 25th over. He went on to score 113 runs off 63 balls, the fastest World Cup hundred of all time. Since then he has gone on to make a name for himself as something of a T20 specialist turning out in county cricket, in New Zealand, at the Bangladesh Premier League and most recently a successful stint with Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean Premier League. O’Brien is capable of some explosive hitting, and plays the role of finisher in this Ireland team, but he is an all-rounder. His medium pace bowling is very useful, and he has 68 ODI wickets at an average of 28. It might be too much to hope for another hundred like the one against England in 2011, but I am going hope anyway.
There has only been one Gaelic speaker to ever take the field in a Test match, and that was Callum MacLeod, who acting as a substitute fielder for England against Australia in 2009. The Durham batsman started out life as a fast bowler, but when his actions was adjudged illegal by the authorities it looked like his dream of professional cricket was over. It was to the surprise of almost everyone that MacLeod turned himself into a batsman, and he is now a fixture of Durham’s limited overs side. MacLeod played a huge part in getting Scotland to the World Cup, scoring hundreds against Canada and the UAE. Since then he has had a bit of a lean trot in a Scotland shirt, but an undefeated hundred against an Australian grade side makes you hopeful that he has found form ahead of the main event.
If Scotland are to do well at this World Cup they will need early wickets, and the man best placed to do that is Iain Wardlaw. The 29-year-old didn't make his professional debut until 2011 when he was called up by Yorkshire after succeeding in club cricket. He was in and out of the side until he was released in early 2014. He replaced his county contract with a Scottish one, and he has been a mainstay of the Scotland attack. In the recent tri-series against Afghanistan and Ireland, Wardlaw combined with Josh Davey to dismiss the Afghans for 63. If he can take advantage of the new ball in a similar fashion he will give Scotland a chance of winning a game or two.
The UAE make their first appearance at a World Cup since 1996, and if they are to win any games they will need runs from their talismanic vice-captain Khurram Khan. Until the squad for the World Cup was announced he was captain, but he remains an absolutely vital member of the squad. In late 2014 he became the oldest ODI centurion when he made 132 not out against Afghanistan at the age of 43. He may be in his forties, but there are few cricketers who are fitter and more driven. His ODI average is over 50 and he can keep things tight and pick up wickets with his off spin bowling.
While not one of the cricketers that got UAE to the World Cup, Mohammad Tauqir’s involvement is of interest. He was named in the World Cup squad as captain despite not having made an appearance for the national side in close to two years. The reason for his late inclusion raised a few eyebrows, and many have suggested that the reason for his recall is because unlike the others in the UAE squad, Tauqir holds a Emirati passport. He is an offspinner, and he is also 43, sharing the exact same birthday with Khurram Khan. His performance in the side will be worth watching, because if he weakens the team in his alleged role of figurehead it will be a real shame for this side that has been improving so rapidly under coach Aaqib Javed.
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