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T20 World Cup 2021: After a forgettable tournament, Associates look ahead to a more fruitful 2022

During the first round, when the World Cup spotlight, barely flickering to life, had yet to shift to the big boys, the six teams that had fought their way to the tournament through the Global Qualifier some two years previously briefly took their turn on the stage.

Kabua Morea’s four-fer against the Scots, Chris Greaves’ game-changing counter-attack against Bangladesh, Curtis Campher’s improbably four-in-four to wreck the Dutch middle-order, Gerhard Erasmus and David Weise turning the tables on Ireland – there were moments to savour, but few that would make the highlight reel when the tournament drew to a close almost a month later.

Namibia and Scotland did a creditable job flying the Associates flag in the main draw, even if a mid-tournament rule change saw them placed in the same group, denying them an extra coveted match aginst Full Member opposition. George Munsey reverse-sweeping Ravi Ashwin for four three balls on the trot will not be quickly fogotten, Mark Watt’s parsimonious, muscular left arm spin may have earned him some franchise attention, as may Ruben Trumplemann’s expert display of left arm swing, most notably his three-wicket opening over against Scotland, together with his underutilised lower order hitting.

But by and large it was a disappointing tournament for the teams that had to fight hardest to get there. While the qualifiers made the most of the limited screen-time afforded to them, but there was no real show-stealing performance from the undercards.

T20 World Cup 2021 After a forgettable tournament Associates look ahead to a more fruitful 2022

Namibia defeated Ireland to reach the Super 12 stage of T20 World Cup. AP Photo

The format itself did them few favours, ensuring that their time in the Middle East was either too short or arguably, in the case of Scotland and Namibia, too long.

The “first round” stage being effectively cordoned off from the tournament proper meant for Papua New Guinea, the Netherlands, co-hosts Oman and indeed Ireland (who in the shortest format rank along Full Members in name only) the tournament was over almost before it begun. With Full Member warm-up games scheduled concurrently often drawing more attention than what is universally seen by commentators, fans, and indeed participants alike as yet another qualifying stage, few will remember they were even there, though after a miserable winless campaign the much-hyped Dutch side that might well consider that a blessing.

Scotland and Namibia got their day in the sun, Greaves inspiring the Scots a historic win over Bangladesh and giving the world one of the tournament most comedically memorable moments, the hapless Mahmudullah Riyad left rolling his eyes as strains of Flower of Scotland interrupted his post-match press conference, and Namibia recording their first win over a Full Member as they finished off a slow-boiling chase against Ireland with a flourish.

But neither managed an upset over a Full Member in the Super 12s, there would be no genuine giant-killing moment in the main draw to rival Afghistan beating the West Indies five years ago or the Dutch besting England again. The cumbersome six-team group size for the Super 12 phase meant they would linger on at the tournament until there were just three games left, but even for Associate sides used to punishing tournament schedules, a second drawn-out group stage was inevitably draining. Scotland and Namibia already suffering from bubble-fatigue by the tail end of the tournament, and the former having been in the Middle East for almost two months by the time of their last game, and injuries and dehydration taking their toll the latter. Both wound up as punching-bags as the rest of the group looked to bolster their net run rate position, predictably struggling especially against Asian teams in Asian conditions.

The decision to grant byes to the Super 12s for the next edition on the basis of rankings rather than final positions at this edition of the tournament also meant neither Scotland nor Namibia had much but pride to play for, while also condemning the West Indies and Sri Lanka to the “First Round” qualifier for 2022 as Bangladesh, who went winless in the main phase at this edition, pipped them by a fraction of a ranking point.

T20 World Cup 2021 After a forgettable tournament Associates look ahead to a more fruitful 2022

Scotland failed to win a single game in the Super 12s after winning all three in Round 1. AP

For Scotland and Namibia, a bye even just to the First Round is not to be sniffed at, due reward for what remains a successful tournament for both and allowing them to concentrate on their rapidly approaching ODI obligations, with CWC League 2 resuming in less than two weeks’ time. Conversely, the Netherlands, PNG, Oman and Ireland will have to go back through the wringer of qualification, a prospect that looks even more challenging this time round. With Scotland and Namibia assured of their berths, just four qualifier slots are up for grabs for the next edition in Australia next year.

The ICC having split the Global Qualifier into two separate pools for the coming cycle, two separate tournaments slated to be held in Oman and Zimbabwe in February and May respectively will each see eight teams chasing just two berths. Meanwhile the competion looks appreciably stronger, with the USA, Nepal and Full Members Zimbabwe (who missed the previous Qualifier due to their suspension) all strong contenders.

It is something of a testament to the depth and competitiveness of Associate Cricket that the USA and Nepal, both ODI-status Associates, did not even make it out of regional qualifying in 2019, and that the Global Qualifier was nonetheless remarkably competitive. Of the 14 teams that contested that tournament, all but Bermuda and Nigeria put at least two wins on the board and traditionally strong sides such as hosts UAE and previous qualifiers Hong Kong (who famously upset Bangladesh at the 2014 edition) did not make the cut. Likewise it is worth noting that the two teams that made the Super 12s, Scotland and Namibia, finished 5th and 4th respectively at the 2019 Global Qualifier.

Though neither were able to score an upset in the Super 12s and indeed looked rather outmatched against subcontinental teams can in part be attributed to inexperience against truly world-class bowling, but niether could be said to have had a worse tournament than Bangladesh or the West Indies. Increasingly it is apparent that the greatest gulf in qualifty, at least in T20 cricket, is now between the top five or six teams and the rest, rather than between Associates and Full Members where that imaginary line of “competitiveness” has traditionally been drawn.

With that in mind we should be thankful that the 2022 tournament in Australia will be the last one using this format — so clearly designed to keep Associates as a sideshow to the main event. While a case could be made that the slated expansion to 20 teams for 2024 looks premature based on Associate performances at this World Cup just gone, in truth, given the comparatively closer quality of sides ranked 8 through about 20, a more inclusive tournament may counterintuitively result in more competitive matches.

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