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Best Associate Cricket Nations

The time seems to have finally come. The Associates and Affiliates look to finally be gaining some ground. Since we might see some more of them in the not too distant future, it might be time to learn more about the best of the bunch.

1. Afghanistan:

Afghanistan‘s story is one of the greatest in sporting history, much less cricketing present. Their homelands in chaos, many Afghans fled to neighboring Pakistan. There, they picked up the most popular sport, cricket. As peace slowly began to return, so did the refugees and they brought cricket back with them.

They were a talented bunch, and took apart anyone that got in their way on their astonishing run where they went from division 6 to division 1 in one cycle, narrowly missing out on the 2011 World Cup. A year before, they made the World T20, which they have qualified for every time since 2010, more times than any associate bar Ireland.

They’re an exciting team, and have rubbed shoulders with the big boys. And that’s just their limited overs. They may not be at the top of the pack in First class cricket, but they have won the Intercontinental Cup once. They’re an exciting group of players, and should they receive full member and test status by 2020 as it seems like they will, no one will begrudge them that, as they have fully deserved it.

Best Player:

Mohammad Shahzad might be an absolute livewire with the bat, but this will have to go to Mohammed Nabi. His all round ability has been crucial to Afghanistan’s rise, be it his lower order power or his tight off spin. He’s also played in various leagues around the world, his experience being indispensable to his team.

Greatest moment since 2013:

You could say that it’s qualifying for the World Cup by beating Kenya in the 2013 qualifier. You could say that it was their defeat of Bangladesh in the 2014 Asia Cup. You could say that it was their maiden World Cup win against Scotland in the 2015 World Cup.

You could say that it was their pair of wins over Zimbabwe in 2016. But I’m going to give it to their toppling of the West Indies in the 2016 World T20. That was the pinnacle of the 9 years work that they had done. At T20 level, which is the only time most people see the associates for years, Afghanistan championed their cause after Ireland and the Netherlands were eliminated early.

Afghanistan had run Sri Lanka and England very close earlier, but they were still empty handed in the main draw. But then, on a tough Nagpur pitch, they prevailed against the West Indies. Najibullah Zadran had taken them to 123, before some tight bowling by Amir Hamza, then the slow drain of life that the spinner applied, before Nabi kept his cool to defend 10 from the last over.

It would be the only game West Indies would lose on their way to the title, and it seemed that Afghanistan had single handedly made sure more associates would play at the next World T20.

2. Ireland:

They’re the team that began the associate resurgence when they shocked Pakistan in 2007. Since then, they’ve beaten England, had one of their own hit the fastest World Cup hundred, beat Zimbabwe and threaten many times.

Ireland are hungry for success, and while their best players from those classes of 2007 and 2011 are either retired or past it, they left the groundwork for more to come. With their domestic competition recently being upgraded to first class status, an expanded version of it can’t be far away.

While they have fallen from their lofty heights in the shorter formats since 2011, no one will say that they’re anything but the best long format associate. They’ve won the Intercontinental Cup 4 times, no one else has won it more than once, and are currently on top. They’re the most deserving associate of test status, and if they can pick up their limited overs game, more accolades will not be too far away.

Best Player:

It would be Eoin Morgan if he were still playing for Ireland, but he’s moved to England with considerable success, so it will have to be Ed Joyce, another dual international. Having briefly played for England between 2006 and 2008, he came back to Ireland to help their cause.

He’s numerous ODI hundreds, and more first class doubles than any other Irishman. He’s retired from the shortest format to achieve his test ambitions, and even if he doesn’t, Ireland are indebted to Joyce for being an integral part in getting them so close to test level.

Greatest moment since 2013:

Ireland was seen as cannon fodder in their group in the 2015 World Cup. But they were to prove far better than that. Their first game was against the West Indies, and Ireland beat them. Thanks to a trio of top order contributions from Paul Sterling, Ed Joyce and the finishing touches by Niall O Brien.

It couldn’t really be termed as an upset either, so far had Ireland come. They ended up threatening for a spot in the quarters before succumbing to defeat against Pakistan to knock them out. Still, Ireland made sure everyone knew that associates were much more than cannon fodder for the top 8 to brush aside.

3. Scotland:

For the longest time, Scottish players represented England. Few actually did though, and Scotland gained their own official cricket team soon enough.

Scotland has always been one of the leading associates and when the ICC had the associates actually play each other in an official tournament for the first time (the 2004 Intercontinental Cup), Scotland won. They made the final once more in 2010, and is still the only team not named Afghanistan or Ireland to win the tournament.

They’ve never truly been the number one associate, but it’s a testament to their sustained excellence that they’ve never really fallen far from the top 5. Their tournament experience includes 3 World Cups (in 1999, 2007 and 2015) and 3 World T20s (2007, 2009, 2016). Pure numbers will say that they’ve been nothing but cannon fodder for the big teams, as they’ve only won one game, but that’s far from the truth.

At the 2015 World Cup in particular, they were impressive with their spirit, and the way they exited the tournament (with Sri Lanka smashing 363 against them and Australia beating them with 34 overs to spare) were the outliers in their campaign, as, aside from those two games, weren’t embarrassed, which was far more than what people expected from them.

There was scaring New Zealand as they almost defended 142, 318 against Bangladesh that wasn’t defended, and that heartbreaking loss to Afghanistan, which, while it gave Afghanistan their first World Cup win, left Scotland an agonizing one wicket away from theirs. But people move on, and Scotland has more recently beaten Nepal at home, annihilated the UAE away and are due to play Papúa New Guinea and Namibia very soon.

Best player:

A servant of the Scottish game for almost two decades, having represented his side from U15 level, Kyle Coetzer is Scottish through and through, despite the very South African name. Having scored more ODI runs than all but one Scotsman and more T20I runs than anyone north of England, Coetzer has been an effective crux of Scotland’s batting for years.

Mixing his Scottish commitments with county games has only heightened his experience and his 156 against Bangladesh in the 2015 World Cup was the highest by an associate batsman ever in ODIs. He can also chip in with some dibbly-dobbly seamers every now and then. Now back for his second stint as captain, Coetzer has a big job. But few people in the country would say that he’s not deserving of it, and no one in it is better equipped to lead the team than him.

Greatest moment since 2013:

Heading into Nagpur for their last game of the 2016 World T20, Scotland knew that this was their last chance to break their duck at ICC events. Their record stood at 20 games, 0 wins. They knew that this was it. Failure to win here and they might very well not play another World Cup game for years.

Hong Kong were restricted to 127, and they lit up. Could this be it? But rain seemed to have other ideas. 10 overs were lost, and the Scottish hopes grew dimmer and dimmer. Only half an hour more, and it would’ve been it. But the rain stopped, and Scotland made no mistake about chasing their revised target down. It was chased with 2 overs to spare, and the look on the faces on everyone involved with Scottish cricket at the moment was one to see, a mixture of relief and joy.

Recent events have made their worries about never playing another ODI game seem pessimistic, but the joy of a maiden World Cup win, even if it was against Hong Kong, is still one that few things can match for all the Scots present that day.

4. The Netherlands:

Home of Amsterdam, windmills, cheese markets, those weird wooden shoes, the international criminal court (the other ICC) and the most inconsistent of the associate crew, the Netherlands has it all. 4 World Cups (1999-2011), 3 World T20s (2009, 2014, 2016) and some startling wins are part of the Dutch highlight reel. Perhaps the West Indies of associate cricket (full of firepower which has given them considerable T20 success and some ODI accolades as well, with some long format achievements as well), Netherlands have really shown flashes of brilliance.

Ryan ten Doeschate has the highest average in ODIs, have a 100% win record in ODIs against Bangladesh, 100% win record against England in T20s, and perhaps the single greatest team innings in T20Is. Time and time again, they’ve proven themselves as a perennial, if inconsistent, threat to teams.

Best player:

It’s probably Ryan ten Doeschate (with his highest ODI average, excellent all round record, etc) but he hasn’t played for Netherlands in an international since 2011. So, instead, Tom Cooper.

Much like ten Doeschate, who was eligible for South Africa as well, Cooper is also eligible for Australia, and has turned out for the U-19 and A teams and come close to selection a few times. But Netherlands is where he started out, and where some of his finest moments have come.

He is the only player to score 3 fifties in his first 3 ODIs, scored more runs than any Dutchman bar Tendo in the 2011 World Cup, has a higher ODI batting average than anyone not named Ryan and blitzed 45 off 15 in that famous win in the 2014 WT20. While he’s unlikely to play for Australia now (having lost his contract with South Australia after a few abysmal seasons) his exploits with the Dutch were always going to be the highlights of his career.

Greatest moment since 2013:

This doesn’t go to one moment, but a collection of them. The 2014 World T20 was probably the greatest moment in Dutch cricket history. They beat the UAE handily, before going down to Zimbabwe. Considered outsiders to qualify especially after Ireland plundered 193, something clicked.

Needing to make the runs in 14.2 overs to qualify (15.1 if a six was hit with the scores level), the runs came raining down. To show how quickly they made them, the strike rates for the batsmen who played at least 10 balls read: 207, 274, 182, 300. Ireland were left helpless, and Zimbabwe looked on in agony; nothing was going to stop this carnage. 19 sixes were hit, then the most in a T20I (now it’s the second most), and history was made.

Things weren’t great at the start in the group stage, where they started by being bowled out for 39 against Sri Lanka, the lowest total in T20Is and the subsequent defeat was the largest in T20Is. But then, they ran South Africa so close, going down by 6 runs as they were bowled out with 8 balls left. They matched New Zealand for most of the game before finally succumbing to a 6 wicket defeat with 6 balls left.

And then, proving themselves to be the best European team of the tournament, they stunned an already demoralized England, bowling them out for 88 and maintaining their unbeaten streak against them. The fact that they managed to be the best associate of the tournament after narrowly qualifying over Scotland just made it all the more special.

5. Papua New Guinea:

While it’s no Afghanistan story, Papua New Guinea’s story is still quite extraordinary. From division 4 in 2007, to division 1 in 2013, and winning their first ODI, winning their first First Class match with an extraordinary chase of 305 against the Netherlands and are currently on top of the World Cricket League championship, with 6 wins from 8 games.

How Papúa New Guinea, an island of 7 million people with more of them in tribes than cities, got here is another inspirational story, again, not Afghanistan level, but still inspiring nonetheless. The national team plied their trade in a South Australian league, which gave them plenty of game time and they attribute that to their early success. They’re an exciting team and we should be seeing more of them in the future.

Greatest moment since 2013:

Their debut ODI win against Hong Kong. They restricted Hong Kong to 202 (though they were 122-7 at one point) and chased it down comfortably despite some early stutters. They even won the next game to become the only team to win their first two ODIs. And things only got better for them from there.

Other teams to watch out for:

Nepal, Hong Kong (at least Mark Chapman, who could be playing for New Zealand someday soon and could very well be the best player to represent an associate) and the UAE.

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