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Six teams, one spot: The Asia Cup Qualifier

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Asia_Cup_Qualifier_Trophy_CricketStarting tomorrow, six Asian Associate nations are set to be locked in an intense nine-day battle in Malaysia. At stake is a coveted berth at the Asia Cup, to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from September 15-28. Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates will be competing in the crucial Asia Cup Qualifier, the winner of which is slated to face off against heavyweights India and Pakistan in Group A of the six-team tournament proper.

The Qualifier will consist of a round-robin stage followed by a final, and will be played at three venues - the Kinrara Academy Oval in Kinrara, the Bayuemas Oval in Pandamaran and the UKM Cricket Oval in Bangi. The only ODI fixture will be between Nepal and the UAE, as none of the other teams have ODI status. As the tournament gets underway, here is a look at the teams in action and the players who are likely to make an impact over the course of the coming week.

The Teams

Hong Kong

Hong Kong will look for a turnaround in fortunes to brighten a disappointing year. They finished with the wooden spoon in the ten-team World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe in March, which resulted in the loss of their ODI status. However, they possess the wherewithal to bounce back, and will take confidence from their third-place finish in the 2015-17 ICC WCL Championship. Hong Kong have featured in the Asia Cup twice, in 2004 and 2008.

Malaysia

Having narrowly missed out on promotion to the World Cricket League Division Three after a third-place finish at the Division Four tournament, at home four months ago, hosts Malaysia face a sterner challenge this time around. Though the emerging outfit is the lowest-ranked team in the fray, they have the ability to spoil the frontrunners’ party. Of particular interest will be their match with close rivals Singapore, against whom they contest the Stan Nagaiah Trophy annually.

Nepal

It has been a year to remember for the Nepalese thus far, and there is no reason why it cannot get better. Nepal received ODI status for the first time in March, and played their first two ODIs in the format in the Netherlands earlier this month. It did not take them long to notch their first win, as they beat the Dutch by one run in the second game. Inconsistency has often plagued Nepal’s growth, and the Qualifier presents them with a golden chance to prove that they are here to stay.

Oman

Dark horses Oman will look to upstage a couple of higher-ranked teams, as they seek redemption after failing to remain in Division Two of the WCL earlier this year. On the positive side, they had the satisfaction of beating Nepal and giving a scare to the UAE in that tournament, which is enough evidence that they are not to be taken lightly. Oman have never appeared in the Asia Cup, although they were scheduled to partake in the 2006 edition that was eventually cancelled.

Singapore

Singapore have remained in Division Three of the WCL since 2014, when they were promoted from Division Four. It was only due to an inferior net run rate that they missed out on promotion to Division Two for the first time in 2017. They have steadily risen in the past decade - they were in Division Six in 2009 - and can prove to be the surprise package of the Qualifier. They will also aim to put it across traditional rivals Malaysia, who currently hold the Stan Nagaiah Trophy.

United Arab Emirates

Considered favourites in the eyes of many, the United Arab Emirates will make it to their third 50-over Asia Cup (after 2004 and 2008) if they win the Qualifier. The Emiratis won the WCL Division Two in February and later retained their ODI status by finishing sixth at the World Cup Qualifier, in which they memorably beat Zimbabwe by three runs. Hong Kong and Nepal are likely to be the UAE’s fiercest opponents, and even one loss could put their campaign in jeopardy.

Key Players

Anshuman Rath (Hong Kong)

One of the most exciting talents on the Associate circuit, the 20-year-old Rath boasts an ODI average of 52.57. His breakthrough innings came in December last year, when he struck 143* against Papua New Guinea to cement his position as Hong Kong’s first-choice opener. Though he averaged 31 in the World Cup Qualifier, his 65 against Afghanistan took Hong Kong to their only victory. If he gets going, Hong Kong can be optimistic of an Asia Cup return after a decade.

Ahmed Faiz (Malaysia)

The experienced Faiz, who was replaced at the helm by Anwar Arudin for the WCL Division Four, is back as captain of Malaysia, and will again be the bulwark of his team’s batting line-up. Faiz was the highest run-getter in the Division Four tournament, tallying 298 runs at an average of 49.66. He scored three half-centuries, and each of them contributed to a Malaysian win, which is a testament to the team’s dependence on him. Malaysia would be hoping for more of the same.

Sandeep Lamichhane (Nepal)

Nepal’s rise towards being an ODI nation has coincided with the emergence of Lamichhane. The 18-year-old leg-spinner was the joint highest wicket-taker at the WCL Division Two, and his exploits earned him contracts with franchises in the IPL and the CPL. In turn, this has raised the profile of Nepalese cricket all over the world. His knack of running through the opposition, coupled with his stifling economy rate, makes him the most potent threat for Nepal’s challengers.

Bilal Khan (Oman)

Along with Lamichhane, left-arm pace bowler Bilal Khan was the joint highest wicket-taker at the WCL Division Two. Although his 17 scalps, taken at 10.76 apiece and including two five-wicket hauls, could not save Oman from relegation to Division Three, he proved to be a tricky customer for most batsmen. For Oman to succeed at the Qualifier, a bright start with the ball would be pivotal, and not for the first time, Bilal is likely to be the go-to man to meet that goal.

Anish Param (Singapore)

One of the dependable pillars of the Singaporean batting line-up, Param is a highly promising 28-year-old who is expected to deliver from the vital number three position. Param was Singapore’s best batsman at the WCL Division Three in Uganda last year, accumulating 190 runs at 47.50. Both his fifties were scored in a winning cause. He also has the experience of first-class cricket, having played twice for the Durham Marylebone Cricket Club University in 2014.

Mohammad Naveed (United Arab Emirates)

The United Arab Emirates’ quest to triumph in Malaysia will receive a huge boost if Naveed’s game-changing ability comes to fore. Naveed, whose primary role is that of an effective medium pacer, also shows the tendency to hit valuable lower-order runs. His worth to the side was highlighted in the UAE’s win over Zimbabwe at the World Cup Qualifier, when he followed a breezy ten-ball 22* from number nine with an excellent spell of 3/40 under pressure.

 

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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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