The four so-called “Associate” nations at the 2015 World Cup have five previous World Cup appearances between them: the UAE in 1996, Scotland in 1999 and 2007, Ireland in 2007 and 2011, while Afghanistan are competing in their first World Cup. The participation of the associates at the World Cup has been, and no doubt will be, contested at length in commentary boxes and in those few public houses where cricket is still a topic of discussion. Since the ICC have changed the format so that it is far more difficult for the associates to qualify after 2015, the debate may yet be rendered moot.
However, the presence of associates in past World Cups has provided many of the most enduring memories of World Cup cricket. The ICC’s header picture on twitter shows Kevin O’Brien spreading his arms in celebration after scoring the fastest century in World Cup history, the innings that sunk England in Bangalore. In their on-going poll of the 100 greatest World Cup moments, O’Brien’s innings is second on the list. Another associate cricketer, Bermuda’s Dwayne Leverock, is third. But, we get ahead of ourselves.
As Peter Miller notes in his chapter on the UAE in Second XI: Cricket and its Outposts, UAE’s first appearance at the World Cup is memorable for one moment. Sultan Zarawani, the only Emirati in the UAE XI “and pretty much a club cricketer”, with a batting average under ten in ODIs, faced one of the fastest bowlers in the world, Allan Donald, wearing a sun hat instead of a helmet. Zarawani, who was interviewed for the book, says that “the helmet thing made me claustrophobic”.
In 1996, the UAE was a young cricket team with very little experience of competitive cricket. Unsurprisingly, therefore, they struggled to even be competitive against the bigger teams, stuffed with top professional cricketers. Despite some battling efforts, they were blown away by England and Pakistan in quick succession. They managed to restrict New Zealand to 276-8 in a fog-reduced match, with Zarawani adding Chris Cairns and Adam Parore to a list of ODI scalps that already included Sachin Tendulkar. However, they weren’t able to put the bowlers under any pressure at all, and stumbled to 167-9 off their 47 overs.
They did manage to make history for the right reasons, however, when they beat the Netherlands in their final group game. It was the first official ODI between two associate nations, and thanks to a magnificent spell of 1-15 off ten overs from seamer Shehzad Altaf and Shaukat Dukanwala’s 5-29, the Netherlands were kept to 216. Saleem Raza and Mohammad Ishaq both passed 50 in a comfortable win. The UAE lost ODI status for the next eight years, played ODIs again between 2004 and 2008, and then regained ODI status after qualifying for this World Cup.
Scotland’s first ODI came against Australia in the 1999 World Cup. Very few of them had faced world-class bowling before, and it showed against the finest attack on the planet. Shane Warne, Damien Fleming and Glenn McGrath kept them to 181, and despite Nick Dyer claiming two wickets in three balls, Australia cantered home with more than five overs to spare.
Gavin Hamilton took two wickets and scored a defiant 76 against Pakistan, but Shoaib Akhtar’s pace was virtually unplayable for the Scottish batsmen. Their best chance of a win came against then-fellow associates Bangladesh: after an excellent new-ball display from Blain and Butt ruined Bangladesh’s top order to the tune of 96-7, they let their advantage slip. Bangladesh ended up with 185, and although Gavin Hamilton made another fine 50, the rest of the batsmen weren’t up to the task and they fell 23 runs short. They were humiliated by the West Indies and New Zealand in quick succession, being bowled out for 68 and 121. Gavin Hamilton top-scored in all but one of their matches.
The 2007 World Cup saw a much shorter group stage, and Scotland were never in the chase for a place in the Super 8s. Once again they came up against a dominant Australian side, and a superb hundred from Ricky Ponting was enough to give Australia an unassailable total. South Africa then chased down Scotland’s 186 with more than half the overs remaining. In their final group match, they were even defeated by the Netherlands, who bowled them out for 136 and with Ryan ten Doeschate’s 68-ball 70, reached the target in less than half the allotted time.
Ireland, to put it mildly, had a better run in the 2007 World Cup. In their first-ever World Cup game, Jeremy Bray scored an unbeaten hundred. Zimbabwe started confidently in their chase of 222, and needed just 15 from the final 36 deliveries. Andre Botha and captain Trent Johnston bowled the next four overs for just six runs. Kevin O’Brien produced a remarkable double-wicket maiden to leave Zimbabwe needing nine off the final over. A run-out on the final ball secured a remarkable tie. It wasn’t to be Ireland’s most extraordinary game in the tournament, though.
That came against Pakistan a couple of days later. On a tough batting wicket, Andre Botha starred with a spell of 8-4-5-2, and Boyd Rankin snared three wickets to bowl Pakistan out for an incredibly low 132. In Second XI, Tim Wigmore recounts Trent Johnston’s speech to his players between the innings. Apparently, he “bounded around the changing room, topless and with a look of raw intensity in his eyes. ‘Now we have a chance to go to the Super 8s. We have a massive f***ing chance to stay in the West Indies for an extra four weeks[…] I sure as hell don’t want to go back and sell fabric’”. The message clearly got through, as despite a wobble against the world-class Pakistani bowlers, the O’Brien brothers, and then Johnston himself, saw Ireland home. They had knocked one of the top Test nations out of the World Cup.
They only managed one win in the Super 8s, against Bangladesh. They finished seventh in the competition, a remarkable feat for a team with only two professional county cricketers. In 2011, they were to beat another top Test nation, in possibly the greatest World Cup match of all time.
Ireland’s hopes of making it through to the quarter-finals were all but over by the time they met England. They had failed to chase an easy 206 against Bangladesh, and they would have to get past two of South Africa, India, England and the West Indies to stand a chance. When England posted 327-8, and James Anderson bowled their captain Will Porterfield with the first ball of the innings, Ireland’s prospects looked grim. When Kevin O’Brien came to the crease, they were 106-4.
He thrashed England for 113 off 63 balls, making England’s seamers (who were mere months away from being part of the number one Test nation) look hopeless and harmless. He flayed boundary after boundary, and although he departed with two overs to go, he had made the impossible happen. Mooney and Johnston saw Ireland home. Although they only managed one more win in the tournament, against the Netherlands, the effects of the win over England were far-reaching: he shamed the ICC into reversing their decision to reduce the 2015 World Cup to ten teams.
If the 2019 tournament is going to be more than a vehicle for increasing the value of the TV rights deal by guaranteeing India nine matches, one suspects that one of the associates will need to produce a similar piece of World Cup magic in this year’s edition.
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