Even as the rock stars of world cricket are busy playing the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, the opening act of the World T20 is quietly getting underway in India, with the Associate teams ready to lock horns in the official warm-up games ahead of the first round. Only two out of the four will make it to the main gig.
The grand press conference hall in the mighty impressive Punjab Cricket Association Stadium – now officially IS Bindra Stadium – is largely empty, except for a few workers taking a break – and their lunch – after cleaning and scrubbing. In one corner, Scotland’s manager is chatting up with the few journalists who have turned up for the open media session with captains of the four teams – Afghanistan, Netherlands, Oman and Scotland – that will be playing their practice matches at this venue.
It’s Scotland’s first time in this premier competition of the shortest format, and only their third-ever appearance in a global competition – after the 1999 and 2015 ODI World Cups. Didn’t Scotland run New Zealand close in Dunedin last year, you ask the manager. “Three wickets,” someone else answers in his stead. “We lost by just three wickets,” says Preston Mommsen, Scotland’s captain, as he enters the hall.
“The experience we had at the 2015 World Cup was unmatchable, was brilliant to play in that atmosphere – the crowd, the pressure, the quality of the opposition,” he says. “We found ourselves growing as players and as a team. By the end of the tournament we were much stronger cricketing team, cricketing nation. But…”
But? You wonder.
Inadvertently, for most Associate nations, cricket is a World Cup-to-World Cup cycle. They come and play quadrennial/biennial showpiece events, facing the big teams – and occasionally causing an upset – before slipping back into oblivion. Scotland have played only one ODI since the 2015 World Cup. It’s not an arrangement that Mommsen is happy with. Hence the “but”.
“…in the last 12 months, there hasn’t been enough cricket for us to push on and show what we are really about. I would rather personally sacrifice a world cup place to be playing more cricket against full members, and throughout the calendar year. Fortunately, after the ODI World Cup, we had World T20 qualifiers which we hosted. The way we performed in that showed how much we had learnt from the ODI world cup. There needs to be balance there. We need to play enough top-quality cricket.”
Netherlands’ captain Peter Borren’s wish is even more modest. “Yes, we don’t get much opportunity to play with big teams, but we don’t also get that much opportunity to play against each other (Associate nations) very often,” he says.
“So I think more cricket in general would be great. Because the big teams have their own schedule and are very busy, so it’s not easy – or likely. So I would like at least to play more games against each other. In the World Cricket League (for Associate teams) we play four games a year. I think there is no reason why there shouldn’t be twenty games a year. So, of course, we would love to play against Australia, South Africa or India, but at least if could play against each other more often, that would a really good start,” he says.
Borren’s team has twice defeated former champions England in World T20 and nearly upset South Africa in 2014 – a match they lost by six runs. “We were pretty disappointed not to beat South Africa. But it was very satisfying to beat England. It wasn’t a very exciting match because we beat them quite comfortably (laughs). But it was at least a good way to finish for us, having been disappointed not to beat South Africa. It was a great experience for us in 2014. It was awesome to create some memories for people who were watching the guys playing in orange with a bit of courage. Hopefully, we can create a few more this time around,” he says.
And, so away from the spotlight, the Associate nations’ quest to make some everlasting memories begins. It will spur them on when they go back to the Netherlands of non full-member cricket. Until next time, that is.