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Pakistan’s international matches against Australia in 2010 may be held in Ireland or Scotland, as hosting matches in England looks set to be ‘too expensive’ for the PCB.

This seems like it would be a shame for the many thousands of expatriate Pakistani cricket fans (or, perhaps more accurately, cricket fans of Pakistani extraction) in Yorkshire or Lancashire, but it would undoubtedly be a huge boost for the Irish and Scottish cricket authorities to have a Test nation based within their jurisdiction.

Personally, I’d love to see Pakistan play at Old Trafford, but it would also be great to see them playing in the British Isles, regardless of how close it is to where I live.

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Up until today, Ireland were the only unbeaten team in the ICC World Cup qualifiers, and Afghanistan’s fairytale looked like it was coming to an end at the Super Eight stage.

Ireland, however, were bowled out for a mere 196, mainly thanks to Hamid Hassan‘s 5-23, four wickets if which involved breaking the batsman’s stumps. The journey that has taken a group of players from Division 5 of the World Cricket League to victory over a side which not so long ago humbled Pakistan.

Although the Afghans still sit second-from-bottom of the Super Eight table, they are only one win behind Kenya in third place. The odds are still stacked against them (especially with difficult matches to come), but there is hope yet for a fairytale ending.

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After five matches each, the wheat have been separated from the marginally more chaff-like wheat, and 12 teams have been reduced down to eight for the Super Eights stage, which it is to be hoped will be more than half well named. The teams eliminated, and therefore definitely not going to the finals (and also missing out on full ODI status for the next 4 years) are Bermuda, Denmark, Oman and Uganda.

  • Afghanistan only just edged through to this stage after losing three matches in a row, but their potential fairytale continues. Even if they don’t qualify, their success against the odds has been a rare good news story from their troubled country.
  • Canada look likely to qualify given their form in the group stages (including an impressive 131 off 99 balls from John Davison against Namibia), and their win over Scotland in the first stage puts them in a good position going into the Super Eights.
  • Ireland will also be well placed heading into this stage, with 6 points carried over from the group stage. Eoin Morgan’s England call-up, whilst unsurprising, will be a blow, but the as yet unbeaten Irishmen will be favourites to qualify for the finals with ease.
  • Kenya are also amongst the favourites to make it to 2011, with only one defeat in their five matches so far. Aging limbs may start to feel the strain at this stage, but they have enough quality to ensure qualification.
  • Namibia only made it to this stage by virtue of net run rate, and will not be expected to progress any further. One or two good results could see them sneak one of the six ODI places, but even that is a tall order.
  • The Netherlands, as expected, have done well so far, and are strong candidates for qualification if they can continue their form into this stage of the competition.
  • Scotland, on the other hand, have failed to live up to expectations so far, and their 148-run defeat to Canada will set alarms ringing. Their matches against the Netherlands and Kenya now take on ‘must-win’ status.
  • The UAE, a team of “baggage handlers and bursars” have exceeded expectations, finishing Group B with as many points as Kenya and the Netherlands, but will be seen as outsiders to beat those teams into the top four. Fifth or sixth place is, however, a realistic target.

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The final stage of qualification for the 2011 World Cup gets underway on Wednesday in South Africa, as 12 teams begin the battle for four places at the finals. Some have played at the finals before, whilst others have fought their way up from the obscurity of World Cricket League Division 5.

Canada’s build up to the World Cup Qualifier was severely disrupted when they were forced to cancel their tour of Zimbabwe following an outbreak of cholera, and they have their work cut out to qualify for the finals with a relatively weak side. If they are to make it, much will depend on emerging star Rizwan Cheema, who has made half-centuries against the West Indies and Sri Lanka in the last year.

Ireland made a big splash at the last World Cup in 2007, when they eliminated Pakistan and made it to the Super Eight stage, and the majority of the players involved in that success are likely to be involved again. Eoin Morgan, who has played for the England Lions, may be called up to the full England side before too long, so will want to put in some good performances in what may prove to be his last major tournament for Ireland.

Namibia will sadly be without the player who would undoubtedly have had the best name in the tournament in Kola Burger, but they come into the qualifier off the back of their best-ever performance in South African domestic One Day cricket. The Namibians have traditionally been stronger in multi-day cricket (they narrowly lost out to Ireland in the ICC Intercontinental Cup final), but batting under pressure in a 50-over game still seems to be an issue for them.

Oman isn’t renowned as a cricketing hotbed, and the majority of the side in South Africa will be subcontinental expatriates. Back in 2005 they lost every match in the ICC Trophy group stage, but beat Uganda and the USA in the play-off stages, and whilst they will be definite outsiders, they do have some players who are capable of winning matches.

Scotland emerged victorious last time this competition was held (when it was known as the ICC Trophy), and will be banking of the experience of -amongst others – Gavin Hamilton and John Blain to see them through. A number of the squad have had injury problems in the past, but if key players remain fit over the three weeks, the Scots will be expected to qualify for 2011 with relative ease.

Uganda have long been talked about as a dark horses in associate cricket, but have shown the sort of inconsistency that has brought wins over Kenya and Zimbabwe but also losses to Papua New Guinea. Bowling all-rounder Kenneth Kamyuka has the potential to make an impact, and making the Super Eight stage is a realistic target.

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Afghanistan and Uganda have qualified from Division 3 of the World Cricket League to book their places in the final round of qualification for the 2011 World Cup, edging out Papau New Guinea on net run rate.

Afghanistan and Uganda had been forced to replay their final matches against the Cayman Islands and Argentina respectively following rain on Friday, but neither will have been too upset as both were in difficult situations before the matches were abandoned. Afghanistan in particular were a mere 28 runs away from defeat to the Cayman Islands in their original match, but triumphed in the replay. Uganda were also given a reprieve by the weather, having been 69/4 on Friday, and also enjoyed victory (by 99 runs) in their replay.

Joining the two qualifiers in the World Cup Qualifier – to be held in South Africa in April – will be Kenya, Scotland, the Netherlands, Canada,
Ireland, Bermuda, the UAE, Oman, Namibia and Denmark. Of these 12, four will qualify for the tournament itself, but the top 6 will all be granted full ODI status for four years (and the top 8 will qualify for the ICC Intercontinental Cup).

Personally, I’m very pleased that the remarkable story of the Afghan side is going to continue.

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Ireland, the Netherlands and (pending confirmation of Zimbabwe’s non-participation) Scotland have all qualified for next year’s World Twenty20, although the final of the qualifying tournament was rained off, so Ireland and the Netherlands had to share the trophy. So, who will Herschelle Gibbs be hitting for 36 in an over this time next year?

Ireland will obviously be hoping that the World Twenty20 will be an opportunity to replicate their heroics in last year’s Word Cup. Their success in qualifying was partially due to the astute bowling of Andre Botha, who took 8 -42 in the tournament as a whole, and also finished with the highest batting average of any ‘Irish’ player in the tournament.

The Netherlands’ star man is Ryan ten Doeschate, who continued his good Twenty20 form, and wasMan of the Match in the Semi-Final. Another Dutch success story was Peter Borren, who made a fair few runs as well as taking 5-76.

Scotland’s Dewald Nel took 9-60 across all matches, with an economy rate of 4.00, quite an achievement for a twenty20 bowler. Kyle Coetzer and Ryan Watson were the pick of the batsmen for the Scots, making 199 runs between them, with Watson’s highest score 54 and Coetzer making 48 not out.

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Not all countries are automatically invited to the Twenty20 party. Some have to qualify. There are three spots available for Associates in next year’s tournament, including the extra slot which has been created by the non-participation of Zimbabwe. Next weekend, the following teams will try and fill them:

  • Group A features Ireland, Scotland and Bermuda. Ireland should probably top this group, but you can never reckon against the mighty Sluggo.

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The Asia Cup 2008 gets underway on Tuesday, with the ‘established’ Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and ‘semi-established’ Bangladeshi (no link because the official site ‘may harm your computer‘) teams competing against the ’emerging’ UAE and Hong Kongese sides.

Group A

  • Sri Lanka will be looking to recapture the One-Day form that brought victory over England, but which has been absent more recently. Ajantha Mendis, who I’ve mentioned recently, will be one to watch, and the six over-30’s in the squad will shoulder much of the responsibility as usual.
  • The United Arab Emirates are hoping that a blend of youth and experience will help to produce the kind of performances that suggest they have a good chance of qualification (following good results in the World Cricket League last year) for the 2011 World Cup. Obviously, the UAE will be looking for performances rather than results from this tournament, but they could give Bangladesh a scare if they play out of their skins. Saqib Ali has a first class average of 55, and is likely to be the main source of runs.

Group B

  • India showed both sides of their recent form in the Kitply cup, hammering Pakistan in the group stage, then leaking runs like nobody’s business in the final. Gambhir was impressive throughout the tournament with the bat, and RP Singh, amongst others, continues to show real promise with the ball.
  • Hong Kong, who will be taking part in the World Cricket League Division 4 in October, are almost certain to be unceremoniously crushed by both India and Pakistan. Courtney Kruger could make things slightly more respectable with a few runs, but any difference will be marginal.

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The tie is the rarest of cricket results, but when there is one, drama is guaranteed. From Asif Mujtaba’s last ball six to South Africa throwing away a place in the World Cup final, cricket ties are far more exciting than their sartorial namesakes.

Sometimes a tie can involve a team coming back from a seemingly impossible situation, such as Abdul Razzaq’s heroics for Pakistan against Sri Lanka, or England’s recent fightback against New Zealand. Sometimes, though, two sides are just well matched, like Zimbabwe and Ireland at the 2007 World Cup.

All of these are better than draws, which are often dull.

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