In the next year or so, Afghanistan can look forward to a rosy future. They have earned berths in both global ICC competitions, as well as bagging more and more fixtures against Full Member opposition. If the player development continues as it has, and the ICC grows a conscience, then Afghanistan may not be an Associate for much longer.
There have, of course, been a few positives. The Canadian core is still young, and the 22-year-old Gunasekera is shaping up into a very fine player. They may end up losing yet more experienced players, but if they continue to develop their youth, then they may just be able to pick up the pieces. They also have a pretty good record in World Cup Qualifiers, something they'll need to call upon pretty soon. In all honesty, though, Canada have been poor, and unless things pick up in the near future, the future could be pretty bleak.
They didn't do it easily; despite a fantastic group stage, they lost their semi against Nepal and had to overcome PNG in a tense eliminator. But win they did, and next year they'll be jetting off to Bangladesh. Twenty20 was the only format they got to play this year, though. No one-dayers, no first class cricket (except for Jamie Atkinson, who played briefly for Warwickshire), only Twenty20. While this is far from ideal, it might also be a glimpse of what the future eventually has to hold. Before then, though, there's the World Cup Qualifier. It's a long shot, but Hong Kong seem to have a knack of doing exactly what's necessary.
But more impressively still, every time the Irish played a Full Member, they stood up to be counted. Against Pakistan, it was Stirling's ton and O'Brien's finishing, then Joyce's ton and Murtagh's bowling; all in all, they deserved to win 2-0, not lose 1-0. Against the English, William Porterfield clattered a century, before Morgan and Rankin defeated the Irish. Against the Australians, Paul Stirling a first-class century. It was a superb summer, which also saw the inaugural (and fantastic) Interpros season. The Irish couldn't quite close out the big teams, but not for lack of trying. A fitting farewell year for the mighty Trent Johnston.
The most publicised incident was the punch-up between ex-skipper Collins Obuya and young Irfan Karim, but more telling were the twin re-calls of Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo. Again, it wasn't for their statistical results, because Tikolo in particular was excellent, but for the message it sent to the young players. Odoyo, in particular, was barely even a shadow of what he was in his peak. His fitness levels were about what you'd expect from someone who retired two years ago, and it looked like an enormous effort simply to turn his arm over. He was basically bowling spin, but with the seam up. It was a sad, sad sight.
Their mostly-young side was probably the third-best in the I-Cup, though. They won three games, one of only three sides to win more than two, and also had the third-best quotient. By my own points system, they would have finished third. So, naturally, fifth place was the spot for them. The other formats didn't go so well. After narrowly missing out on the WCLC wooden spoon, they then finished tenth in the Qualifier, below Italy. They will continue their youth policy, and continue to develop in the Provincial Series, but 2013 was not kind.
It wasn't just Twenty20 where they excelled either. After a nasty start to the World Cricket League Division Three, Nepal managed to string together enough wins not only to avoid relegation, but to win the tournament. A lot of credit must go to the players and their coach for the sort of pluck and grit they have shown. A third-place in the World Twenty20 Qualifier was simply just reward.
The fact, then, that the Netherlands have pretty much muddled through is testament to their resilience. They managed to scramble through the World Twenty20 Qualifier at the last minute, edging out Scotland, but that did serve to gloss over a largely forgettable season which included a wooden spoon in the Intercontinental Cup.
They had their worst ever season in county cricket. They landed in the bottom half of the WCL Championship, fourth in the I-Cup, and failed to qualify for the World Twenty20. The only players who really came out of the season with any credit were Kyle Coetzer, who was his usual self, and Matt Machan who managed to establish himself in the side while others, like Coleman and Gardiner, squandered their opportunities to do so at this stage. Scotland need to take a good long look in the mirror before the World Cup Qualifier.
But, despite not exactly getting much support even within the UAE, their results have been rather good. Led by the ageless Khurram Khan (who seems to have been around forever because he has in fact been around for ever), they clinched third place in both the I-Cup and WCL Championship. They missed out on an automatic World Cup spot by a single win, and have to be looking forward to hopefully putting the World Cup Qualifier to bed next year and claiming one of the last two spots. But of course, these achievements are all "because they're good at home", and not because they're a good side, right?
Lower down the ranks, Nigeria have had an absolutely fantastic year. Having started the year in Division Seven of the World Cricket League, they really showed their mettle to earn themselves back-to-back promotions. In Division Seven, they terrorised weaker teams, flexing their muscles to show precisely who the best team in the tournament was. In Division Six, though, they mellowed, and played a far more composed and mature brand of cricket, which saw them safely into second place behind Jersey. They also met Argentina. In their heyday, they were a Division Two side, but managed to pick up yet another straight relegation. Now they're back in the Americas regional WCL. It's a sad tale.
Players of the Year
He was close-pressed all the way in the voting by Afghanistan's Nawroz Mangal, but ultimately 14,331 Nepalese fans saw their hero home. Congratulations Paras.
And so concludes The Popping Crease Review of 2013. I hope you enjoyed the review, and have enjoyed my coverage of the year. I also hope you will keep coming back and reading in 2014 too. My thanks go out to you all, because without readers, this blog would be nothing at all.