Of heartening and heartbreak stories from associate nations in ICC T20 World Cup

USA Team in ICC T20 WC 2024
USA Team in ICC T20 WC 2024 (PC: USA/X)

Monank Patel, the USA skipper, used to own a restaurant. Saurabh Netravalkar is an Oracle Engineer, while Aaron Jones once represented Barbados. These are the kind of evocative stories that are making waves after the United States of America’s shock win over Pakistan and their qualification to Super 8s of the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup. Suddenly, from nowhere, USA’s momentous victory became a major topic for digital sports news outlets in that country. Basically, everyone loves an underdog being the giant killer.

Over 7000 miles away from the USA, there is another associate nation, which is nestled in the Himalayas – Nepal. The fans in Nepal are extremely passionate about cricket. The crucial UAE-Nepal game in CWC 2 last year serves as an example. As Monty Desai, the Nepal head coach, once told this writer: “On this particular day, what was unbelievable to see was the kind of crowd which turned up. Not just inside the stadium but even people outside the stadium, all around the walls, to an extent they were over some of the panels just to have the visuals.”

In the ICC T20 World Cup, Nepal came agonisingly close to sending the entire country into a frenzy: At one point of time, they were 85 for 2 in pursuit of a modest target of 116, set by South Africa. Eventually, it turned out to be a what if moment for the associate nation as they suffered a collapse to lose by one run. Yes, just a solitary run. And that was followed by another gut-wrenching loss to Bangladesh. Despite those defeats, Nepal’s wily spinners once more made an impression. From here on, they can only get better.

One has to talk a little bit about the USA’s neighbours, Canada, too. Canada’s victory against the struggling Ireland side would boost their cricketing profile. The Guyanese pair of Jeremy Gordon and Dillon Heyliger combined together by bowling hard lengths to dismantle the European country. There was something else to celebrate for the North American nation. With the USA getting a direct entry to the 2026 T20 World Cup, Canada would be the favourites to come out on top in the Americas Qualifier.

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Netherlands win their first game of the ICC T20 World Cup 2024 (PC: @T20WorldCup)

Meanwhile, the Oranje Army, the Netherlands, continues to be a bogey team for South Africa. This time around, though, they couldn’t turn a potential upset on the cards into a result in their favour. At 12 for 4, South Africa were in dire straits while chasing 104 in some difficult conditions for batting in New York. David Miller, however, put paid to their hopes by composing a game-breaking fifty.

Last year, Scotland was one of the teams which suffered a heartbreak while playing the Netherlands. After having the upper hand in the initial stages, Scotland hurtled to a defeat in the all-important 50-over World Cup qualifier game in Zimbabwe. This year, too, they had to paddle through the lines of pain and agony after not crossing the finish line versus Australia.

If Bas de Leede turned out to be their bugbear in Zimbabwe, then they succumbed to Marcus Stoinis’ power-hitting in St Lucia. Despite not achieving the ultimate goal of progressing to Super 8s, Scotland did showcase enough pluck through the tournament. Incidentally, Scotland accumulated 90 for the loss of no wickets in a rain-reduced 10-over-a-side contest versus England. On the back of Brendon McCullen’s heroics, they also aggregated 180 versus Australia and hunted down the target of 151 against Oman in just over 13 overs.

The rest of the associate countries – Namibia, Oman, Papua New Guinea and Uganda – did not have much to cheer about but it would have been an enriching experience for them to play against some of the big boys of world cricket.

As always, there was hype and hysteria surrounding the India-Pakistan World Cup encounter. But if you sift through the results during the first couple of weeks of the tournament, it was quite evident that the associates closing the gap with established teams was the defining narrative of the group stage.

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