Cricket teams from aspiring nations, made up of mainly amateur players, start their quest to share the spotlight with the world's top sides.
Minnows get a shot at big time
DUBAI // Burger King do not make cucumber sandwiches. As such, they are never likely to be invited to make the teas at cricket. However, the global fast-food giant can lay claim to their own definite, albeit slightly tenuous, spot in the folklore of the Gentleman's Game.
At Lord's last June, on a typically bracing summer's evening in London, the Netherlands caused arguably the biggest upset in the history of cricket by beating England at the game's spiritual headquarters. The consequences of the result were mixed. Kevin Pietersen and his fellow professionals in the England side were hit with the ignom-iny of losing to a side of part-timers, and may have faced some extra "naughty-boy nets". But they could always console themselves with the handsome pay packets they earn for playing the sport.
The Dutch players, by contrast, had to consider the prospect of having to ask their employers for even more time off. Their squad included insurance salesmen, fitness instructors, and Mudassar Bukhari, the manager of a branch of Burger King in the Hague. Their triumph that night will fuel the dreams of teams from eight aspiring nations, mainly amateur players, who will play off on these shores this week. On Saturday night at Dubai Sports City, two teams will win themselves the chance to share the spotlight, for a few days at least, with the greatest names in the game at the next World Twenty20. And a trip to the Caribbean to do it will go down very nicely as well.
Consider the case of the UAE team. The warm-up matches the national team played against Uganda and the United States started at 2pm, partly because that meant the players could spend at least some of the morning at the office, thus saving on precious annual leave. Their form was good in those matches, until the last, which they lost by a single wicket in the final over against the US on Sunday. However, they were without their leading bowler, Fayyaz Ahmed, a telecoms technician, who had been summoned back to work. He had been playing too much cricket lately, apparently.
The host nation are not the only ones. "None of my players are professional, they all have seven to four jobs," said Clayton Lambert, who made one Test century for West Indies before taking up American citizenship. Even he has to consider his day job, running a logistics company in his new home town of Atlanta, before attempting to make the United States side contenders again. Lambert, the US head coach, is not the only one knocking around this week who can boast an impressive cricket past.
Gavin Hamilton capped a lengthy county career with a single Test match for England in 1999. Not much more than the mandatory four years later, he had re-qualified to play for his native Scotland again. He is now their captain, and will be looking to lead them to their third appearance at a World Twenty20. Like many of the sides here, Scotland do have the odd player who plays the game for a living, but Hamilton is well aware of the pitfalls of trying to sustain professionalism at this level.
"It is fine having professional cricketers, but what are they going to do?" he queried, after his side were beaten by South Africa in last summer's World Twenty20. "If you are going to have a professional cricket team they need to be together at least on a weekly basis. We don't see each other for X-amount of weeks, then we get together the day before a major tournament. It is not easy." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
AFGHANISTAN Their fairytale rise from the refugee camps in neighbouring Pakistan to cricket's top table would reach its zenith if they qualify for the trip to the West Indies. They have already earned official 50-over one-day status, and their natural attacking flair is even better suited to the 20-over format. Key man: Mohammed Nabi A regular performer in Pakistan first-class cricket, this 24-year-old all-rounder is used to success in the UAE, where he was man of the match in the ACC Twenty20 final last year. IRELAND The best nation outside of the Test elite - and they are even making moves to bridge that gap now, as they eye full member status. They reached the second phase of the World Twenty20 in England last summer at Bangladesh's expense. They probably will not even need their A-Game to advance here. Key man: Kevin O'Brien The big-hitting all-rounder, who was signed up for Nottinghamshire's limited overs campaign last year, can make even the largest grounds seem like postage stamps. USA The ICC's decision to invite the US to jump the queue and play at this competition was met with outrage by many of their better-performing rival nations. The governing body believe Twenty20 could be the format to crack America, but the side will have to play beyond their means if they are to qualify. Key man: Lennox Cush A return to the West Indies for the World Twenty20 provides a strong incentive for the Guyana-born all-rounder, who was part of the Stanford Superstars squad that beat England CANADA Remain competitive, despite still searching for a major sponsor after Scotiabank ended a three-year deal, with two years - and US$500,000 (Dh1.8million) - to run. The fact John Davison, of 2003 World Cup century fame, is no longer their most explosive batsman is a marker of their strength. Key man: Rizwan Cheema Ranked 56th in the ICC's one-day batting rankings - just four places below Shahid Afridi. The opener might have borrowed his free-hitting method from the celebrated Pakistani. NETHERLANDS Twenty20 cricket's biggest giant-slayers. Their squad, which included advertising managers, students and a Burger King branch manager, caused the most spectacular upset in the game last summer when they beat England under floodlights at Lord's on the opening night of the second World Twenty20. Key man: Ryan ten Doeschate At No 35 in the official player rankings, the Essex all-rounder is the highest rating player from outside of the Test sphere. Has also been prolific in the UAE in the past UAE Were deprived the chance to play the last World Cup qualifier - last year's 50-over version - on home soil as the Dubai Sports City grounds were not ready. Knowledge of the conditions, which will likely assist the host nation's bottomless reservoir of clever spinners, could prove decisive this time around Key man: Fayyaz Ahmed The Abu Dhabi-based telecoms technician, who bowls left-arm spin, debuted for the national team only last year, but is now one of the first names on the teamsheet SCOTLAND Used to be at the top of the tree in associate cricket, but have lost ground and struggled at last year's 50-over World Cup qualifier in South Africa. Gavin Hamilton, their former England Test playing captain, is a demanding leader, which could be what is required to get the best from his players. Key man: Kyle Coetzer Once smashed Shane Warne into the top tier of the grandstand in a Lord's cup final. The 25-year-old opener from Aberdeen, on Scotland's east coast, has four first-class centuries to his name so far. KENYA Have always posed a formidable threat at this level, even though administration of the game there has rarely been without its problems. Despite the coming force of Afghanistan, and the accepted threat posed by the European nations, anything less than qualification for the Kenyans will represent failure. Key man: Steve Tikolo Would probably have been Kenya's first cricket-playing millionaire if the Twenty20 revolution had arrived 15 years earlier than it did. An associate cricket great.