NED vs NAM - ICC Intercontinental Cup - Image courtesy ICC Academy @ICCAcademy

The format, number of teams, schedules, are just some of the major points that will be discussed in the upcoming ICC meetings for sure as the new cycle resumption for ICC Intercontinental Cup cones up shortly.

The I-Cup, the game’s red-ball format for Associate members, has played a huge influence in shaping up the future for countries like Ireland and Afghanistan, who are now Cricket’s latest Test playing nations.

However, with the exit of both Ireland and Afghanistan from the Intercontinental Cup will leave a big void and the question that comes straight up is this “Is the competitiveness going to remain the same in the next cycle and with how many teams”??

Netherlands and Hong Kong, who finished 3rd and 4th in the 2015-2017 Intercontinental Cup, would love to start as favourites when the next cycle starts. As it is the case for the all the teams involved, it provides the players much required exposure to play multi-day format of the game.

By virtue of having ODI status, Netherlands, Scotland, UAE and Nepal should get entries in the next I-Cup cycle. Whether ICC decides to keep the tournament to a 6-team or a 8-team format, needs to be seen.

We analyze some of the team’s we think will be part of the I-Cup:

1) Netherlands – 3 wins, 2 losses and 2 drawn games constituted the Dutch campaign in the 2015-2017 cycle with a total tally of 72 points from 7 matches. Roelof van der Merwe (490 runs from 5 matches) was the leading run-scorer for Netherlands followed by Ben Cooper (451 runs from 4 matches), Stephen Myburgh (335 runs from 7 matches) & Maxwell O’Dowd (326 runs from 5 matches).

Roelof was also the 2nd highest wicket-taker for Netherlands with 18 wickets, the tally being led by Vivian Kingma (20 wickets from 5 matches). Most of the existing line-up will be expected to feature again but without Peter Borren, who has now retired from International Cricket.

Head Coach Ryan Campbell will know that having ODI status already, consistent performances in the Intercontinental Cup will go a long way in helping Netherlands bid to become a full member in the near future.

2) Scotland – Scots endured a disappointing campaign in the 2015-2017 cycle without registering a single win in their 7 matches but managed to finish 6th overall with 4 drawn games, collecting 46 points. With Cricket Scotland CEO having given well documented interview speaking about Scotland’s bid to become a full member, the results in Intercontinental Cup will matter in a big way.

Calum McLeod was the highest run-scorer for Scotland with 207 runs from 5 matches, followed by Richie Berrington (198 runs in 5 matches) and George Munsey (197 runs in 3 matches). Among the bowlers, Safyaan Sharif led the charts with 13 wickets from 5 matches, followed by Alasdair Evans (11 wickets in 5 matches). In Stuart Whittingham, Scotland has a bright prospect on their hands in the pace bowling department.

With constant changes to the side for red-ball cricket, Scotland Head Coach will be hoping that most of the core squad members are available for all the games if they have to pose a challenge for the Title.

3) United Arab Emirates – 2 wins and a one drawn game got then enough points to edge out Scotland for the 5th spot by just a points margin, finishing on 47 points from 7 matches. But what will hurt them is the fact that they suffered 4 losses as well during the season.

Like Scotland, even UAE went through the same troubles of not being able to field a set playing XI throughout the season and with players from other countries qualifying to play for UAE, it created more attrition levels in the squad as new players were tried out once their eligibility got confirmed.

The charismatic Shaiman Anwar was UAE’s highest run-scorer with 475 runs from 7 matches, followed by Rameez Shahzad (226 in 4 matches), Swapnil Patil (226 runs in 3 matches) and Muhammad Usman (217 runs in 5 matches). Amongst the bowlers, veteran Ahmed Raha was leaps and bounds ahead of his team-mates, picking up 32 wickets in 6 matches. Mohammad Naveed trailed behind with 14 wickets from 5 matches. Imran Haider will be the one to watch in the next cycle after two impressive games in the previous cycle, picking up 10 wickets in 2 matches.

UAE team has been able to field a consistent XI in white-ball cricket and Head Coach Dougie Brown would hope for the same to happen in red-ball format as well and improve on their performances, if they have to mount any kind of challenge for the Title.

4) Hong Kong – Based on their performance in the previous edition and being part of ICC World Cup Qualifiers, they along with Papua New Guinea might be featuring in the next cycle as well. It would do a huge amount of good for Hong Kong players, who now do not have the cushion of ODI status to get more regular fixtures as well.

A 4th place finish in the points table with 2 wins, 3 losses and a draw/abandoned game each, did not speak much for the team but their improvements in red-ball cricket was there to see for everyone.

Captain Babar Hayat led from the front after scoring a double-ton in the final group match, thus ending with a whopping 712 runs tally from 6 matches. He was followed by Nizakat Khan (435 runs in 6 matches) and Anshuman Rath (391 runs in 5 matches). Among the bowlers, Nadeem Ahmed was the top wicket-taker for the team with 28 wickets from 5 matches. Tanwir Afzal (16 wickets in 4 matches) and Ehsan Khan (11 wickets in 4 matches) will look to play the full campaign next time to have much more impact for the team in the bowling department.

It’s not an easy task by any means for Head Coach, Simon Cook, but if anyone can get Hong Kong match-ready with so much less cricket fixtures available for them and competitive on the field, it will be credit to all the hard work done by Cook.

5) Papua New Guinea – having managed 2 wins in the cycle, 4 losses and a drawn game saw them finish with 43 points from 7 matches to finish 2nd from the bottom in the points table. Head Coach Joe Dawes will know that continuation in the tournament for PNG will provide him ample preparatory time to make them go hard at the other team’s when the cycle starts.

There were strong performances with the bat from Assad Vala (700 runs in 7 matches), Lega Siaka (425 runs in 7 matches) and Mahuru Dai (374 runs in 7 matches). With the ball, Norman Vanua (20 wickets in 7 matches) and Mahuru Dai (17 wickets in 7 matches) were the top wicket-takers for PNG in the tournament.

PNG have also lost their ODI status after the World Cup Qualifiers and their participation in the I-Cup will ensure the growth of the players through the system on a continued manner without any abrupt stoppage.

6) Nepal – The new boys in the town will quickly need to rebound from their T20/ODI mentality to get ready to grind it out in the 4-day format, something the players have never experienced. With much of the squad made up of seasoned players and few upcoming youngsters, it would be interesting to see how they tackle the red-ball challenge.

Rest on Nepal’s tryst with Intercontinental Cup, continue reading here

In all likelihood, to ensure competitiveness of the I-Cup, ICC could very well keep the format based on the above mentioned countries only but only if they can think of making I-Cup format a double-round league, it would ensure better exposure for the Associate members in red-ball cricket.

With T20I status being provided to all Associate Men’s games from 01st Jan 2018, ICC and Cricket Boards could package the tours with 2 ODI/List-A for World Cricket League Championship, 2 T20I’s and I-Cup match to become a full tour of 5 matches across all the three formats, which also will provide the countries to try different players in different formats during the tour duration.

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