Challenges for all teams in the 2024 Asia Premier Cup

On April 12, the men’s Asia Premier Cup will open at the Al-Amerat Ovals in Muscat, Oman. It consists of 10 teams. Only the one finishing top will progress to join the five major Asian teams in the 2025 Asia Cup, scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan. The prospect of this prize will make for a highly competitive and pressured competition.

The 10 teams are divided into two groups of five. Group A comprises Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nepal, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, while Group B pitches Bahrain, Cambodia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE against each other. Cambodia and Saudi Arabia qualified for the cup by claiming the top spots in the Asia Cricket Council Challenger Cup in February this year in Thailand. The other eight teams are the highest ranked ACC associate members.

As of March 23, the International Cricket Council’s T20I rankings showed a 26-place range between the 10 teams. Leading the way is the UAE in 16th place, immediately followed by Nepal, only one ranking point separating them. Oman is in 18th place, needing to take any glimmer of home advantage to challenge the UAE and Nepal. It is probable that the team which progresses to the Asia Cup will be one of these three.

Oman recently concluded a five-match T20I series vs. Namibia, against whom they will compete in the group stages of the ICC T20I World Cup in June. Namibia won the series 3-2. The last decade has been a successful one for Oman, with peaks in 2016, 2021 and 2024 through T20I World Cup qualification. In the latter case, Oman beat Bahrain in the semifinals of the Asia Qualifier, while Nepal defeated the UAE. Oman’s squad for the Asia Premier Cup is very similar to that for the 2021 World Cup when it was already considered to be aging. This may prove to be critical in the field, but the team has defied being written off before.

Nepal, winners of the 2023 Asia Premier Cup in ODI format, has had an intensive preparation for the 2024 T20 edition. Most recently it has played two matches in a Friendship Cup in India against the state teams of Gujarat and Baroda, winning both matches. Before that, it played two matches against Ireland A, winning both. This followed on from a tri-series against Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea, Nepal winning two out of three completed matches. In a preceding tri-series against Namibia and the Netherlands, two of the five matches were won by Nepal. It is a patchy recent record that the squad, under regular captain Rohit Patel, brings to the Premier Cup.

Outside of these three teams, Hong Kong is the next highest ranked in 21st position. Hong Kong qualified for the 2022 Asia Cup by virtue of beating the UAE in the final qualifying match, so its pedigree may suggest that it is well placed to reach the Premier Cup semifinals. Victory in the East Asia Men’s Cup in February kick-started its preparations, followed by three close matches against Qatar, a heavy defeat by PNG and a convincing win over Nepal. The team is led by Nizakat Khan and has a balance between experience and younger players. However, other teams in the group are lined up to provide a strong challenge.

Qatar, ranked 28th, has shown its capability to challenge, whilst Malaysia, 25th, and Saudi Arabia, 31st, are keen to show that they belong at this level. The latter has been working on fitness levels at a training camp, enjoying the opportunity, as part-timers, to train together. Confidence is high after the Challenger Cup successes in 2023 and 2024. The approach will be to play with a positive mindset, aiming to create at least one upset.

In Group B, Kuwait is ranked 26th, Bahrain is 27th, while Cambodia is 42nd. Cricket Kuwait has been an ICC associate member since 2005, having been an affiliate member since 1988. The team has produced upsets in the past, notably in 2004. Since 2019, it has won just over half of its T20Is. Bahrain became an ICC affiliate member in 2001 and an associate in 2017. Its first ever T20I was in 2019 when Saudi Arabia was defeated. In its most recent T20I matches in early March, Bahrain beat Kuwait, Malaysia, Tanzania and Vanuatu. The team has shown in the last year that it is capable of beating the UAE, emphasizing that the highest ranked teams will have to be performing at their peak.

Cambodia appears to be something of a special case, compared with the other teams, especially in terms of longevity. The Cricket Association of Cambodia was established in 2021, with ICC associate membership awarded in 2022. Then, in May 2023, Cambodia hosted the Southeast Asian Games, which included cricket across four different formats involving seven countries. The Cambodian squad received an influx of players of varying pedigree and experience from the Indian subcontinent.

This caused some disquiet, especially from Malaysia, relating to a failure to take account of ICC rankings in group selection and the eligibility of players. Cambodia claimed that they were naturalized citizens. Allegedly, passports were issued on April 23, six days before the first match and past the deadline for shortlisting players. It is noticeable that various cricket websites do not display place of birth for most of the players. Cambodia won gold in the men’s T10, T20 and ODI events, while Malaysia were runners-up in all three.

Cambodia’s rise has continued via qualification in the Asia Challenger Cup to secure a place in the Asia Premier Cup. Their leading light and captain is Luqman Butt, born in Gujranwala, Punjab. It seems clear that the sudden emergence of Cambodia is ruffling a few feathers. This tournament will test how far the team can rise in its current guise and how acceptable its strategy will be to more established teams. Most of them, of course, are also comprised of a significant proportion of players originating from the Indian subcontinent.

Leave a Comment