ACC Trophy Elite underway tomorrow
Kuwait is the host for the eighth ACC trophy, which starts tomorrow. Hong Kong will be hoping to defend their title, won in Malaysia in 2008, with the UAE hoping to get their run back on track, having won the four before 2008. Meanwhile Afghanistan will be aiming to pick up their first title.
And it is Afghanistan who will have all eyes on them. Their first major tournament title came in Kuwait, when they shared the 2007 ACC Twenty20 Cup with Oman. There was talk that they would field a weakened team for this tournament, due to their increasing commitments worldwide, but they have fielded a full strength side and will be using this as preparation for the ICC World Twenty20, which starts just three weeks after the final of this event.
One of the teams they beat in the qualifier for the World Twenty20, the UAE, will be their main rivals in Group B. The UAE had gone unbeaten in the ACC Trophy from 2000 to 2006 before losing to Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong in 2008, and they will be hoping to get back on track in Kuwait. There has been some infighting in UAE cricket in recent weeks, with Emirati players being angry at the ECB for their perceived failings in developing cricket amongst the non expatriate community in the UAE, but they will be putting any differences aside for the next couple of weeks.
The other strong team in Group B is Malaysia. They have not made many changes to their squad since the 2009 ACC Twenty20 Cup, but they face a tough challenge if they are to pass the two big guns in Asian cricket and make the semi-finals. Bahrain and Bhutan round off the group.
Defending champions Hong Kong have been placed in Group A, and they have an almost full strength squad, with wicket-keeper batsman Jamie Atkinson missing, no doubt involved in preparations for Durham University's forthcoming first-class matches.
Nepal will hope to carry the confidence gained from their WCL Division Five win by at least reaching the final for the first time since 2002. They have been hit by controversy before the tournament though, as vice-captain Gyanendra Malla has had his visa application rejected by the Kuwaiti authorities. It is hoped that the reapplication will be successful today, otherwise a reserve player will be sent. Nevertheless, Nepal have to be counted amongst the tournament favourites.
The Nepal match many people will be having their eyes on is the game against Singapore. The disgraceful scenes as the Nepal v USA game in WCL5 in Kathmandu denied Singapore promotion to WCL4, so Singapore will no doubt be aiming for a measure of revenge in their match on Saturday.
Group A is definitely the stronger of the two groups. The two teams that round the group out, Kuwait and Oman, are no lightweights, with Oman being in WCL Division Two and both teams having reached the semi-finals of the 2009 ACC Twenty20 Cup. They may cause one or two surprises.
Four grounds, all with natural turf wickets, will be used for the tournament, with the final taking place on 9 April at the Hubara ground. With the ACC having kicked the non Test sides out of the Asia Cup, there is no qualification to worry about, so just regional pride is at stake in the first major regional event of 2010.