Thursday, October 15, 2009

Associating with the Best

It is a tough life being an Associate cricketer. Twenty-five representative teams have played official One Day Internationals, and it is often in just the major tournaments that the smaller nations have the opportunity to pitch themselves against the big boys. In that respect, it is especially hard for those players to make an impact on the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings as the matches they play are so few and far between. However, by virtue of their performances on the highest stage of all, some have managed to make their presence felt in the higher reaches of the tables.

Perhaps the greatest sustained performance by any Associate Member was Kenya’s staggering effort in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003. Buoyed by victories over Canada, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, it reached the semi-finals before it was out-gunned by a Sourav Ganguly-inspired India at Durban. It was in that tournament that opening bowler Martin Suji achieved the highest-ever Rating by an Associate Member player. He ripped out the Zimbabwean top order at Bloemfontein on his way to figures of 3-19 in eight overs to set up a convincing seven-wicket triumph. By doing so, he lifted his bowling rating to 646 – good enough for twelfth place overall in a list headed by Shaun Pollock.

Suji’s team-mate Peter Ongondo is the only other Associate player to have reached the lofty heights of 600 points with either bat or ball. In October 2007, he sneaked up to 610 after taking 3-16 and 1-10 in consecutive victories against Bermuda in Nairobi. He is still hovering around the 500-point mark with young left-arm spinner Hiren Varaiya close behind him who could possibly be the man to challenge Suji’s long-standing record. Another one to watch is Kyle McCallan of Ireland who is also currently in the top fifty with the ball.

Moving to the batsmen, one player currently stands head and shoulders above the rest and that is the Netherland’s Ryan ten Doeschate. He reached 1,000 runs in One Day International cricket in just 23 innings – a feat only surpassed by Viv Richards and Kevin Pietersen – both of whom took twenty-one. He currently stands 32nd with the bat with 593 points – the second-highest by an Associate player in the history of the game only behind Zimbabwean David Houghton.

Long before Zimbabwe were elevated to Full Member status, its batsman/wicket-keeper achieved the giddy heights of 597 points and 29th position overall after making a half-century against New Zealand at Kolkata in the Cricket World Cup 1987. Third on that particular list comes Canadian tyro Rizwan Cheema, whose big-hitting to the tune of twenty-one sixes in just eleven ODIs saw him rise to 551 points and 39th overall in August this year. In fourth is Steve Tikolo – long regarded as possibly the finest batsman outside the Test arena. The mainstay of the Kenyan batting for more than a decade, he has been incredibly consistent over that period, peaking back in 1999 at 535 after an innings of 67 against South Africa at Nairobi.

One final word on ten Doeschate. Not content with achieving the highest-ever batting Rating by a Dutch player, his bowling Rating of 473 after he bowled his side to a narrow eight-run victory over Afghanistan at Amsterdam this August is also the current national record. This unique double is without parallel for any of the other countries to play ODI cricket.

So we should celebrate these fine cricketers who – despite limited exposure to big-time cricket – have put together some great performances and thrilled crowds around the world.