"There's a lot at stake in this tournament," says Bhutan's coach Damber Singh Gurung, "if Bhutan finish in the top two they will go up to the ACC Trophy Elite and have a better chance to qualify for future Asian Games, the rankings points will keep us in good shape for ACC Twenty20 Cup also."

Bhutan, with their young, fit and well-drilled squad have a good chance in the eight-nation ACC Trophy Challenge but so do Maldives, Oman and hosts Thailand. Maldives have a seasoned team, who have been steadily improving with each outing and are far more than the one-man (Moosa Kaleem) team of the past.

Oman, 2007 ACC Twenty20 Cup co-champions, are already in ICC World Cricket League Division 1 vying for a place in the 2011 World Cup. Their presence here, outside the Elite, is the result of a disastrous 2006 ACC Trophy campaign just two years after they were finalists in a 16-nation ACC Trophy. Winning this Challenge tournament will be a confirmation of all their undoubted potential.

Thailand come into this tournament with a lot to prove and as an emerging home-grown cricketing nation, "success here will be a big boost to our local cricket," says national player (half-Thai) John Hottinger.  "It's about credibility and the justification of Associate status," says Cricket Association of Thailand Chief Executive Mohideen Kader, "we have been good hosts for a long time, now is the time to show what we can do on our own turf."

On their days, China, Iran and Myanmar could upset any one of the more fancied teams. The challenge is on.

Filed January 06, 2009