ACC Trophy Challenge 2010 - ALL TO PLAY FOR

Four years into the division of ACC teams into Elite and Challenge events and it has become clear just what each of the two events mean to the countries that get relegated and promoted. A country that gets relegated from Elite (the top ten ACC ranked teams) has to wait two years before it next plays Challenge (the bottom eight) and then, if it finishes in the top two of the Challenge, another two years before it gets to play in Elite. For the countries in this year's ACC Trophy Challenge, anything less than reaching the Final will mean at least another four years before it gets into the Trophy Elite group, the one where they have a chance to play in the biggest venues against the biggest competition in the biggest matches. The mighty Singapore - ranked top in the last biennial rankings cycle - came bottom of this year's Trophy Elite and because of that not only will be forced to wait at least until 2014 before it plays Elite again, it was denied the chance to play in this year's Guangzhou Asian Games by their National Olympic Committee.

"You cannot believe how important this ACC Trophy Challenge is to us," says Thailand's Ziaul Hoque. "We have played in Challenge for so long and now we are as close as we have ever been to getting to the top. If we do it will mean so much to the cricket program in this country as the government will take notice, sponsors and schools, supporters and all those who want to play," he says with a fervour that reveals the intensity of his country's desire to reach the ACC Elite level for the senior players. Thailand may have home advantage, but if they get past dark horses Iran in their opening match - and they should - they are up against traditional rivals Maldives who have had their own development program at work over the past few years creating a cadre of young and talented all-rounders, and the two Middle East teams Qatar and Saudi Arabia who, stinging from relegation from the 2008 ACC Elite Trophy.

China, battle-hardened and training like demons from a standing start, have an attack which could rip through any side in the competition. And have batsmen who can play at least one stroke an innings - albeit in short innings - that seriously impress. Ask the Pakistani bowlers who bowled to them in Guangzhou during the Asian Games. Myanmar won't win it, they're way short of being match-ready but they bring a joy to playing cricket that is pure and refreshing and serves to remind us all why we love the game.

The finalists will be truly Elite. Getting there will be tough. As it should be. Being Elite in Asia is important, being Elite in the world will be next.

2010 ACC Trophy Challenge

Filed December 3rd, 2010