Captains inspired by Afghanistan's climb to the top

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 January, 2011, 12:00am

They must have got the spelling wrong, for Steve Massiah, captain of the United States at the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division Three tournament, is determined to be the messiah who leads his side to the promised land.

He points to Afghanistan as a glowing example of what a small associate member country can achieve, and says his side will take inspiration from that as they begin their campaign today against hosts Hong Kong at the Kowloon Cricket Club.

'Just look at Afghanistan, They started in Division Five and now they are in the top league. If they can do it, we can do it,' said Massiah fervently.

We couldn't catch what Hong Kong counterpart Najeeb Amar, sitting next to him at yesterday's pre-tournament media briefing, muttered under his breath, but it definitely wouldn't have been 'Amen'.

Afghanistan have had a fairytale run among the associate nations - six of whom have gathered for this tournament - in the last couple of years, culminating in their presence in the Twenty20 World Cup last year.

The US, Denmark, Italy, Oman, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong hope to take a leaf out of that book, with the top two teams at the end of the round-robin competition being promoted to Division Two.

'The benefits will be huge for these two teams as they will be regarded as high-performance countries and will receive extra funding as well as other help like coaching,' said Lucy Benjamin, ICC media manager.

No surprise, then, that all six captains sang from the same hymn book about the importance of this competition, especially Denmark and Oman, the two teams who were relegated last time from Division Two.

'It means a lot for us. Moving up will mean more funds, more help, more cricket,' said Oman's Hemal Mehta. Denmark's Michael Pedersen added: 'The structure is in place back home and there is a lot of talent coming through. But for these guys to be playing at a higher level, we need to do well.'

Najeeb talked about this tournament being a step towards playing in the 2015 World Cup - although the 38-year-old won't be around much longer as Hong Kong cultivate a young team - as did Massiah.

Papua New Guinea's Rarua Dikana said promotion would end a long and frustrating spell in Division Three. 'We have been stuck in this division for a number of years and we are keen to move on,' he said.

For Italian skipper Alessandro Bonora the dream continues. The Italians, along with the US, won promotion from Division Four last year and are keen to keep moving on. 'This is a big tournament for all of us,' Bonora said.