The first tournament of the ACC’s expansive new 50-over pathway structure, the ACC Challenger Cup, gets underway at Bangkok on February 24. The lowest rung on the new Asia Cup qualification ladder, the tournament sees hosts Thailand taking on fellow Asian Associates Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, Myanmar, the Maldives and Iran, together with EAP invitees Indonesia, in pursuit of two qualifier berths at the ACC Premier Cup in April.
For most of the teams, the competition constitutes a first return to fifty over international cricket since the 2017 Southeast Asian Games, while others such as Bahrain and Bhutan have had no competitive one day fixtures since the scrapping of the lower divisions of the ICC World Cricket League a decade ago.
What’s at Stake
The Challenger Cup champions and runners up will join eight more established Associates, including ODI nations UAE, Nepal and Oman together with Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Qatar, and Kuwait at the ACC Premier Cup, to be held in Nepal in late April. The champions of the Premier Cup will qualify for the 2023 Asia Cup, while the top three teams from the tournament will also earn a place at the Emerging Teams Asia Cup featuring the Under 23s sides from Asian Full Members.
The eight teams are divided into two groups of four, with each contesting a single round robin. Bahrain, Bhutan, the Maldives and Iran will face off in Group A, while Group B consists of Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Myanmar. The top two teams from each group will then progress to crossover semi-finals, which will thus be the decisive matches when it comes to qualification. The winners of each semi-final will progress to the Premier Cup after contesting the final.
Bahrain and Saudi will start as firm favourites to progress from their respective groups based on T20 rankings, though the change of format and historical scarcity of crossover fixtures between the Gulf and East Asia means such rating are not to always to be relied upon.
Hosts Thailand are expected to present the sternest test for the Saudis, bolstered by veteran South African emigres Jandre Coetzee and Daniel Jacobs as they look to emulate the success of the Thai women’s team.
Myanmar and Indonesia have historically been also-rans in South-East Asian competition, though the latter has attracted increasing interest from both the ACC and ICC as a potential sleeping giant. Bahrain’s chief rival will likely be Bhutan, who looked in good form in their warm-ups against the hosts, though anything but a perfect run through the competition would be a disappointment for the Bahrainis. The Maldives have sprung upsets on the likes of Thailand and Bhutan in the past, though generally struggle against Gulf sides, at least in the shorter format. Iran, whose participation in international events has been rather sporadic, remain something of an unknown quantity.
24th February, 9.30 local – Bahrain vs Bhutan, Terdthai CG, Bangkok
24th February, 9.30 local – Maldives vs Iran, AIT Ground, Bangkok
25th February, 9.30 local – Saudi Arabia vs Indonesia, Terdthai CG, Bangkok
25th February, 9.30 local – Thailand vs Myanmar, AIT Ground, Bangkok
26th February, 9.30 local – Bahrain vs Maldives, Terdthai CG, Bangkok
26th February, 9.30 local – Bhutan vs Iran, AIT Ground, Bangkok
27th February, 9.30 local Saudi Arabia vs Thailand, Terdthai CG, Bangkok
27th February, 9.30 local – Indonesia vs Myanmar, AIT Ground, Bangkok
28th February, 9.30 local Maldives vs Bhutan, Terdthai CG, Bangkok
28th February, 9.30 local – Iran vs Bahrain, AIT Ground, Bangkok
1st March, 9.30 local – Thailand vs Indonesia, Terdthai CG, Bangkok
1st March, 9.30 local -Saudi Arabia vs Myanmar, AIT Ground, Bangkok
3rd March, 9.30 local -Semi Final 1, Terdthai CG; Semifinal 2, AIT Ground
5th March, 9.30 local – Final
Thailand: Akshaykumar Yadav (C), Daniel Jacobs, Chanchai Pengkumta, Jandre Coetzee, Chaloemwong Chatpaisan, Narawit Nuntarach, Phiriyaphong Suanchuai, Robert Raina, Vichanath Singh, Sittipong Hongsi, Nopphon Senamontree, Sorawat Desungnoen, Mahsid Faheem, Naveed Pathan
Bahrain: Haider Ali (C), Prashant Kurup, Sarfraz Ali, Imran Anwar, Sohail Ahmed, Ali Dawood, Ahmer Bin Nisar, Sathaiyah Veerapathiran, Junaid Aziz, Abdul Majid, Shahbaz Badar, Rizwan Butt, Abid Ullah, Zeeshan Abbas, Yasser Nazeer
Bhutan: Jigme Singye (C), Thinley Jamtsho, Manoj Adhikari, Suprit Pradhan, Tenzin Wangchuk, Ranjung Mikyo Dorji, Tenjin Ragbey, Namgay Thinley, Ngawang Thinley, Sonam Yeshey, Tashi Phuntsho, Tshering Penjor, Namgang Chojay and Gakul Kumar Ghalley
Maldives: Adam Nasif (C), Ahmed Ameel, Mohamed Rishwan, Ali Shunan, Mohamed Mahafooz, Ismail Nazwan, Hassan Haziq, Leem Shafeeq, Hassan Ibrahim, Ibrahim Rizan, Ibrahim Nashath, Shius Fareed, Mohamed Azzam, Ismail Ali
Iran, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia: TBA