How Pool B shapes up at the Over-50s World Cup
This is an extremely difficult pool - arguably the ‘Pool of Death’ - primarily because it contains three teams that must be considered co-favourites to win the entire tournament: South Africa, Pakistan and England.
While South Africa have the names on paper, most of them have never played an Over-50s International (O50I), whereas Pakistan and England’s players have plenty of Over-50s form behind them. We must not, of course, discount the other three sides in the pool - India, Wales and Namibia - all of whom have the ability to tip over their more fancied rivals.
Let’s start with the hosts. In 2018, the South African Rhinos faced a number of challenges to even send a side to Sydney for the first World Cup. The side was unprepared for the standard of play and the level of fitness required; they struggled and eventually finished sixth.
Manager Roger Moult vowed that the hosts would field a much better side in 2020, and it appears that they will. No fewer than five ex-internationals are in the Rhinos’ squad, and just about all of the others have played First-Class cricket as well.
The best-known names are the skipper Dave Callaghan and seam bowlers Alan Dawson and Henry Williams (plus a coach named Allan Donald). The big names are complemented by a few good performers from the Sydney World Cup such as Dave Duncan, who is SA’s top run-scorer in O50Is with 223 at 31.86.
Dawson is expected to be a big star in this tournament. He recently bowled to Faf du Plessis at a Proteas training session and Faf was impressed: “He’s still got it, he really has. The pace and swing are still there, aged 50. I couldn’t believe it. It was like I was facing him 15 years ago.”
Dawson’s likely new-ball partner is another ex-international in Henry Williams, who recently said: “I’m still bowling at between 125 and 130 kilometres an hour.”
When asked if he was worried that he might be “a bit much” for some of the other teams, Williams responded: “I have thought about that, to be honest, and nobody wants to see anyone hurt, but I reckon if they have come to a World Cup then they must believe they can handle themselves against other 50+ players.”
Confident words indeed.
However, while some of the players have participated in the new Evergreen Lifestyle Cape Veterans T20 League this season, several others have not played a lot of cricket recently, let alone at Over-50s level. How will they cope with the tough schedule? Will they adapt to the peculiarities of veterans cricket?
One team that knows Over-50s cricket inside-out is England. That country has the world’s most established and comprehensive Over-50s league, with a full county season split into several divisions. England performed well in Sydney, reaching the semifinals, but then ran into a brick wall in the form of Pakistan.
Their main area of concern at that tournament was their top-order batting, which repeatedly fell over and left the middle and lower-order with much to do. They should be much better this year in that area with the addition of some high-performing newcomers.
These include Giles Ecclestone (who scored 213 in an Over-50s game in 2019 and averaged almost 100 for the season), off-spinning all-rounder David Snellgrove, and big-hitting Sultan Mohammed, who peeled off four straight centuries in the space of about 10 days last year: three for Worcestershire O50s, and one for England against Wales. Also in the middle order will be their captain, Mark Alleyne, who played 10 ODIs for England, and who is also in good form.
These guys, combined with the returning Stephen Foster (the world’s top-ranked Over-50s player), Simon Myles and Sean Cooper, will provide the basis of a formidable side. The Round 2 clash between England and South Africa on March 13 will be a mouth-watering encounter.
Pakistan cruised through to the final of the 2018 World Cup and were just one hit away from winning it following a dramatic last-wicket stand. Prior to that game they had swept all before them, with batsmen hitting hundreds and their bowlers (particularly the spinners) squeezing the life out of their opponents.
Most of their stars have returned, although they have a new skipper in Ghaffar Kazmi. Sajid Ali is a real danger at the top of the order - he scored a century and a 50 in Sydney and has 265 runs at 44.17 in O50Is. A new addition is Mahmood Hamid, who played a solitary ODI for Pakistan, but has over a decade of First-Class experience, averaging over 40 with the bat.
Dastagir Butt averaged 38 with the bat and 16 with the ball in 2018 and will again be a key all-rounder for Pakistan. He’ll be backed up by an array of spinners, including Jaffar Qureshi and Zafar Ali (ranked 8th and 25th in the world, respectively).
If Pakistan had a weak link in Sydney it was their fielding, and it will be interesting to see if they have made improvements in that area. There is a lot of Over-50s cricket in Pakistan (there are teams in more than 70 cities!), so they have a great range of players to choose from.
Wales have a history of upsets in O50Is. They defeated Australia in the first ever O50I, back in 2017, and tipped over South Africa at the 2018 World Cup. They bring passion and enthusiasm, and also probably know each other better than any other team, given that Wales competes as its own side in the above-mentioned English Over-50s championship.
Player-wise, they will miss Steve Maddock, who was their best player at the 2018 World Cup. However, they have picked up Iwan Rees, who made his O50I debut in the series against England last year and scored a heroic 114* in the third match. He has leapt into third place in the world rankings and will be the premier batsman in the Wales line-up.
Openers Paul Donovan and Neal Williams are back for another go (and scorers may breathe a sigh of relief that fellow opener Neil (“with an I”) Williams is not there this time).
John Kenchington and Chris Hudson are the bowlers with most World Cup experience. Wales are straight into the thick of things, kicking off their campaign against South Africa on March 11.
Namibia are the dark horses of this group, given that they have never played an O50I, are not traditionally renowned as a global cricketing powerhouse, and very little information has seeped through about the strength of their players. However, what we do know is that two of the side have played ODIs - captain Lennie Louw and ‘keeper Melt Van Schoor were both part of the only Namibian side to have competed in a World Cup, in South Africa in 2003.
Left-arm spinner Louw will be one of the side’s go-to bowlers, having experienced international cricket and played against some excellent batsmen. Just about all members of the side have played at least top-level club cricket in Namibia, and some have played First-Class cricket in South Africa.
Most of the Namibian side continue to play club cricket, mainly in the capital of Windhoek. Sides will do well not to under-estimate Namibia - a country that prides itself on defying the odds and will be quietly looking forward to causing some upsets in this tournament.
Finally, we come to India - the heaviest hitter on the global cricketing stage, but a debutant at Over-50s level, taking its first tentative steps into veterans cricket. They are a little like Namibia in that not much is known about many of the Indian players – but we can expect they will all be passionate and proud.
With there being no organised veterans cricket in India, the squad contains several Indian players based in the UK and North America, as well as back home. Their charismatic captain, Shailendra Singh, is best known as a Bollywood personality, but is also an accomplished cricketer who will be focused on inspiring his troops on and off the field. Singh draws his own inspiration from Kapil Dev, saying: “We as a team would like to replicate what he did back in 1983.”
A couple of players to watch are Iqbal Khan, who played Ranji Trophy for a decade and whose recent outings include a 31-ball 72 in the Indian trials in Mumbai; and Ashwani Arora, whose mystery ‘Chinaman’ spin continues to befuddle batsmen both in Bangalore and in England, where he spends much of his time. Singh said that Arora “has a deadly googly”.
Also keep an eye out for Tushar Zaveri, who smashed 101 from 49 balls in the trials, and the wily left-arm spin of Mayank Khandwala.
One thing the Indians are not lacking is confidence. One player describes himself as “agile and dynamic” in the field, and another as an “exceptionally good fielder for his age”. Another claims to be “a devastating stroke player when the situation demands”, and another is an “extremely accurate” bowler.
With India facing the three big guns in its first three matches - England, followed by arch-rivals Pakistan and then South Africa - these players will need to live up to their own billing.
Overall, one would expect that South Africa, England and Pakistan will be fighting for the two semifinal spots. However, Over-50s cricket is a funny game and upsets are not uncommon, so all six teams in this cut-throat group will be full of confidence when the World Cup begins on March 11.
By Jim Morrison