For obvious reasons the last 18 months have been quite sparse of international cricket for the ICC's associate members. As previously covered in this column, several pathway events have been postponed or cancelled and whilst some associates have been able to organise some bilateral internationals, many have been without any international cricket for some time.
So it is with some satisfaction that we're now at the start of a very busy period of international action in associate cricket. Five associates are of course involved in the men's T20 World Cup which has just begun (sort of) as I write this column, the European qualifier for the next tournament began on Friday, the African qualifier began yesterday, the Asian qualifier that hasn't been cancelled starts in a week and the Americas qualifier for the next women's T20 World Cup starts tomorrow in Mexico.
It's very much a feast after a famine and I'm looking forward to trying to watch most of it!
Men's T20 World Cup
Of course the men's T20 World Cup isn't really underway today. The so-called "first-round" is a qualifier and everybody knows it, no matter how many times the ICC refer to it as being part of the "big dance" or whatever their marketing department is calling it these days. The tournament's broadcaster in the UK & Ireland certainly knows what is really important - England warm-up games - as that is what they'll be showing on the Sky Sports Cricket channel tomorrow and on Wednesday whilst the Sri Lanka v Namibia and Netherlands v Namibia matches are relegated to Sky Sports Mix.
Those three teams are in Group A with Ireland and it's very much a "group of death" type situation with all four teams capable of going through to the tournament proper. Sri Lanka have given the Netherlands and Namibia a team-talk with a rather ill-advised and disrespectful article - now deleted - on their website that described their matches against them as a "formality" and a "cake-walk" respectively.
Ireland weren't looking too good in their recent series against the UAE, losing 2-1, but seem to be turning a corner with convincing wins over Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh in the official warm-up games. The Netherlands have a strong side on paper with plenty of county cricket players but were easily beat by Scotland in their first warm-up and only narrowly beat Oman in their second. Their pace attack is up there with the best in the tournament.
Namibia are playing their first global tournament since the 2003 World Cup - an event many of the current squad were inspired by - and their team will be hoping to do much the same for the next generation back home. In JJ Smit they have one of the most destructive batters in the associate world and with the team being joined by former South African international David Weise they have someone with plenty of experience in high level T20 franchise tournaments.
In Group B, Bangladesh are the obvious front-runners, and they will come up against Scotland, Papua New Guinea and Oman. The Scots have a 100% record in T20Is against all their opponents in the group though and they are probably best placed to join Bangladesh in the Super 12 stage.
Oman do have the benefit of playing at home - and not having to have undergone any quarantine procedures - and they've been impressive in their warm-up matches. Papua New Guinea are in the midst of a wretched run of form but they do have a West Indies style habit of turning it on for tournaments.
Before the warm-up matches began I picked Netherlands and Namibia to progress from Group A with Bangladesh and Scotland to progress from Group B. I still stand by that Group B prediction but based on the warm-ups I'm now picking Ireland to pip Namibia to Super 12 qualification.
European men's qualifier
The initial headlines at the European qualifier were taken by Italy and their selection of former England international Jade Dernbach. The pace bowler looked impressive in Italy's opening match against Denmark but was taken apart by Ben Ward of Jersey in their second match.
Jersey were unbeaten heading in to today's third round of matches and have just won their third game as I write this column, beating Denmark in a low scoring contest. They are well place to take one of the two qualifying spots on offer. Denmark, who have had some sort of selection controversy ahead of the tournament, are looking well out of it at this stage and the second spot looks likely to be a dogfight between Italy and Germany.
African men's qualifier
After a succession of postponements the African qualifier will see the two sub-regional qualifiers and final played almost back to back in Rwanda with just a week between each tournament. At this point I could go on about how something similar could have been done in Europe and how this is indicative of a lack of consistency in ICC decision making but that dead horse has been well and truly flogged by now.
The 7 team Group A features Eswatini, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Seychelles and Uganda in addition to the hosts. Two will progress to the final qualifying group with Uganda and Ghana the likely favourites. Five teams will be in Group B (quite why there isn't two groups of six is anyone's guess) with Botswana, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Tanzania taking part. The first and last of that list of teams are the most likely to progress.
The four progressing teams will join Kenya and Nigeria in the final in four week's time. Nigeria were the surprise package last time, gaining a spot in the global qualifier when Zimbabwe had to pull out due to an ICC suspension. There's only one team set to progress from that final though, so it will be a tough ask for them to qualify again.
Asian men's qualifier
The Eastern sub-regional event may have been cancelled with Hong Kong progressing based on their ranking, but the Western sub-regional is still set to go ahead from 23rd October in Qatar with the hosts being joined by Bahrain, Kuwait, Maldives and Saudi Arabia.
One team will progress with that likely to be a shoot-out between the hosts and Saudi Arabia. Those two teams are well ahead of the other three in the ICC rankings and whilst I would normally suggest taking them with a pinch of salt, they are accurate in this case.
Americas women's qualifier
After being moved from Canada, this four team event featuring USA, Canada, Argentina and Brazil will be played at the Reforma Athletic Club just outside Mexico City. The unique triangular shaped pavilion will make for an interesting looking backdrop to the action.
The USA qualified last time, but the event then was just a three match series between them and Canada. They'll fancy themselves favourites again this time, but look out for Brazil. This will be their first tournament since they issued central contracts to their women's team - the first nation to do so before their men's team - and they are on a ten match unbeaten run in T20I cricket.
And that's not all
Not a pathway event but also taking place this coming week is the Valetta Cup in Malta where the hosts will be joined by Bulgaria, Gibraltar and Switzerland with the latter making their T20I debut after being readmitted to the ICC earlier this year. Following the tournament, Gibraltar will stay on for two further T20Is against the hosts.
The European T10 Championship
Looking back now, the big event over the last month was the European Championship T10 tournament, the first international event in that format. The National Counties team playing as an England XI won the tournament, though Belgium were the surprise package making it to the final.
It would have been interesting to see how the tournament would have gone had the Netherlands played a full-strength side or had any of the missing top-ranked nations, notably Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and Jersey, sent representatives, but it was an enjoyable tournament nonetheless and far more watchable than the European Cricket Network's other offering this year the European Cricket Series. More than anything, it was actually fun, something in short supply in international sport these days.
I remain unsure of what role - if any - T10 plays in the wider cricketing landscape but the tournament achieved something I would have never thought possible when I first started writing for CricketEurope over 15 years ago - got a match like Hungary v Romania on a major UK TV sports channel. It suggests that if the content is there, broadcasters will show associate cricket.
BT Sport were the broadcasters here in the UK and the whole production was very well put together. It was a much higher production quality than the recent ICC streams for their pathway events and the company producing these streams would do well to learn some lessons from Daniel Weston's crew.