Four countries will be competing at the La Manga Club in Spain this week for the right to enter the next Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 8 tournament as the European regional qualifier.
The four – Austria, Belgium, France and Gibraltar – are the highest-ranked European countries outside the existing WCL structure, but their routes to this event are somewhat different. France and Gibraltar played in the European Division 2 50-over competition when it was last held in 2010, but Belgium were in the 2009 Division 3 tournament and Austria were in Division 4. Both owe their rise in the rankings to their recent successes in the Twenty20 format.
While predictions therefore are tricky, France may start as marginal favourites this time. They have ten of the squad which played in that 2010 tournament, and the newcomers include Zika Ali, who was one of the leading wicket-takers in last year’s ICC European Division 1 Championship (T20) and 19-year-old seamer Tom Liddiard, who has had a good deal of success for France at youth level.
They will also welcome back Shahid Malik and Usman Shahid, who missed last season’s tournament, and skipper Arun Ayyavooraju, who takes over the captaincy from keeper Waseem Bhatti, will have plenty of experience and a varied attack in his side.
Belgium beat Austria for seventh place in the ICC European Division 1 Championship (T20), in a battle between the two sides promoted from Division 2, and will be hoping to go one better this time and top the round-robin table.
They have a lively opening attack in Shahid Muhammad and Waqas Shafiq, a strong batting line-up led by Nirvam Shah and Jamie Farmiloe, and the hitting power of Simon Newport and Shaheryar Butt, and they seem likely to do well in this longer form of the game.
The Austrians, on the other hand, are rather more of an unknown quantity. They include three newcomers – Gunamuni De Silva, Daniel Stevenson and 17-year-old Armaan Randhawa – and recall the experienced Babar Nadeem, and they have included six of the side which played in the Division 4 50-over championship in 2009.
These include the captain and wicketkeeper Amar Naeem , who had the distinction of hitting the only century of last year’s Division 1 T20 tournament, and another of the leading run-scorers in that competition, Imran Asif.
For Gibraltar, the priority will be to reverse a decline which saw them finish ninth in that event and, more disturbingly, bottom of the 50-over Division 2 in 2010. Skipper Iain Latin has an experienced squad, but they will need to show a marked improvement if they are to challenge for that World Cricket League spot.
They are the only one of the four to have previous experience of the WCL, having played in the inaugural Division 7 tournament in Guernsey in 2009. Six of that side – Latin himself, Mark Bacarese, Ian Farrell, Charles Harrison, Kabir Mirpuri and Chris Phillips – will be in La Manga, but so will two 18-year-olds, Matthew Hunter and Kayron Stagno, and it is with players like these that suggest that Gibraltar are looking to the future.
The squads are as follows:
Austria: Amar Naeem (Captain); Amandeep Amandeep; Imran Asif; Gunamuni Nishantha De Silva; Erwin Grasinger; Lakmal Kasthuriarachchige; Satish Kaul; Benjamin Loader; Babar Nadeem; Tiran Indika Perera; Armaan Randhawa; Nandeep Soggi; Daniel Stevenson; Satyam Subhash
Belgium: Shaheryar Butt; Jamie Farmiloe; Amir Iqbal; Shaival Mehta; Sheraz Heikh Muhammad; Shahid Muhammad; Simon Newport; Ali Raza; Abdul Rehman; Nirvam Shah; Robert Sehmi; Waqas Shafiq; Charles Wright
France: Arunkamar Ayyavooraju (Captain); Zika Ali; Waseem Bhatti; Rameez Ehsan; Usman Khan; Thomas Liddiard; Shahid Malik; Robin Murphy; Hugo Pinsent; Abdul Rehman Qureshi; Usman Shahid; Williamdeep Singh; Ramesh Sithambaranathan
Gibraltar; Iain Latin (Captain) Karan Aswani; Charles Avellano; Mark Bacarese; David Coram; Ian Farrell; Kieron Ferrary; Ross Harkins; Charles Harrison; Matthew Hunter; Kabir Mirpuri; Chris Phillips; Andrew Reyes; Kayron Stagno