Group B of next week’s European Division 2 Twenty20 championship in Corfu promises to be a hard-fought competition.
Heading the list of six teams is Croatia, relegated from Division 1 last year and certain to mount a strong challenge to regain their place. With John Vujnovich again leading the side there is plenty of experience in the squad, but an encouraging sign is the presence of a quartet of Croatian-born youngsters.
They are 20-year-old Ivan Pa˛anin, 19-year-old Istok Dordević, and two 17-year-olds, Josip Jukić and Damir Sviličić. Another newcomer is Peter Mackelworth, while the more familiar faces include Craig Sinovich and Jasen Butković.
Third in Belgium a year ago, the Isle of Man will be keen to go one better this time and gain promotion to next season’s Division 1 tournament. Their squad includes several new names, including Philip Littlejohns, Russell Miller and Mark Williams, while Alex Stokoe also joins elder brother Max in the full side.
One of their key players will no doubt again be batsman Gareth Morris, whose 289 runs in Belgium, at an average of 57.80, including a punishing unbeaten 141 against Cyprus. That was the only century of the tournament, although Morris narrowly missed another with 95 against Luxembourg.
Contending with Croatia and the Isle of Man for a semi-final place are likely to be hosts Hellas, who finished sixth last year but will be determined to make the most of their home advantage. A good deal of attention will inevitably centre on their new captain, former Hampshire batsman Nic Pothas, who also played three ODIs for his native South Africa.
He will lead a side which includes such seasoned campaigners as Mehmood Ahmed, Spyridon Goustis and Dimitrios Triantafillidis, while the new faces include 16-year-old Ioannis Vasilas.
Finland finished one place behind Hellas last season and they, too, bring a squad which retains many of their established players, with Amrik Bhatia taking over the captaincy from Jonathan Scamans.
No fewer than five members of the side are drawn from Finland’s Afghan community, with Karimullah Malekzaei joining Zahidullah Kamal, Ehhpelwak Kuchey, Obaidullah Sadiqui and Roholah Sadiqui in the squad. Another newcomer, on the other hand, is Finnish-born Tatu Vehvilainen, who makes his first appearance in the full side.
The remaining Group B sides are Cyprus and Sweden, who finished tenth and eleventh last season and may find it tough to do significantly better this time.
Cyprus retain ten of their 2011 squad, with the side again led by Michalis Kyriacou. Kyricacou and Nimal Durayalage were their most successful batsmen in Belgium, but Yasir Nazir, the Cypriots’ most economical bowler in that tournament, is among the reserves for the Corfu event.
Sweden, by contrast, are ringing the changes, with only four of the squad from Belgium included this season. Serge Conein, who helped them win promotion from Division 3 but then missed the Division 2 tournament, returns to the side, and the other survivors are Azam Khalil, Sunny Sharma, Sadat Sidiqi and Chris Tebbutt. They, too, will have a strong Afghan-born presence, with Aman Momand, Abdul Jalali Wakil and Khalid Ahmad Zahid joining Khalil and Sidiqi in the squad.
All in all, the tournament promises plenty of action, and one can be confident that whoever gains promotion to Division 1 will have thoroughly earned it.