Bermuda and Canada are set to take another step forward in their preparations for next year's ICC Cricket World Cup (CWC) this week in Trinidad when they take part in a one-day international (ODI) tri-series that also involves Zimbabwe.
The matches will be Bermuda's first-ever ODIs while, for Canada, it will be its first outings at this level since 2003. The matches are part of dramatic increase in the program of ODIs for the six Associate Member countries that will participate in the next ICC CWC, in 2007.
Those six sides - with Ireland, Kenya, The Netherlands and Scotland the others - are expected to play at least 64 ODI matches (some of which have already been contested) before next March, including scheduled matches against Full Member countries. And for Bermuda and Canada, that journey starts at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain, a venue that first staged Test cricket in 1930 and ODIs in 1983.
ICC High Performance Manager Richard Done said the tri-series was an important landmark for Bermuda and Canada.
'For the top Associates to become more competitive it is vital they play against better opposition in top-class venues more often. This tri-series involving Bermuda, Canada and Zimbabwe is part of that process and is also part of an ambitious program of competition leading up to next year's ICC Cricket World Cup.'
Done was also full of praise for the tournament's hosts.
'The players on show this week should all benefit from playing at an international-class venue like the Queen's Park Oval and we are extremely grateful to the Trinidad & Tobago Cricket Board for agreeing to host these matches. By doing so they are helping to develop the game, something that everyone hopes will make our already strong sport even stronger in the years to come.'
The increase in competitive action for the leading Associate sides is just one of the ways the ICC has looked to raise standards below Full Member level. The six Associates have also received US$ three million through the ICC's High Performance Program (HPP) as they look to enhance their coaching and development structures and their competitiveness at the highest level.
Bermuda's first match is on Tuesday and the islanders will once again be without their captain Clay Smith as he continues to recover from a long-term knee injury. Smith will be with the squad as team manager with Janeiro Tucker leading the side in his place.
It will also be without off-spinning all-rounder Delyone Borden, absent because of personal and work commitments and replaced by seamer Ryan Steede.
Bermuda's players should be getting used to Trinidad as they were there last month on a short tour ahead of this tri-series. It will also be their base during next year's ICC CWC. They will also have some additional local knowledge as Gus Logie, the former West Indies batsman, is coach of the Bermuda squad.
Canada is captained by John Davison, the off-spinning all-rounder who hammered the fastest ICC CWC hundred of all time, from just 67 balls, against the West Indies at Centurion in 2003. It also includes three players that took part in last year's ICC Winter Training Camp in Pretoria, South Africa - all-rounder Qaiser Ali, left-arm swing bowler Umar Bhatti and fast bowler Henry Osinde.
The tri-series will be Andy Pick's first matches as Canada coach following his arrival from the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB), where he looked after the U/19 squad.
Zimbabwe comes into the series following a ODI series against the West Indies that ended in Trinidad on Sunday.
The officials for the series are Simon Taufel, the ICC umpire of the year and a member of the Emirates Elite Panel, together with Roger Dill, who will become the first umpire from the ICC's Associate & Affiliate Panel to stand in a ODI.
Clive Lloyd, the former West Indies captain and a member of the Emirates Elite Panel of match referees, will oversee the tournament.The schedule for the tri-series is as follows:
All matches will be played at the Queen's Park Oval.
The squads for the matches are as follows:
Bermuda: Janeiro Tucker (captain), Irving Romaine (vice-captain), Lionel Cann, Hasan Durham, Treadwell Gibbons junior, Kevin Hurdle, Dwayne Leverock, Dean Minors (wicketkeeper), Daniel Morgan, Saleem Mukuddem, George O'Brien junior, Azeem Pitcher, Ryan Steede, Kwame Tucker.
Canada: John Davison (captain), George Codrington (vice-captain), Qaiser ali, Ashish Bagai, Geoff Barnett, Umar Bhatti, Desmond Chumney, Sunil Dhaniram, Haninder Dhillon, Stewart Heaney, Don Maxwell, Henry Osinde, Kevin Sandher, Sanjay Thuraisingam.
Zimbabwe: Terry Duffin (captain), Justice Chibhabha, Elton Chigumbura, Charles Coventry, Keith Dabengwa, Ryan Higgins, Anthony Ireland, Blessing Mahwire, Keegan Meth, Tawanda Mupariwa, Piet Rinke, Vusi Sibanda, Gregory Strydom, Brendan Taylor (wicketkeeper), Prosper Utseya.
Umpires: Simon Taufel & Roger Dill; match referee: Clive Lloyd