ECC Media Release
2007 will certainly be the most significant year so far in the history of European cricket.
Not only will there be, for the first time, three European Associates participating in the ICC Cricket World Cup, but five countries will take part in various tournaments in the new ICC World Cricket League, while there will be places at stake for three (or arguably, four) further World Cups.
For Cricket World Cup 2007 qualifiers Ireland, The Netherlands and Scotland, the First Division of the WCL in Nairobi in February will be part of their preparations for the Caribbean, but with two places in the first-ever Twenty20 World Cup for the top two teams in that tournament, these matches will be even more important.
Later in the year Denmark and Italy will play in the Second and Third Divisions of the WCL, to be held in Windhoek and Darwin respectively, and success there could be the first step towards participation in the qualifying tournament for the 2011 World Cup.
In the women's game, Ireland, The Netherlands and Scotland are already guaranteed a place in the qualifying tournament, to be held in Lahore in November, for the 2009 Women's World Cup, with Ireland seeded first in one of the two groups. For the other two, rankings in this year's European Championship, taking place in The Netherlands in August, will determine their programme for the Lahore tournament, the top two from which will make it to the World Cup.
The leading European Associates face an equally tough task at under-19 level, where the ICC's recent decision to allocate a place in the 2008 Under 19 World Cup to hosts Malaysia means that there will be just one definite qualification slot up for grabs at the European Division 1 Championship in Belfast in July. A second place could be gained if Europe's second ranked plays and wins a play-off with Asia's top seed behind host Malaysia. Ireland will start as favourites after their clean sweep of the under-age tournaments in 2006, but The Netherlands and Scotland will be looking to raise their game and book their tickets to Malaysia.
In the Intercontinental Cup, meanwhile, Scotland and Ireland will travel to the Gulf to take on the UAE before the World Cup, looking to secure a spot in the final for the second time. Scotland currently lead the group, and a win for them in January would take them to a final clash with Canada, while Ireland will be hoping that the Scots leave them an opening for their visit the following month.
2007 will see a further stage in the development of this competition, with a two-year, global round-robin format replacing the pool system. This summer's schedule will include six matches for the Europeans, Scotland visiting Ireland and then hosting the Dutch, while Bermuda will visit both Ireland and The Netherlands, the Dutch will play in Canada, and Scotland will open the competition, at home to the UAE.
The European season will also feature another full programme of under-age tournaments, from under-23 to under-13. There will be Second Division tournaments at under-23, under-19 and under-15 levels, with Guernsey, Jersey and La Manga, Spain making their debut as ECC tournament venues. In the wake of the successful experiment with two-day cricket in the 2006 under-19 competition, this year's under-17 First Division tournament, in Dundee in August, will also involve this form of the game.
Another of last year's innovations, the European XI-MCC match, will also be taken a stage further, with the return fixture scheduled for Lord's on 7 June. This game shows every sign of becoming a showpiece for European cricket, and its arrival at the sport's most historic venue is another important landmark.
With the European Third Division tournament set for Antwerp in August, no fewer than nineteen countries, from Finland to Spain, from Ireland and the Isle of Man to Cyprus and Israel, will be taking part in European competition in the course of the year. And with a programme extending from mid-January to the end of November, followers of European cricket will certainly not be starved of games to follow!