James Fitzgerald, ICC
The final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup between Canada and Ireland will take place at Grace Road, the home of Leicestershire County Cricket Club, from Tuesday 22 May until Friday 25 May.
Following its high-profile successes in the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup in the West Indies, defending champions Ireland will go into the final as favorites to retain the title it won in Namibia at the end of 2005. But the Canadian outfit has shown good form in this tournament and will not be short on confidence either.
Chief Executive of Leicestershire CCC Paul Maylard-Mason said the club was delighted to host such a prestigious event and was looking forward to welcoming the teams and their supporters.
'We are thrilled to be asked to host the final of the ICC Intercontinental Cup at Grace Road,' said Mr Maylard-Mason. 'We are no strangers to international cricket here, having hosted matches during the Cricket World Cup in 1999, and I think it's going to be a great setting for this event as well.
'I think this is an excellent tournament and Leicestershire is proud to be a part of it. Like the rest of the world we have been watching the great strides made by the top Associate teams lately, especially at the recent World Cup, and so I am sure this is going to be a hard-fought cup final of a high cricketing standard.'
The new format in the ICC Intercontinental Cup means sides play a minimum of three four-day matches in this tournament. This increases to seven four-day matches in 2007 and 2008 when it is hoped the event will be a full round-robin format.
That compares to a minimum of just two three-day matches per year under the previous structure which, until the semi-finals, was regionally-based rather than global.
The ICC Intercontinental Cup began in 2004 to give the leading players from Associate sides the chance to improve by exposing them to a longer form of the game.
In the 2006 event Canada finished on top of Group B having got off to a flying start. Outright victories over Kenya and Bermuda at the Maple Leaf ground near Toronto in late July and early August was enough to ensure top spot.
Centuries for Davison (165), Ian Billcliff (126) and Abdool Samad (119), all in the first innings, set up a stylish nine-wicket win over Bermuda while the Kenyans were defeated by just 25 runs thanks in no small way to an undefeated 91 by Qaiser Ali in the first innings and a classy 136 by Geoff Barnett in the second. Canada's opening bowling partnership of Umar Bhatti and Henry Osinde were also instrumental in their success.
Canada stumbled in its final game of the group stage when it lost by seven wickets to the Netherlands in a game played in Pretoria, thanks mostly to the influence of Ryan ten Doeschate who took match figures of 9-112, including 6-20 in the first innings, and also scored 259 in the first innings and 31 not out in the second.
On the other side of the draw, it always looked like it would be between 2005 winners Ireland and the 2004 champions Scotland. Their match in Aberdeen was a rain-affected draw but with Scotland taking more out of it in terms of points, it was always going to be difficult for Ireland to get ahead.
Both sides beat Namibia but then Scotland left the door open for Ireland when it was unable to overcome the United Arab Emirates at Sharjah Stadium in January. Outright victory over the UAE in Abu Dhabi the following month was enough for Trent Johnston's team to progress to the final.
In that game, Eoin Morgan became the first Ireland batsman to make a double century and Ireland's bowlers did superbly well in getting the 20 UAE wickets needed for victory.
'The ICC Intercontinental Cup is an excellent opportunity for the Associate players to improve as all-round cricketers,' says ICC President Percy Sonn. 'They tend to play a lot of one-day cricket so I think it is important that they be given the chance to learn the skills needed for the longer form of the game as well.
'It is encouraging for us at ICC to see the top Associates improving and this competition is another way to continue that process. Canada has some fine players, particularly its opening bowling attack, while I was very impressed with the Irish during the World Cup. It should be a very interesting final,' said Mr Sonn.