ICC Media Release
Ireland will be looking to add another chapter to its fairytale year of 2007 when it takes on Canada in the final of the ICC's flagship first-class event for the leading Associate teams, the ICC Intercontinental Cup at Grace Road, Leicester, England from 22-25 May.
Trent Johnston's side has already put cricket on the map in Ireland thanks to a stellar ICC Cricket World Cup in which the side beat Pakistan and Bangladesh and tied with Zimbabwe, not only reaching the Super Eight stage of the tournament but also achieving a place in the LG ICC ODI Championship table.
Since returning home, results have - perhaps understandably - been less impressive in the England and Wales Cricket Board's Friends Provident Trophy against English county sides.
But given Ireland is the defending champion in the ICC Intercontinental Cup, having secured the prize by beating Kenya in Namibia in late 2005, it is a racing certainty that it will not give up the title without a titanic fight.
Ireland will be without two of its Caribbean heroes, wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien and opening bowler Boyd Rankin, who have commitments with their county teams, Northamptonshire and Derbyshire respectively.
However, a third county-contracted player, batsman Eoin Morgan of Middlesex, has been released to play in the match and is part of a 13-man squad chosen for the fixture.
The Ireland squad also features heroes of the West Indies in the form of spinner Kyle McCallan, opening bowler David Langford-Smith, opening batsman Jeremy Bray and all-rounder Kevin O'Brien.
Into the line-up in place of Niall O'Brien comes Gary Wilson while Rankin is replaced by Thinus Fourie.
All-rounder John Mooney has made himself unavailable due to work commitments while another all-rounder, Andre Botha, is ruled out due to a finger injury sustained during a Friends Provident Trophy match against Somerset recently.
Ireland, which reached the final after wins against Namibia and the United Arab Emirates and a drawn match with arch-rivals Scotland, certainly represent a tough proposition for Canada but the north American side has plenty of high-class players of its own.
Under the leadership of new captain Ashish Bagai, Canada still retain the experience of former skipper and off-spinning all-rounder John Davison, batsman Geoff Barnett and another all-rounder in Austin Codrington, while the opening bowling partnership of Umar Bhatti and Henry Osinde is arguably the most dangerous new-ball attack in the Associate world.
Bagai took over from Davison following the ICC Cricket World Cup (CWC) in the West Indies and although he is only 25 years of age, the wicketkeeper-batsman has established himself as one of Canada's top performers and has already played 29 ODIs and seven first-class matches for his country as well as a host of other caps.
He won the player of the tournament at the ICC World Cricket League Division 1 tournament that took place in Nairobi in January/February having scored two centuries and one fifty at an average of 86.25, including a top score of 137 not out in his side's thrilling seven-run win over Scotland.
As for the coaches, Ireland are under the stewardship of Phil Simmons, the former West Indies all-rounder only recently having taken over from Adrian Birrell, while Canada will be biding farewell to Andy Pick following the match after the former England A seam bowler led it through the recent ICC CWC campaign.
The umpires for the final are former Yorkshire batsman Richard Kettleborough and Paul Baldwin. Kettleborough was named on the ECB's list of first-class umpires in 2005 at the age of just 32 while Baldwin, who umpired a semi-final of this competition in 2005, is a member of the ICC Associates and Affiliates Umpires Panel and was also selected to stand at the ICC U/19 World Cup in Sri Lanka last year.
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 the event will be a full round-robin and global 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.