Phil HudsonThe Pepsi ICC European Development Programme has announced the names of thirteen of Europe's finest young cricketers who will travel to South Africa in February to take part in the seventh annual ICC European Academy .

The lucky thirteen, all aged between 17 and 23, originate from five European countries Denmark , Ireland , Italy , the Netherlands and Scotland .

After the successful relocation of the 2008 Academy out of Europe to Mumbai in India , the Academy will once again be held overseas, but this time at Sahara Oval St George's Park in South Africa .

Based in Port Elizabeth , St George's Park is the oldest Test ground in South Africa and the sixth oldest in the world. It is thus steeped in history but at the same time, as a current international venue, its infrastructure, particularly its cricket facilities, is world class.

In addition to a wide range of specialist coaches and support staff that will be on hand at St George's Park, the Academy players will be accompanied from Europe by a highly qualified coaching team led by Academy Director, ICC Regional Performance Officer, Philip Hudson . The team includes ECB's Head of Elite Coach Development Gordon Lord , former Ireland coach Adrian Birrell and former England seam bowler Richard Johnson.

Of the five countries represented in the Academy squad, Ireland and the Netherlands have the highest representation, each with four players selected for the two week long training camp. Ireland's four are Chris Dougherty, Gavin McKenna, Paul Stirling and Greg Thompson, all of whom who have worked their way up through the Ireland ranks and have now broken into the senior national squad.

They travelled with the Ireland U/19 squad to Malaysia earlier in the year to compete in the 2008 ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup where they defeated Zimbabwe in the play-off for 13th place. Thompson, who captained that side, has 14 senior Ireland caps.

The Netherlands ' four are Timothy Gruijters, Maurits Jonkman, Gert Maarten-Mol and Lesley Stokkers. All performed for their country in ICC European Championships at all age groups up to U/23 and now aspire to become regulars in their full national sides. In doing so they will follow in the footsteps of Alexei Kervezee who is himself a graduate of the 2005 ICC European Academy and went on to sign a contract with Worcestershire CCC and compete for the Netherlands in the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup.

The selection also includes three players from Scotland - Ryan Flannigan, Andrew Hislop and Sean Weeraratna. Rizwan Mahmood of Denmark and Gayshan Munasinghe of Italy , both of whom have represented their national sides, are the final two Europeans to make up the 13.

Commenting on the selection, Academy Director Philip Hudson said, 'All of these talented young cricketers have the potential to become regulars for their national teams in the near future and we hope to see some competing at the highest level in 2009.

'We want to give each of these players the best support possible so that they can work intensively on improving their game before the 2009 season begins.'

He added 'With many of our Associate and Affiliate sides participating more frequently on the international stage, it is essential that these players are given opportunities to learn to play on different types of surfaces and in different climates so that are ready to face the challenges ahead.'

The Academy will take place from 24th February to 5th March and the programme will consist of five days of practice followed by three matches against a variety of opposition including a Nelson Mandela University XI.

The ICC European Academy Squad 2009

  • Rizwan Mahmood (Denmark)
  • Chris Dougherty (Ireland)
  • Gavin McKenna (Ireland)
  • Paul Stirling (Ireland)
  • Greg Thompson (Ireland)
  • Gayshan Munasinghe (Italy)
  • Timothy Gruijters (Netherlands)
  •  Maurits Jonkmann (Netherlands)
  • Gert Maarten-Mol (Netherlands)
  • Lesley Stokkers (Netherlands)
  • Ryan Flannigan (Scotland)
  • Andy Hislop (Scotland)
  • Sean Weeraratna (Scotland)