The team captains pictured with the Division 3 trophyPresident of the Asociacion de Cricket Argentino (ACA) Ricardo Lord has spoken of his great excitement ahead of the biggest cricket event ever to take place in South America.

Argentina will be one of six teams taking part in the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Division 3 (WCL Div. 3) in Buenos Aires from 24 to 31 January, where the top two sides will progress to the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in April.

'It is unbelievable when you tell people this is happening. I feel very lucky to be involved in this event and I am very excited about the tournament,' said Lord, who has been involved in the sport in his country for more than 55 years in a career which has seen him represent the national side in both cricket and hockey.

'It has been challenging to get the grounds ready, get the people involved, and recruit the volunteers but for me personally and for the ACA it is fantastic. It is a dream come true to host a major ICC event like this,' said Lord.

Lord and his dedicated team have been working hard to develop the sport in a country obsessed by soccer, although cricket has been played in Argentina for more than 200 years. Through a promising junior development programme, local children are getting the opportunity to play the game for the first time.

'In the last three or four years we have organised as many tours as possible to come here and this event opens a lot of doors for us. We want cricket to grow in this country and having these types of tournaments helps us raise the profile and recruit more people to junior cricket, as we want to raise the numbers of people playing,' said Lord.

'Cricket is growing a lot and our focus is on the juniors. We've had a good response from young people playing the game and women's cricket is growing more popular all the time.

'We had winter cricket here this year for the first time for 8 to 13-year-olds, with sessions every fortnight for youngsters who may have been playing rugby on a Saturday. It is very difficult to compete with football and rugby here.'

Although now famous for his soccer skills, Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle United and Argentina central defender, is just one of many Argentineans who has had the chance to develop a love of the game in his own country and he actually played the game at school with the current Argentina cricket captain, Esteban MacDermott.

'I played at school and really enjoyed it. I bowled and batted a bit so I guess I was a bit of an all-rounder,' said Coloccini, who turned 27 on Thursday.

'When I joined Newcastle in July I watched quite a bit of the cricket on the television from my hotel room after training. It was exciting.'

Ahead of this week's WCL Div. 3 event, the Argentina national cricket team has been sent a message of good luck from Coloccini and his fellow Newcastle United and Argentinean international star Jonas Gutierrez.

'We both know the national team plays cricket but it is fairly low profile in the country where everyone is football crazy. We wish them all the very best in their attempts to qualify for the World Cup,' said Coloccini.

Lord hopes that the media attention attracted by this week's event, added to the new funding opportunities from the Pepsi ICC Development Programme, will allow the game to expand not only in Argentina but across all of South America.

'We only really play cricket in Buenos Aries, and there is a club 300km from here which plays cricket, so we have a lot of room to develop across the country but we have to go step by step,' said Lord.

'The new funding opportunities from the ICC are fantastic and that creates great opportunities for a lot of the countries who are coming through the programme.

'In South America we don't have much opportunity to compete, even though we play against Brazil and Chile, and we are trying to help grow their development programmes as well, in junior cricket and women's cricket, otherwise we have to go away on long tours which is expensive and the exchange rate is not in favour of us at all at the moment.'

Lord hopes that his side will be capable of progressing through to the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in South Africa in April, where the top four sides at that event will qualify for cricket's biggest 50-over event in 2011, but he believes that it is impossible to predict who will win the two promotion places.

'There is a big expectation on the national team as they did very well in Darwin (WCL Div. 3 2007) and we went to Namibia (WCL Div. 2) and struggled a little bit.

'The boys have prepared for this event with 12 months of training and I think it is going to be touch and go who wins the event.

'It is a dream to play in the World Cup but let's go step by step and maybe let's talk about that a week on Saturday. We are very confident and with these six teams you could be first or last it is going to be very competitive this week.'

Once the WCL Div. 3 is completed on 31 January, an illustration of the growth of the game in South America will be showcased by a three-match series between Argentina and Brazil's women sides.