The European leg of the Under-19 World Cup Qualifier kicked off today in Essex, with nine teams fighting it out for three places in next year's Division One tournament alongside Ireland, Scotland and Jersey. With twelve teams taking part overall, it is the largest European qualifier since qualification for the 2014 Under-19 World Cup when 14 teams took part.
This tournament was initially set to be a ten team event, but Germany were unable to meet the requirements for participation in time and had to withdraw from the tournament, leaving two unbalanced groups with four teams in Group A and five in Group B.
It was Group A that provided the highlight on a rainy day in Essex, with only one match not shortened. Sweden, playing in an official ICC Under-19 tournament for the first time, took on Guernsey at Bishop's Stortford. Rain reduced the contest to 31 overs per side, with Guernsey batting first after Swedish captain Numib Safi won the toss.
Safi opened the bowling and quickly took the first four Guernsey wickets as the Channel Islanders collapsed to 22-5. Charlie Clapham and Josh Duke put on 76 for the sixth wicket to get Guernsey back on track, but when Clapham fell for 30 there were just four overs remaining, and they scored 118-8.
Sweden started their reply slowly, with just eight on the board when Akmal Zuwak was the first dismissal from the first ball of the fifth over. Aritra Bhakat top scored for them with 25, before he was the fourth man out in the 22nd over with the score on 70.
Sweden started to creep towards their target, and with five overs remaining they needed 35 with four wickets in hand. Munib Safi and Aryan Kumar began to accelerate the run rate, taking eight from the 27th over and another 11 from the 28th.
Despite a wide and a no-ball from the 29th over, the game swung back to the way of Guernsey with Aryan Kumar from the penultimate ball and Safi falling from the last ball of the 30th with nine runs coming from the two overs combined.
This left seven runs needed from the final over, with Guernsey's Matthew Philip starting the final over in unforgiven fashion with a wide. The scores were brought level with one ball remaining, with Samiallah Khalil set to face his first ball. The 14 year old cooly stroked the ball for four to secure the 2 wicket win for Sweden.
The other game in Group A today was between Italy and France, with the game reduced to a 35 over contest. Italian captain Rizwan Siddiq won the toss and put France into bat, watching as Hassan Raza scored 98 from 109 balls. The French scored 213-6 from their 35 overs, with Bharti Bangar the pick of the bowlers with 3-31.
In reply, Italy collapsed to 32-6 before Jasonaran Singh and Bharti Bangar scored 42 and 40 respectively. That wasn't enough though as Italy were bowled out for 124. Hasan Raza completed a fine all-round performance with 4-13 whilst Asbar Bazirhak took 3-17 as France won by 89 runs.
The only match to not be reduced in overs was the contest at Harlow Sportcentre between Spain and Belgium. It was still a short game though, as Spain, batting first after being put in, were bowled out for just 115. Sabhya Jain was the pick of the Belgian bowlers with 4-10.
Belgium lost five wickets in reply, but had little trouble chasing down their target, doing so in 33.5 overs. Sabhya Jain followed his four wickets by top scoring with 26.
At Broxbourne Cricket Club, the Netherlands took on Norway in a game reduced to 42 overs. The Dutch batted first and scored 242 before their last wicket fell two deliveries short of their quota. Captain Boris Gorlee top scored with 61, whilst Kabir Mangal was the pick of the Norwegian bowlers with 4-42.
Mangal was then the only Norwegian batsman to reach double figures with 17 as his team were bundled out for just 41, losing by 201 runs. Arnav Jain was the leading Dutch bowler with 5-9 from his nine overs of off-spin.
Group A now have two days before their next matches, with Group B only in action tomorrow. Denmark will make their bow in the tournament when they take on the Netherlands, whilst Norway will take on Spain.
Sweden Under-19s beat Guernsey Under-19s by 2 wickets
Cricket Field Lane, Bishop's Stortford, 31 July
Guernsey Under-19s 118-8 (31 overs, Munib Safi 4-24)
Sweden Under-19s 122-8 (31 overs, J Duke 3-37)
France Under-19s beat Italy Under-19s by 89 runs
Pitch 2, Cricket Field Lane, Bishop's Stortford, 31 July
France Under-19s 213-6 (35 overs, Hassan Raza 98, B Bangar 3-31)
Italy Under-19s 124 (24.4 overs, Jaskaran Singh 42, B Bangar 40, Hassan Raza 4-13, Asbar Bazirhak 3-17)
Belgium Under-19s beat Spain Under-19s by 5 wickets
Harlow Sportcentre, 31 July
Spain Under-19s 115 (30 overs, Sabhya Jain 4-10, Shaan Shah 3-20)
Belgium Under-19s 118-5 (33.5 overs)
Netherlands Under-19s beat Norway Under-19s by 201 runs
Broxbourne Cricket Club, 31 July
Netherlands Under-19s 242 (41.4 overs, B Gorlee 61, N Gigani 37, E Niels 35, Kabir Mangal 4-42, Hayatullah Niazi 3-24)
Norway Under-19s 41 (25 overs, Arnav Jain 5-9)