European Division 2 Championship begins in Guernsey
The 2010 European Championship Division Two tournament is an event with two prizes. Not only is the European Division Two title up for grabs, but the considerable bonus of a place in Division Eight of the World Cricket League is in the pot for France, Germany and Israel, with the best out of those three teams gaining the final spot on the plane to Kuwait later this year.
Hosts Guernsey, Norway and Gibraltar are the other three teams in the tournament, all of which already have their World Cricket League places intact.
Norway are playing in Division Two for the first time since 2006, having been relegated from Division One in 2008, the middle of three consecutive relegations for them, the others being Division Five and Six of the World Cricket League in 2008 and 2009 respectively. They will no doubt be hoping to stop their slide down the rankings and push for the Division Two title they won in 2006. Five debutants featuring in their side suggests that they're hoping a change in personnel will bring a change in fortune.
Israel are also returning to Division Two for the first time since 2006, although they have come up from Division Three, having won that tournament and a play-off with Croatia last year. They are up against France and Germany for that Division Eight place, and they have a good record against the French, having won three of their five meetings in the European Championship.
France come into the tournament in some form, having won the Continental Twenty20 Championship in the Netherlands last month, twice beating the Dutch A side in the tournament. Their two star players in the final, Jonathan Houghton (43) and Williamdeep Singh (4-15) are in their squad, which will be captained by Arunkamar Ayyavooraju, who first played for France as a 15 year old at the 2001 ICC Trophy in Canada. The most experienced player in the squad is Shabir Hussain, who first played for France in the 1997 European Nations Cup in Switzerland, the final of which, against Germany, was named as one of Wisden's greatest matches of the twentieth century.
Germany, the other team playing for the World Cricket League place, will be hoping to do better than the 2008 tournament, also played in Guernsey, when they finished fifth, just missing out on relegation thanks to a 42 run win over Croatia. Like Norway, they've brought in five debutants for this tournament, with Khalid Butt also returning to the team for the first time since 2002.
Gibraltar have the two most experienced players in the tournament (and probably the longest serving players in all international cricket) in the shape of Christian Rocca and Richard Buzaglo. Both made their debut for Gibraltar at the 1986 ICC Trophy and have played for Gibraltar 134 times between them. To put that into perspective a little, when they made their debut, five members of the Gibraltar team weren't even born, including Julian Freyone, the youngest player in the tournament at 16 years old. Gibraltar were third last time out, and will be hoping to do at least one better this year.
Finally, hosts Guernsey, runners-up in 2008 after a one run defeat to Jersey in the final round of matches, will hope to be winning the tournament this time in the absence of their long time rivals. Jeremy Frith, player of the tournament in two World Cricket League tournaments in 2009, will be their key play. They also have Lee Savident in their side, who played for Hampshire for three years, whilst 18 year old Tim Ravenscroft could be following him into county cricket, having recently signed a development contract with Sussex. Playing on home soil will give Guernsey confidence of emulating their Channel Island neighbours Jersey by winning the tournament this year.
All in all, the tournament is shaping up to be an intriguing one, with the two prizes on offer set to keep all teams interested right up until the last ball is bowled.