The 2017 European U19 Division One tournament also served as the qualifying tournament for the Under 19 World Cup, with the prize for the winners a trip to New Zealand the following January.
The format saw four sides playing each other twice, battling it out for just one slot, with hosts Jersey, Scotland, Ireland and Denmark the protagonists. Often these competitions come down to the clash of the Celtic nations, and this one was to be no different producing two incredibly tight contests which tested the nerves and emotions of everyone privileged enough to witness it.
The opening round saw Ireland in a little trouble against the hosts as Ben Ward’s three wickets saw them at 110 for 6, but late runs from Neil Rock, Max Neville and Josh Little got them up to 200. Little then took three early wickets as Jersey stuttered to 124 – Ireland victors by 76 runs. There was a similar margin as Scotland overcame Denmark by 72 runs. Finlay McCreath 90 not out provided the backbone of their 249 for 7, while Ihtisham Malik’s three wicket burst and Haroon Tahir’s 3 for 43 saw Denmark restricted to 177.
The second day saw Ireland in a little trouble against Denmark who reached 105 for 1 chasing a target of 246. However one Henriksen went shortly after reaching 50, left-armer Graham Kennedy ran through the middle order to claim five wickets as they collapsed to 160. Scotland had little difficulty against Jersey with Ollie Brown and Haroon Tahir claiming three scalps as the hosts made just 58. Dan Birrell’s three wickets gave the result a semblance of respectability as Scotland won by six wickets in the 14th over.
Jersey took their revenge on Denmark who they dismissed for 59 with three wickets for Harry Carlyon, who also made an undefeated 32 in a routine eight-wicket win. Up at Farmers Field Ireland and Scotland were meeting for the first time and it was the Scots who held the upper hand for most of the day. Syed Shah (92) and Callum Garden (81) shared an opening stand of 170 as Scotland looked to be setting a target of 270 plus. However they lost their way and three wickets for Graham Kennedy saw them falter to finish on 231 for 6. The Irish chase was in trouble at 106 for 5, but a seventh wicket stand of 63 in 8 overs between Neil Rock (53) and Josh Little (37) saw them prevail by two wickets in the final over.
Round four saw Ireland and Scotland flex their muscles with comprehensive wins. Jamie Grassi hit 66 as they posted 227, while Josh Little’s new ball burst saw him take four wickets as Jersey slumped to 52 all out. Three wickets apiece for Scottish skipper James Dickinson and Aliyan Qureshi saw Denmark make just 107, and Finlay MacCreath’s 48 eased them to a comfortable six-wicket win.
The penultimate round resulted in two more resounding wins for the favourites with Morgan Topping (96) and Mark Donegan (59) sharing a century stand as Ireland made 266. Denmark had no answer to the left-arm guile of Graham Kennedy whose seven wicket haul were the best of the competition – Ireland winning by 142 runs. Scotland ensured a fitting showdown finale as they beat Jersey by 69 runs. Fifties from Angus Hinton and Finlay MacCreath saw them post 239 for 5, and Malik’s five wicket burst saw Jersey held to 170.
The final day saw Ireland hold their nerve like old stagers at Grainville beating Scotland in the second tight finish between the two sides at this tournament, and in the process booked their tickets to the World Cup.
It had all seemed very improbable a few hours earlier when, after winning the toss and electing to bat, they were reduced to 15 for four within the space of eight overs, with Mark Donegan, Jamie Grassi, Morgan Topping and Graham Kennedy all back in the pavilion. Most of the damage was done by Scotland’s Oliver Brown, who soon added Sam Murphy to his scalps and finished a lethal six-over spell with four for 15.
Only Irish skipper Harry Tector stood firm among the chaos, and his dogged 55, made from 139 deliveries and including just one boundary, was an outstanding solo effort which ultimately enabled the team to reach a total of 108. Tector had some valuable support from Aaron Cawley as this pair added 36 for the ninth wicket, but he remained the only Irish batsman to reach double figures in a very disappointing batting performance.
108 looked well below par, even on a pitch on which batting was never easy, and at the innings break it seemed very likely that the Scots would avenge their earlier defeat by Ireland and win clearly enough to qualify. Josh Little and Cawley, however, bowled with real fire as Scotland replied, and when the dangerous Owais Shah was trapped in front in the former’s opening over it was clear that the Irish would fight all the way.
Rory Johnston, who had earlier taken three catches in the Irish innings, looked the only batsman who was in control of the situation, and he and Beattie now added 27 precious runs to take their side to within sight of the win.
Now Little and Cawley returned, and they picked up two wickets each as Scotland slumped from 94 for five to 103 all out in the space of 28 deliveries. Johnston top-scored with 30 but fell to Cawley with 11 still required, and despite a bold boundary by last man Ihtisham Malik Ireland’s determination proved to be their trump card.
Little finished with three for 23 and Cawley with three for 21, but it was Tector’s half-century which earned him the Player of the Match award. In a photo which was to prove the defining image of the tournament, Tector consoling a disconsolate Malik provided hope that the ‘Spirit of Cricket’ was very much alive and kicking.
These tournaments put an incredible strain on everyone, especially the coaches with two years of work often coming down to one ball on which they will be declared as successes or failures. Speaking in the aftermath of what was a tumultuous battle, the overwhelming sense of emotion for Irish coach Ryan Eagleson was relief.
“For once in my life I’m speechless,” Eagleson told CricketEurope. “We didn’t bat well but Harry Tector was outstanding. It was the sort of wicket that we knew would get slower and lower and be harder to score on and we said we wanted to post 200. Scotland to their credit bowled very well, Harry was exceptional, but just watching that last half-hour I’m struggling for words.
“We only posted 100 but we said to the guys - ‘if we keep bowling straight, the pitch is up and down’ and I knew pressure would come into it. We just had to stop the four-balls and we could see it building and building.
“Credit to our seamers they were magnificent - all week we’ve been talking about bowling straight, stump-to-stump, bowling cross-seam, cutters, and they executed their plans brilliantly. I’m delighted for the guys they’ve worked hard for two years, I’m a bit emotional but a great win.”
Jersey beat Denmark by 12 runs in the battle to avoid the wooden spoon – Daniel Birrell’s five wicket haul helping dismiss the Danes for 173.
Graham Kennedy was a deserved winner of the Player of the Tournament award, as he won three Man-of-the-Match awards in the six-game qualification series, finishing with 17 wickets at just 4.88 and an economy rate of only 2.22. He pipped Scotland paceman Ihtisham Malik who took 14 wickets at 9.86 and Daniel Birrell who claimed 13 victims 1t 9.15. In a competition where the bowlers were primarily on top, Denmark's Sandjeev Thanikaithasan was the leading run scorer with 220. Scotland's Finlay McCreath was second with 220 runs, while Irish skipper Harry Tector was third with 181.