Stakes are high in Belfast

Fri, Jul 20, 2007 3:31 PM

The ICC European Under 19 Division 1 Championship gets under way in Belfast next week, and the stakes for the teams have never been higher. Only the winners will progress to Malaysia - in previous years, Europe had two qualifiers.

They will join the four other regional tournament winners, 10 Full Members and hosts Malaysia for the ICC U/19 Cricket World Cup to be played from 17 February to 2 March, 2008 in Kuala Lumpur.

Hosts Ireland have retained the bulk of their team from last year. They are skippered by leg spinner Greg Thompson, the youngest ever Senior International for Ireland. Paul Stirling and Chris Dougherty form a very effective opening partnership - between them they scored 697 runs in the 2006 championships.

A number of the squad have all attracted County attention, and Ben Ackland is on the books at Northants. The batting is also well served by players of the calibre of James Hall (who won the MOM Award in the 2006 NCU Cup final), Andrew Balbirnie, Shane Getkate, Lee Nelson, Eoghan Delany, Jamie Shannon and Graham Mc Donnell.

There are plenty of options in the spin department, with Ackland, Stirling, Hall, Nelson and Stirling all very capable, in addition of course to Thompson. The seam bowling cupboard isn't as plentiful. but Richard Keaveney, Andrew Britton, Shane Getkate and Graham Mc Donnell are all useful performers. The squad have plenty of depth to their batting, which given the bowler friendly conditions so far this season may be needed.

The Dutch squad is certainly not short of experience: not only have all the players represented their country for several years, seven of them in last year's under-19 tournament, but all have played senior first-team cricket for their clubs, generally in the Hoofdklasse.

The big name, of course, is that of Alexei Kervezee, who played for The Netherlands in the 2007 World Cup and who has a contract with Worcestershire. But captain Lesley Stokkers, batsmen Steven de Bruin and Bob Entrop, and seamer Ollie de Geus are all regulars in their clubs' Hoofdklasse sides.

Remarkably, the squad includes three wicketkeepers (de Bruin, Stijn Allema and Chris Davey), and the seam resources include, apart from de Geus, Davey's twin brother Graeme, Ollie Lodder, sixteen-year-old Tim Gruijters, and Hidde Maarleveld. With a strong batting line-up as well, the only area of weakness is spin bowling, where Stokkers will be the only source of variety.

Scotland also have a number of players with experience, with most featuring regularly for their Senior sides. Their best known player is Calum Mac Leod, who is on the books of Warwickshire, and who was Player of the Tournament in the corresponding competition in 2006. A fine opening bolwer and hard hitting middle order bat, he has the capability of being a match winner on his own.

The Scots have selected quite a few all-rounders, which gives them plenty of options depending on the conditions. Scott Mc Lennan, Charles Leggett, Euan Chalmers, and Scott Redhead will give seam bowling support to Mac Leod, while Scott Dalgleish, Ross Paxton, Zeeshan Bashir, Scott Galloway and Keith Morton will be called upon in the spin bowling department.

The squad is also well covered in the batting department, with Calum Mac Leod, Fraser Burnett and Scott Dalgleish all finishing in the top run run aggregate in 2006. Bilal Azhar will don the wicket-keeping gloves, and has impressed greatly this season with Edinburgh Cricket Club, where he is a first year medical student at Edinburgh University.

Scotland look to have covered all bases with the composition of their squad, and will be confident of their chances of progressing to the finals.

Last, but not least are Denmark, who will be considered outsiders for the title. They will be underestimated though at the other teams peril. In Zishan Shah, they have a formidable captain, who is a very talented performer with both bat and ball, and is a regular for the Danish Senior side. He scored a superb 100 in Belfast during their game with Ireland U19 last year, and is a free scoring batsman.

Kashif Qureshi also was prolific with the bat during 2006, and allied with his leg spin, he is a more than useful performer. Like the other squads, Denmark have opted for a number of all rounders, who all perform 'the three disciplines' with distinction. Rizwan Mahmood, Lars Flemming Boldt, Finn Kleissel, Tausef Khan and Aftab Ahmed are all capable of scoring quickly.

Ased Ahmed, Martin Pedersen, Finn Kleissel, Vikar Akhtar and Shah will all find the green wickets to their liking when bowling. The spin department seems a little lacking, but Quershi and Tauseef Khan are both capable of taking wickets and keeping the run rate down.

A nervous week ahead then for all the participants, with a place in the finals at stake. It promises to be a high pressure contest, and with so little between the teams, it will be the country who can hold their nerve best who will progress.

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