Division 3 Championships begin in sunny Spain
Tue, Sep 1, 2009 11:01 AM
From Monday 31 August, Spain hosts the ICC European Division 3 Championship in La Manga and Albir hoping to go one better than their second place finish in Belgium, the last time the tournament was held in 2007.
The Spaniards lost only twice two years ago, both times to eventual winners Croatia, but their first innings total of 216 was one of only four occasions when a team topped 200. Unfortunately for Spain, Croatia had already scored 220 in the play-off final.
Last time, there were eight teams vying for promotion to Division Two, this time Spain will have only five opponents. The Isle of Man, Malta, Belgium and Portugal, who finished third to sixth respectively in 2007 are on Spanish soil this time and they are joined by Israel who were relegated from Division Two that year, after losing a play-off with Croatia by just six runs in the first international match played in Israel.
On that basis, Israel will be favourites to top this year’s division 3 and they are boosted by the inclusion of no fewer than eight players who featured in their last second division tournament in Scotland in 2006.
The hosts will expect to be their toughest rivals and they have only six survivors from the 2007 championships. One of them is Shafiq Ali, their wicket-keeper, who scored 195 runs in Belgium and finished second leading runs scorer for the tournament. Mark Spencer, a right hand opening batsman is this year’s captain.
Spain will be hoping that home advantage counts and they have rather more to spare this year than they did in 2007. Their biggest margin of victory was 28 runs and in the semi final they tied with the Isle of Man, only going through to the final after losing fewer wickets.
Gareth Roome, a left arm medium fast bowler, took three of them in that match but he will be one of only six players in their second successive tournament from the Isle of Man as they bid to improve on their third place finish last time.
Malta has maintained Division 3 status since its inception and there is plenty of continuity in its line-up with no fewer than nine of the team that played two years ago travelling to Spain.
Michael Caruna retains the captaincy for the 13th successive year and Ronnie Sacco, who took nine wickets in the tournament, including four against the Isle of Man, is an off spinner to keep a look out for.
Portugal have also retained nine of their 2007 squad despite winning only one match, but it was the important relegation play-off match, against Cyprus. They did it in style, scoring 234 for six, in just 42 overs, the highest total of the tournament with Nadeem Butt scoring 87, the third highest individual score. Butt is back this year along with, among others, Mohammed Mirza who took five wickets against Belgium, in the game which decided fifth place two years ago.
The 2007 hosts won it thanks to an innings of 81 by Shaheryar Butt, the highest of his two 50s on his way to a tournament tally of 184 runs. Javed Iqbal, who also passed 100 runs in the tournament and Shar Khan, who finished with nine wickets, are others Belgium will be looking to again as they bid to consolidate their place in this division.
Their first game, against Israel, will give them a good idea of what they are up against. That match will be played at one of the two La Manga Club grounds which will be in use on all five days of competition. The other venue, where every team bar Israel will travel to at least once, is Sporting Alfas CC.
There are three games every day from Monday with the round-robin format finishing on Saturday. Hoping the Spanish weather is up to expectations, the teams will enjoy a rest day, in temperatures set to average 29 degrees, on Thursday.