Leading Associate players gather in Toronto but will have New Zealand on their minds
Youngsters also aim to use event to press claims for promotion to senior side and make it to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011
The most talented young players in Associate and Affiliate cricket will gather in Toronto this week in an attempt to qualify for the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2010.
This inaugural qualifying event, which sees the top two teams from each regional qualifying event come together for the first time, takes place from 1-13 September, with the top six sides making it to the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand.
While the opportunity of joining the best player from the likes of Australia, India and Pakistan in January 2010 will be the primary ambition for the competing teams, players from some of the leading Associate sides, including Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands, will also be using the tournament as a chance to further their credentials of winning a place in their senior team and perhaps even a place in the squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011.
Ireland's Paul Stirling, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on 3 September, displayed his international potential during his senior side's three-run defeat to England on Thursday, with a sparkling 30 off just 26 balls.
He joined the squad for Friday's flight to Canada and admitted that despite a huge week he can't wait for the action to start.
"I am very much looking forward to the tournament. I haven't played against a lot of these teams before so it will be a great experience to play against the other sides that have qualified," said Stirling, who also played at the ICC World Twenty20 2009.
"It has been a pretty hectic few months for me and it was tricky to fly the day after playing against England. It was disappointing to lose that game but that match has gone and I am focusing on this event now," he said.
Stirling, who is expected to be one of the players of the tournament, believes that Ireland has a talented side and that many of the squad will be using the event to try and further their own claims at senior level, particularly as Irish coach Phil Simmons will be in attendance at the event.
"It is key for Irish cricket to take part in big tournaments and if we play in these events it does give more publicity to young players coming through," said Stirling.
"It is especially massive for our players as you see the young players are being given their opportunities in Ireland in the senior team, so everybody knows if they play well they are putting their names into the senior squads as well. It is important for them and Irish cricket.
"The aim for every single person in our squad has to be to play at the World Cup in 2011 and that is what they are all looking to achieve. If they score runs in a major tournament like this then they are definitely putting their name in the shop window to the likes of Phil Simmons. He has given opportunities to young players before, especially in Associate cricket, and encourages players to make the top."
Netherlands coach Roland Lefebvre, one of the most successful cricketers to have played at Associate level, also believes that members of his squad can be inspired by the opportunity to graduate to the senior side and experience memorable occasions like the Netherlands' famous win over England during the ICC World Twenty20 2009.
"The night at Lord's will stay in the memory for a long, long time, but it also showed our guys that if you work hard then there is some great cricket waiting for you. With the World Cup and another World Twenty20 event coming up, these guys aren't that far off making the senior team. If you come up with a good performance in this tournament, then there is a good chance they could make the step up, perhaps even quicker than they think. There is a lot at stake for these guys and some great opportunities to show whether that they are capable of," he said.
His side will have to cope without key players, Stijn Allema and potentially Alex Kervezee, who is currently involved in the ODI series against Afghanistan, but Lefebvre believes that his side are ready for the challenge.
"I think we will ask a lot from our players and ask them to focus on their strengths rather than worry about the opponents. I don't think we can take any opponents for granted as they all have a reason why they are here.
"The wickets are unknown, so that may be a challenge, and our opponents are unknown, so that will also be a challenge, but I think that makes it a special occasion. It is very exciting for our guys to play on a different continent against some very interesting teams and we are all very much looking forward to it."
The 10 competing teams at the event, which will be played on a round-robin basis are: Afghanistan, Hong Kong (Asia), Canada, USA (Americas), Ireland, Netherlands (Europe), Sierra Leone, Uganda (Africa), Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu (East Asia-Pacific).
Among teams hoping to do well and surprise more established opposition is Hong Kong, who have never played at an ICC U19 Cricket World Cup tournament before. Coached by former England Test batsman, Aftab Habib, he believes his side, who won the Asia qualifier, is ready to compete.
"We are quietly confident and each team has qualified to get here, so I am sure lots of teams will be thinking the same way. We have some very good players and it is a matter of performing well on the day," said Aftab.
"We have been fortunate to play around the world and a lot of our team has been in the senior side already. I am sure that the boys will grab the opportunities at this event and I am sure their knowledge of the game will develop as they take part in tournaments like this."
Note: More details on the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup 2010 can be found at www.icc-cricket.com. The official event website will have ball-by-ball scores from one match per day, along with regular score updates from all other matches. There will also be photographs and videos of the tournament available on the website. These photographs are free to use with the appropriate credit (ICC).