The International Cricket Council (ICC) today announced the dates for the sixth round fixtures of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League (WCL) Championship, a qualifying tournament for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, which will be staged in Australia and New Zealand
The WCL Championship is an eight-team competition for the leading Associate and Affiliate sides, and the top two sides from the tournament will qualify automatically for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. The final two positions in the ICC's flagship event will then be determined at the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier, which will be staged in New Zealand in 2014.
According to the sixth round schedule, the Netherlands will host Ireland in Amsterdam on 7 and 9 July, Scotland will play Kenya in Aberdeen on 30 June and 2 July, Toronto will play host to the Canada and United Arab Emirates (UAE) matches on 6 and 8 August, and Afghanistan will be in Windhoek for its two 50-over matches against Namibia on 9 and 11 August.
Although only seven points separate the top six sides, the feature match of the penultimate round will be between table-topper Ireland and second-placed Netherlands, an encounter that could see Ireland become the first side from the tournament to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
Ireland leads the Netherlands by three points, and, if Ireland wins both ODIs in the top of the table clash, it will qualify for the ICC's flagship event regardless of the remaining results of the tournament, while a 2-0 loss could see the Dutch tumble up to three positions to fifth if UAE, Afghanistan and Scotland or Kenya win their encounters 2-0.
Rival coaches Phil Simmons of Ireland and Peter Drinnen of Netherlands were keenly looking forward to the July contest.
"We're coming now to the business end of the competition and these final games were always going to be high pressure encounters with so much at stake," Simmons said, adding: "We've an incredibly experienced squad with so many of our players having played 100 times or more in Irish colours. They've all played in ICC Cricket World Cups or ICC World Twenty20 finals, so are well used to playing and delivering when the pressure is on."
Simmons, however, is preparing for a challenging encounter: "The Netherlands is no doubt a strong team with some high quality players who will be tough opponents."
Simmons believes that Ireland will be well prepared for the clash, despite Netherlands' home ground advantage: "While Netherlands is playing at home, it's European conditions, which will be very similar to what we're used to in Ireland. They'll certainly be a lot more familiar to us than what we experienced in Sharjah last month.
"We've two ODIs coming in May against Pakistan in Dublin and then a four-day game against Australia A in June. We've also got Cricket Ireland's new RSA Inter-Provincial Series, which begins in May. In addition, we have seven players (Ed Joyce, Gary Wilson, William Porterfield, Niall O'Brien, George Dockrell, Paul Stirling and Tim Murtagh) who are playing county cricket in England so everyone will have a lot of cricket under their belts come July," concluded Simmons.
Drinnen also feels that his side will be well prepared for the critical sixth round encounter. "We're very fortunate to still be in the Yorkshire Bank 40 competition, and we've got a series of those matches - I believe eight or nine - prior to the Ireland series, which certainly provides us with good quality cricket. So, I'm very confident going into that series that we'll have the right amount of quality cricket under our belt to compete, hopefully very successfully, against Ireland," he said.
The former Queensland wicket-keeper believes that preparation off the field will alleviate pressure on the field. "We don't feel pressure at all. We obviously do our research on the opposition and we've obviously played Ireland before, but our main focus is how we go about things. We know that we've got to continue winning games in the WCL Championship to achieve ICC Cricket World Cup qualification through those top two spots, so we'll be doing everything possible to win each of those games against Ireland.
"We're ready to play Ireland when that series comes around, I've got no doubt it's going to be a good series. We're certainly looking forward to it, we're well prepared for it, and we'll be seeking out those four points," he continued.
Meanwhile, the four-day first-class ICC Intercontinental Cup 2011-2013 matches will also be played after the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Championship matches.
In the key sixth round battle, third-placed Namibia will play second-placed Afghanistan from 4 August. Earlier, Scotland will try to retain its four-point lead over Kenya from 7 July, Netherlands will take on former champion Ireland from 1 July, and Canada will face off against the UAE from 1 August.
Former champion Ireland leads the ICC Intercontinental Cup with 76 points from five matches, 12 points ahead of Afghanistan (64).
WCL Championship points table (after the completion of the fifth round):
ICC Intercontinental Cup points table (after the completion of the fifth round):
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The fixtures are as follows:
Scotland v Kenya*
30 June - WCL Championship, ODI, Mannofield, Aberdeen
2 July - WCL Championship, ODI, Mannofield, Aberdeen
7-10 July - ICC Intercontinental Cup, Mannofield, Aberdeen
Netherlands v Ireland*
7 July - WCL Championship, ODI, VRA, Amsterdam
9 July - WCL Championship, ODI, VRA, Amsterdam
1-4 July - ICC Intercontinental Cup, Deventer
Canada v UAE**
6 August - WCL Championship, 50-over, Maple Leaf, Toronto
8 August - WCL Championship, 50-over, Maple Leaf, Toronto
1-4 August - ICC Intercontinental Cup, Maple Leaf, Toronto
Namibia v Afghanistan**
9 August - WCL Championship, 50-over, Wanderers, Windhoek
11 August - WCL Championship, 50-over, Wanderers, Windhoek
4-7 August - ICC Intercontinental Cup, Wanderers, Windhoek
* Matches between Scotland- Kenya and Netherlands-Ireland will be streamed live on the ICC website www.icc-cricket.com
**Matches between Canada-UAE and Namibia-Afghanistan will not be classified as ODIs as Namibia and the UAE do not have ODI status
The points table of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Championship can be found by clicking here.
The points table of the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2011-2013 can be found by clicking here.
WCL Championship matches live streamed
The fifth round encounters between Afghanistan and Scotland, and UAE and Ireland, were the first of 16 matches that the ICC will live stream during the final rounds of the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Championship.
In the sixth and seventh rounds, the following matches will be live streamed at www.icc-cricket.com:
Scotland v Kenya
Netherlands v Ireland
Ireland v Scotland
Afghanistan v Kenya
Canada v Netherlands
UAE v Namibia
* Dates and venues of these fixtures will be announced in due course
The WCL Championship
The WCL Championship features the top eight Associate and Affiliate teams - Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, Namibia, Netherlands, Scotland and the UAE - and is a seven-round competition that provides direct qualification opportunities to the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
The top two teams from the WCL Championship will automatically join the ICC's 10 Full Members at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, while the bottom six teams will receive a second opportunity to advance to the ICC's flagship global event by competing in the ICC Cricket World Cup Qualifier in early 2014. This 10-team event will determine the final two qualifiers for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
The six teams will be joined by the top two teams from WCL Division 3, to be held in Bermuda from 28 April to 5 May, and Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea, who finished third and fourth at WCL Division 2 in 2011.
ICC Intercontinental Cup
The ICC Intercontinental Cup is the ICC's premier first-class tournament, and gives the top eight Associate and Affiliate teams, who do not play Test cricket, the chance to experience the longer form of the game.
Scotland won the first ICC Intercontinental Cup in 2004, beating Canada in the final, while Ireland has been victorious in three events since then, beating Kenya in the 2005 decider, Canada in the 2006-07 event, and Namibia in the 2007-08 event. In 2009-10, Afghanistan won the competition and Scotland finished second on the points table.
To read more about the Pepsi ICC World Cricket League Championship, please click here.
More details on the ICC Intercontinental Cup can be found here.