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Associate nations begin quest for shot at Test cricket

Ireland takes on UAE while Scotland face Afghanistan in next set of matches in first round of Intercontinental Cup

Associate nations begin quest for shot at Test cricket - Cricket News
Ireland has won four of six editions of the Intercontinental Cup, emerging victorious in 20 of its 32 matches so far

The 2015-17 Intercontinental Cup got under way in Windhoek on May 10 when Namibia put on a strong performance to win against Hong Kong by 114 runs. Xander Pitchers’s unbeaten 104 as an opener in Namibia’s second innings was the highlight of the four-day game. He was well supported by the bowlers as Hong Kong was dismissed for 203 and 187 in both its innings.

Two other first round matches start from Tuesday (June 2), while the fourth match of the opening round is scheduled to take place between Netherlands and Papua New Guinea in Amsterdam from June 16.

What makes this Intercontinental Cup different from the previous editions is that the winner of the eight-team round-robin competition will play the tenth ranked side on the ICC Test Team Rankings (as on 31 December 2017) in the four-match ICC Test Challenge in 2018. If the Associate Member wins the series, to be played on a home and away basis, then it will become the 11th Test nation.

The prospects would not have excited anyone more than Ireland, the defending Intercontinental Cup champion, who plays the United Arab Emirates in Malahide.

Ireland has won four of six editions of the Intercontinental Cup, and has been formidable in every way, having emerged victorious in 20 of its 32 matches so far.

That it has been so strong has been largely due to a cohesive unit that includes the likes of William Porterfield, the captain, George Dockrell, a highly efficient left-arm spinner, Ed Joyce, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien and Paul Stirling, among others. That most of the Ireland players have the experience of playing county cricket in England has given the team an added advantage. With John Bracewell set to start his coaching stint, Ireland would be keen to gift the new boss another title finish.

UAE has won only five of its 23 matches in the competition’s history so far, but after a respectable outing in the recently concluded ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, it would be hoping to put up a good show against Ireland. It would rely on Shaiman Anwar, who became the first UAE batsman to score a World Cup century and ended the competition as the only batsman from the Associate nations with more than 300 runs, to continue his good form. Anwar has played only 11 first-class matches so far and scored at 25.12, and he too would be eager to ride on the World Cup success wave and improve his record in long form cricket.

In the other match starting on Tuesday, Scotland, who won the first Intercontinental Cup in 2004, plays Afghanistan in Stirling.

The two teams had come together to produce one of the most thrilling games in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 when Afghanistan won by one wicket with just three balls to spare in Dunedin. Chasing 211, Afghanistan was reduced to 97 for 7 before Samiullah Shenwari took calculated risks in the company of the tailenders to take his team closer to the target. He made 96 in 147 balls, but was the ninth wicket to fall with 20 runs still needed for a win. Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran ensured that Shenwari’s effort did not go wasted, as the pair scripted Afghanistan’s first win in its maiden World Cup appearance.

Scotland would be keen to balance the books, and for that, it would be looking to Preston Mommsen, Richie Berrington, Calum MacLeod, Matthew Cross and Hamish Gardiner – all of them played in that memorable game. Scotland also has included the 19-year-old opener Andrew Umeed it the team, who had impressed during the 2014 Under-19 World Cup.

All the three results would be known by the time the Netherlands face off against PNG. While the Netherlands, one of the more experienced sides among non-Test playing nations, has won four matches in the history of the competition so far, it will be a debut for PNG, which marked its One-Day International debut with a series win over Hong Kong in November last year.

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