OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE
Ireland is in talks with Scotland and Netherlands to explore the possibility of establishing a combined domestic T20 league, provisionally dubbed the Euro Cricket League. © Getty
Ireland may have ascended to join the ranks of Test-playing nations but, in the spirit of the times, it seems they have not forgotten the value of European cooperation. Ahead of this weeks’ T20I quadrangular series between the Irish and old rivals Scotland and the Netherlands, this time joined by hosts Oman, news came that the ICC’s newest European full member is in talks with the continents’ two leading Associates and is exploring the possibility of establishing a combined domestic T20 league with the backing of Mercuri Group, the force behind Canada’s GT20 league which had its inaugural season last year.
The three boards hope to launch the new league, provisionally dubbed the Euro Cricket League, as early as this year, the Daily Telegraph reported. The new competition would see two franchises from each of the countries, based in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, competing in a double round-robin from late August through early September, starting either this year or next depending on organisational and financial considerations.
The competition would be the first multi-board collaborative franchise T20 league, though in some respects reminiscent of the high ambitions that accompanied the launch of the Scottish-Dutch North Sea Pro-Series in 2014, which was initially envisaged as a fully professional competition also including the Irish Interpro sides. The NSPS eventually foundered for lack of financing, never securing a title sponsor and reliant on (now discontinued) ICC TAPP funding, but Mercuri have shown themselves to have rather deeper pockets.
The spirit of European solidarity will be left with the administrators this week however, as the three sides arrive in Oman to kick off their international calendars in a T20I quadrangular series. Ireland’s arrival in Muscat marks the first time a full member has travelled to the Sultanate, but despite their elavated status they will start the series as underdogs. The Irish finished bottom of the pile in the European T20 tri-series held in the Netherlands last year, and two consecutive losses to an Omani development XI in their two warm-up games this week underscored the fact that their lowly ranking of 18th on the T20I table – below all three of their Associate opponents – is no mere aberration.
With the Global Qualifier for the 2020 T20 World Cup looming in late October and just a single win from their last ten matches in the shorter format, Ireland face a daunting rebuilding project on a tight schedule. Their opponents in Muscat this week will be certain of joining them at that tournament, all three having earned byes by qualifying for the 2016 WT20, as did Zimbabwe and Hong Kong.
The remaining eight slots at the Global Qualifier will be filled over the course of the next six months, as the five Regional Qualifying Finals play out across the globe. The dates and venues for those five tournaments were revealed by the ICC this week, though compared to the announcement of the schedule for the T20 World Cup itself last month the confirmation came with remarkably little fanfare, being revealed in an appendix to a tender document for prospective providers of digital video content for the events.
Port Moresby will welcome the East Asia Pacific final in the third week of March, with hosts Papua New Guinea joined by Vanuatu and the Philippines, with a single Global Qualifier spot on offer. The Africa final will follow two months later at Kampala, with hosts Uganda facing off against Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Botswana and Nigeria with the top two sides progressing.
From the 13th to the 21st of June, Guernsey will hosts its first major Associate tournament in a decade as they welcome Channel Island neighbours Jersey as well as Denmark, Germany, Italy and Norway for the European final, all chasing just a single berth at the Global Qualifier. The Asian final will kick off from the 25th of July at Kuala Lumpur, with hosts Malaysia competing with local rivals Singapore together with the UAE, Nepal, Kuwait, Qatar as they seek to secure a qualification through a top-two finish. Bermuda will host the last of the Regional Finals from the 15th of August, with the United States, Canada and the Cayman Islands also in the hunt for one of the two berths available for the Americas region.
Qualification for the 2020 T20 World Cup began with the Americas Souther Sub-Regional Qualifier at Buenos Aires in February of 2018, with 63 Associate sides competing in 12 Sub-Regional competitions over the course of the year. The coming Regional Finals will further narrow the field to eight qualifiers who will progress to the Global Qualifying tournament to be held in late October or early November this year joining Scotland, Zimbabwe, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Oman and Ireland, who earned byes to the global event by virtue of qualification for the 2016 WT20 in India.
The venue for the Global Qualifier has not yet been announced, though the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia are thought to be front-runners to host. The global tournament will see the top six of fourteen sides progress to the preliminary “First Round” group stage of the tournament, to be held in Australia in October 2020.
There they will join Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, whose respective rankings of 9th and 10th at the cut-off point were enough to bypass the Global Qualifier but not the First Round. The top two sides from each of the two four-team qualifying groups will then progress to the “Super 12” stage of the tournament, joining Pakistan, India, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies and Afghanistan at the tournament proper.