Away from the Ashes
As the world tuned into England v Australia, at Hove the best European teams were battling it out for a place at the World Twenty20. Francis Kelly reports.
Life for the majority of associate and affiliate member sides provides few opportunities to partake in a global spectacle.
Matches occur on an intermittent basis; regional tournaments and World Cricket League their usual method of competition, with teams scheduling fixtures against county second XIs whenever possible.
So when 12 nations from the depths of European cricket descended on the Sussex coastline last week, for a tournament that saw the two finalists secure the last two spaces at the World Twenty20 Qualifiers, it was one the underdogs crave.
Contested over seven days at local Sussex clubs Horsham and Preston Nomads before finals day at Hove, the tournament was a rare occasion for the teams to compete in pressurised situations.
Alongside the all-expenses-paid trip to the United Arab Emirates in October, where the qualifiers are being hosted, the prospect of challenging superior opposition is an enticing proposition for the final two.
A gaggle of spectators embraced the delights of associate cricket on show at Hove, including a wedding party who brought a touch of the IPL to proceedings, enjoying a fine display of six-hitting while dancing to electro-pop in the pavilion.
The day got off to a slow start, Italy eventually overcoming Jersey in a low scoring semi-final, before Denmark hit their way to the highest tournament total in the second fixture against Guernsey.
The score, 226, was the third highest seen in a T20 at Hove, where the familiar names of Matt Prior and Monty Panesar were replaced with the lesser-known Freddie Klokker and Aftab Ahmed.
It meant a repeat of the previous final, which Denmark won but were unable to defend here.
Dinidu Marage, with putty like wrists, impressed with his malleable and rangy his shots behind square, while devastating knocks by Andy Northcote and Damian Cowley gave Italy an impressive score of 215.
Denmark hit back through Klokker, but after his dismissal Italy slowly etched their way to an 18-run victory under the lights.
Jubilant Italy captain Cowley, told The Cricketer: “I’m over the moon, we’ve picked ourselves up, and, after a relatively disappointing semi-final score, we’ve shown what we’re capable of. We’re going to really celebrate and enjoy the moment.
“Last time we went [to the UAE] ranked 15th and left ranked 10th, so we’re looking to improve on that. As long as all the guys are having a good time and improving as cricketers then I’ll be very proud.”
The ex-Derbyshire and Warwickshire player Klokker remained diplomatic about the result, instead focusing on reaching the qualifiers.
“It will be good to see how the boys get on under pressure,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re up against and only see the true person when in that position. We don’t play enough of that in Denmark, so it will be interesting to see how the boys play.
“We have a much improved side from two years ago but there is a massive difference between this and the tournament in the UAE. The gap between us and the bigger teams is so big, but it’s twenty20 cricket and anything can happen. The belief has to be there that we can beat most sides.”