May 21, 2007

ICC Intercontinental Cup

Smiling Irish eye cup prize

ESPNcricinfo staff

The best things in life are free, or so they say. The Intercontinental Cup final may not be the best thing ever - particularly where Derbyshire and Northamptonshire are concerned, as they won't release their Irish players - but there is no charge for entry for what promises to be a quality contest.

In an era where the cost of sports tickets is ever-spiralling, the opportunity to see two of the best Associates, who are World Cup qualifiers to boot, is not to be sniffed at. You may have to make it to Leicester for the privilege (the game was originally scheduled for Chelmsford in Essex) but Grace Road is an intimate ground which could reward the spectators who come to see if Ireland can retain their title against Canada.

All the signs are that they can. Even without Boyd Rankin, Niall O'Brien and an injured Andre Botha, and even after losing five one-day Friends Provident Trophy matches on the trot, the Irish are the out-and-out favourites. They picked up many new fans in the wake of their spirited World Cup victories against Bangladesh and Pakistan, and hope to convert more this week.

Their new coach, Phil Simmons, has had years of experience at Leicester, his former home ground, so his input will help. Ireland are well established in the four-day game and, despite their recent defeats, at least they have been getting adjusted to the spring conditions of the UK, which is their home turf anyway.

Contrast that with Canada, who have managed just a single day of cricket since the World Cup, when they were knocked out in the initial stages on March 22. Their former captain John Davison labelled their performance against Kenya as "village and embarrassing" and the side underperformed throughout.

Ashish Bagai now takes the reins, and his immediate task has been made all the more difficult by a chaotic build-up that included lost baggage, missed flights, jet-lag and washed-out matches. Throw in the fact that some of those who didn't play in the Caribbean haven't played outdoors for many months and Canada could be in real trouble.

Then there's the future. This match represents the last time that Andy Pick will coach them; he will return to his duties as England Under-19 coach after the final, leaving Canada needing appoint a replacement soon.

It may be Pick's swansong, but Canada will need to perform to the best of their abilities if they are to glide to success.

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