Big prize on offer for European sides
The ICC European Division One Championship gets underway on July 8 in Sussex with the prize for the finalists being a trip to the UAE for the World Twenty20 Qualifier in November, from which six teams will qualify for the 2014 World Twenty20 in Bangladesh.
The other four ICC regions have already held their qualifying competitions, and the two European finalists will join Americas' qualifiers Bermuda and USA, East Asia Pacific qualifier Papua New Guinea, Asian qualifiers Nepal and Hong Kong, African qualifiers Kenya and Uganda and hosts UAE. The top six from the last global qualifier in 2012 will make up the remaining 16 teams; Afghanistan, Canada, Ireland, Namibia, Netherlands and Scotland.
Runners-up from 2011 Italy are in Group A for this tournament, and they field a team with just three changes from their 2011 line-up. They come into the tournament after a disappointing World Cricket League Division Three campaign in which they finished last. Peter Petricola was the second highest run scorer in that tournament and will again be key for them in this event, with the ball as well as the bat.
Their main rivals in Group A are likely to be Guernsey, semi-finalists in 2011. New coach Nic Pothas, who played for Greece in last year's Division Two tournament, has rung the changes for the side, with eight newcomers since the 2011 tournament. They will miss the unavailable Tim Ravenscroft, but still have the experience of Jeremy Frith, who is the second-highest run scorer in the history of the WCL.
The fifth place team from 2011 Norway be hoping to go at least one better in 2013 and make the semi-finals. The Norwegians last competitive action was in WCL Division Eight in Samoa last year, and captain Shahbaz Butt was one of the leading bowlers in that event, and will likely play a key role for them in this tournament.
Austria impressed many in 2011 after being promoted from Division Two. They have been preparing for the tournament with plenty of international action with matches against Hungary and the Czech Republic all taking place in recent weeks. The 2011 tournament saw the retirement of long time national team player Andrew Simpson-Parker, but a new generation of the Simpson-Parkers is in the team for this tournament in the shape of Mark. The player to watch, though, is captain Amar Naeem, who scored the tournament's only century in 2011, also taking five stumpings in the match to complete a unique double in international Twenty20 cricket.
For Gibraltar, nine players return from their 2011 squad, and their challenge is to move up the ladder after finishing in ninth place last time.
The promoted team in Group A are Sweden, who have come all the way up from Division Three in 2011. Unsurprisingly they've only made four changes from that Division Two squad and their player to watch is likely to be Azam Khalil, who was the joint second highest wicket-taker in Division Two last year.
Defending champions Denmark are placed in Group B for this tournament, and they field a strong side. They come into the event fresh from finishing runners-up to South Holland Seafarers in the Continental Twenty20 in the Netherlands. The key player for them is likely to be the experienced Freddie Klokker, now back playing Danish club cricket after a couple of seasons in the Dutch leagues.
Their main rivals will be Jersey, who lost to Italy in the semi-finals in 2011, and are fielding a new look squad this time out, with over half the squad being newcomers to the side since 2011. They also took part in the Continental Twenty20, reaching the semi-finals. Despite the large amount of new players in their side, they still have 2011 tournament MVP Edward Farley.
Belgium were for many the surprise package of 2011, recording a shock one-run win over eventual champions Denmark in the group stage before finishing third in their group. Waqas Shafiq was the star of that win with three wickets and was one of the top 10 wicket-takers in 2011.
France will be another team pushing for a semi-final place, having finished sixth overall in 2011. They bring eight players back from their 2011 squad, and will be coached by former Middlesex and Kent seamer Simon Cook. With spin often being a key part of Twenty20 cricket, a player to watch could well be leg-spinner Zika Ali. The 18-year-old had a trial at Kent last year, and also had a leg-spinning masterclass from Richie Benaud, the patron of French cricket
Like Jersey, Germany are bringing a squad that consists mostly of players who didn't play in 2011. They will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing World Cricket League Division Seven campaign in Botswana earlier this year that saw them finish last.
The promoted side in Group B are the Isle of Man, playing at this level for the first time after winning Division Two in Corfu last year. Eight players who played in that winning side return for Division One. Their name to watch is Dan Hawke, a tall fast bowler who has had a trial at Lancashire and has played for their academy side.
The tournament will be played at four grounds in Sussex, with the first round matches being played at Horsham Cricket Club and Preston Nomads Cricket Club. The play-off matches will be played at Blackstone, home of the Sussex Cricket Academy, and the semi-finals and final will be played at the County Ground in Hove, with the final taking place under floodlights, a first for European Associate and Affiliate cricket.