Big guns kick off competition
Kenya and the Netherlands have the chance to be the early pace-setters when the group stages of the ICC Intercontinental Cup get underway in Nairobi on Wednesday.
With a maximum of 20 points on offer for the winning side - six for a first innings lead and 14 for a victory - a successful start to the first-class competition for non Test-playing ICC Members will set up either team nicely for the rest of the campaign.
That sort of start is especially important because only the sides that top the two four-team groups will retain a chance of lifting the trophy as, unlike in 2004 and 2005, there are no semi-finals with those group winners going straight into a final against each other.
That is not the only change in the format either. The tournament may have been slimmed down to an eight-team event from 12 in its first two years but now each team will play a minimum of three games compared to two in the past.
And with full ODI commitments for six of the teams that will play in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 - Bermuda, Canada, Ireland, Kenya, The Netherlands and Scotland - the final cannot be slotted in until early next year.
The duration of games in the ICC Intercontinental Cup has changed as well. Each match is now being played over four days instead of the three set aside for clashes in 2004 and 2005 and the competition is truly global from the start, as opposed to the previous two seasons when the group stages were regional.
This first match, with an African side taking on a team from Europe, is an illustration of that, as is the fact Kenya and the Netherlands have been paired with teams from a third region, the Americas - Bermuda and Canada.
Meanwhile, in Group A, European sides Scotland and defending champions Ireland are joined by Namibia from Africa and the United Arab Emirates from the Asia region. The first match in that group is in early May with Scotland playing Namibia. The Namibians reached this stage after drawing their Challenge Match with Nepal at Windhoek, a match that ended on Sunday.
The Kenya - Netherlands match is intriguing because it appears, on paper at least, to be a tricky one to predict. Both sides have plenty of experience but it is how they translate that experience into performances in this match that will count. Kenya come into the encounter off the back of a disappointing 4-0 ODI series loss in Bangladesh when they were handicapped by illness but that followed a well-contested 2-2 series against Zimbabwe.
It means many of their players have plenty of cricket under their belts - albeit of the ODI variety - and that can never be a bad thing. Their squad includes seven players from the side that lost last year's ICC Intercontinental Cup final to Ireland in Namibia, including captain Steve Tikolo, the leading run-scorer in that competition, and that core has been supplemented by some exciting additions.
Two players who took part in the ICC Winter Training Camp (ICC WTC) in South Africa are included - pace bowler Alfred Luseno and allrounder Kalpesh Patel - while allrounder Ashish Karia and swing bowler Rajesh Bhudia could make their senior debuts. Top-order batsman and left-arm spinner Brijal Patel, who captained Kenya A in a warm-up match for the Netherlands on Sunday, has also been selected and he looks likely to open the batting alongside Maurice Ouma, with the latter set to take over behind the stumps in place of Kennedy Otieno, who has been left out.
Another player to keep an eye out for is 19-year-old batsman Tanmay Mishra, who debuted against Zimbabwe and featured in all eight of Kenya's recent ODIs, scoring a fighting 48 in the last of them against Bangladesh.
The Netherlands are close to full strength and that wealth of experience already referred to includes two players - all-rounder Tim de Leede and batsman Bas Zuiderant - that featured in the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1996 but, amazingly, this match will be 38-year-old de Leede's maiden first-class outing.
Their spin bowling options may be reduced with 18-year-old slow left-armer Pieter Seelaar ruled out following a family bereavement and that may mean top-order batsman Daan van Bunge is pressed into service with his legspin. He is a capable bowler too, taking 4 for 18 against Kenya A.
Tom de Grooth, a batsman who was the Netherlands' sole representative at the ICC WTC, is also in the squad and he made 81 in that match against Kenya A. The visitors won by 100 runs with de Leede scoring 123.
Kenya (from) Steve Tikolo (capt), Rajesh Bhudia, Ashish Karia, Alfred Luseno, Tanmay Mishra, Hitesh Modi, Collins Oboya, Thomas Odoyo, Peter Ongondo, Maurice Ouma (wk), Brijal Patel, Kalpesh Patel, Tony Suji.
Netherlands (from) Luuk van Troost (capt), Daan van Bunge, Ryan ten Doeschete, Victor Grandia, Tom de Grooth, Muhammad Kashif, Alexei Kervezee, Tim de Leede, Darron Reekers, Edgar Schiferli, Pieter Seelaar, Jeroen Smits (wk), Billy Stelling, Bas Zuiderant.