Richie Benaud looks at national teams' ICC Trophy and Euro Under 17 campaigns
Warmest congratulations to The Netherlands, Namibia and Canada the hosts, for making it into the 2003 World Cup and for retaining their senses of humour when all else was falling apart. Following the matches on CricInfo and the internet was an experience in itself and I felt for the players who alternatively were touching triumph and then despair and then occasionally both at the same time!
Because of the ICC's excellent approach to globalisation of cricket, and, more particularly their follow up to the ICC competition played in Canada, not only have those three teams won their way into the competition to be played in South Africa, but their cricket over the next two years will be well and sensibly funded. They will arrive in Johannesburg in the best possible shape from both the cricket and the financial point of view.
For France, the Canadian tournament was very much a learning experience just as was expected, and, to a greater or less degree, that was the case with all the countries. You only had to follow the extraordinary batting, bowling and fielding lapses to know that all these players were stepping up a level in play and pressure, and, as is the case in say the jump from Sheffield Shield/Pura Cup to Test cricket in Australia, that can be a giant step.
France won one of their matches and should have won a second, but the big thing about that event is that the lessons taken over the two weeks will be the basis of France Cricket moving swiftly with an eye to the World Cup in 2007. There is much work to be done, but it will be done swiftly and conscientiously and with an eye to the encouragement of youth in and outside schools.
No better timing could be envisaged than that immediately after the top France team in Canada had failed to win their way to the elimination finals, the Under 17 France team in Corfu stormed to a great victory in the ECC Under 17 B Championships.
Victories came over Gibraltar by 8 wkts, Austria by 10 wkts, Germany by 5 wkts, Greece by 76 runs, and Italy by 9 wkts.One of France's most promising young players Sulanga Hewawalandanage was the star with 254 runs for twice out including a brilliant century against Greece and he was voted Man of the Tournament for his batting and for taking 12/71 with the ball.
Brothers were well to the fore: Bernard and Christiaan Haak bowled extremely well and Christiaan hit a 50 and totalled over 100 runs. Arun and Prakash Ayyavooraju starred with both bat and ball with Arun captaining the side splendidly. These young players and many others will be very important to France Cricket over the next four years and Arun, Sulanga and 14 year old Mathieu Royant from Chauny have already played for the National senior side.
Arun and Sulanga were playing in the ICC series in Canada and as soon as the side was known to be out of the finals, they dashed back to take their places in the under-17 team.
It is worth bearing in mind that all but three of that winning side from Corfu will be available for next year's under 17 championship, something that will delight David Bordes the youth coach who recently became the first Frenchman to achieve the ECB's Level 3 Coaching Certificate.
Closer to home the national quarter finals will be played on August 19-20, the semi finals are on August 26 and the final is scheduled for September 9. There are 19 teams in two divisions in the Ile de France regional league, and three of the sides enjoying favouritism from Group A are Standard, PUC and Northern, but it is nowhere near as clear-cut in division B where Saracens, Balbyniens and Satins are fighting with Mantes, with one to be eliminated in what is a very tight contest.
The other two regional leagues are already completed with the champions of each qualifying for the national quarter-finals. Bordeaux edged out St-Astier to head the 5-team South-West league for the second year running; but Cabris's hegemony over the 4-club South-East league was ended by Entrecasteaux, who successfully chased Cabris's 230-7 in the deciding match, with the young Haak brothers seeing them home with 3 balls to spare.
Although the ICC Trophy has taken much of the attention in recent times, it is through the regional competitions that young and older players make their way into representative cricket and it is worth administrators bearing in mind that in future, it will be possible if the national team does well, to be part of the $US500,000 the ICC has set aside for the three qualifying nations. And it is not only the money.
Those qualifiers will share in the great bonus of top players being able to attend established academies in Test match playing countries, have overseas tours arranged for them and also receive high class coaching from overseas coaches specially flown in from Test match countries. Could be some exciting times ahead!