The England under-19 women's team will start as hot favourites to retain the European Cup for their country when play begins in the four-nation tournament today. The round-robin competition is being held at Bradfield College, Reading, in the English county of Berkshire, and concludes on Sunday.
England have generally sent their 'A' team to this championship, which is conducted every two years against the full senior national teams of other European countries. This year, with rebuilding of the senior squad for the 2005 World Cup in their sights, all fourteen England representatives are under the age of twenty.
Lancashire all-rounder Arran Thompson leads a side which includes three other players who have appeared at full international level for England - Laura Harper, Nicki Shaw and sixteen year-old Leanne Davis.
Three players have been chosen from the Yorkshire team that last week won the Women's County Championship - Laura Spragg, Claire Atkinson and Clare Gough (no relation apparently to Darren).
Making their first appearance at international level in this tournament is a team from Scotland. Women's cricket was virtually unheard of at competitive level in Scotland as little as two years ago, however the hard work of a dedicated group of people has seen the formation of a national side under the leadership of Linda Spence which has enjoyed success against county sides from the north of England.
Ireland and Holland return for this year's European Cup, but one team who will not be present is Denmark. Women's cricket has undergone a dramatic decline in Denmark since they hosted the 1999 European Championships, with the local club competition being disbanded in 2000 when teams were unable to field sufficient players.
England Under-19 play Scotland in the opening round today, while Ireland face the Netherlands. England, represented in the past by their 'A' team, have been unbeaten in European Cup play since the tournament's inception in 1989.
England: Arran Thompson (capt), Alexia Walker (vc), Laura Joyce, Laura Harper, Laura Spragg, Clare Gough, Kate Oakenfold, Claire Atkinson, Nicola Shaw, Leanne Davis, Sarah Clarke, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Isa Guha.
Ireland: Nikki Squire (capt), Anne Linehan (vc), Caitriona Beggs, Aoife Budd, Miriam Grealey, Cecilia Joyce, Isobel Joyce, Grainne Leahy, Barbara McDonald, Ciara Metcalfe, Lara Molins, Clare O'Leary, Saibh Young.
Netherlands: Carolien Salomons (capt), Teuntje de Boer, Maartje K ster, Birgit Viguurs, Pauline te Beest, Cheraldine Oudolf, Annemarie Tanke, Carly Verheul, Caroline Hes, Marjolijn Molenaar, Eugenie van Leeuwen, Mandy Kornet, Minou Toussaint (wk).
Scotland: Linda Spence (capt), Kari Anderson (vc), Sara MacLean, Elizabeth Smith, Alison Ramsay, Vari Maxwell, Kathryn White, Fiona Urquhart, Aileen Galvin, Denise Newlove, Pam Quin, Caroline Sweetman, Shona McIntyre.