Just as the 2021 ICC Men’s T20 Cup is about to start, four European sides start their quest to qualify for the next event in 2022 at the Europe Qualifier.
The European Qualifier for the 2022 Men’s T20 World Cup, which gets under way in Almería on Friday, is even more unpredictable than usual, with several experienced players coming into the squads and severe disruption to the Danish outfit on the eve of the tournament.
The four participants have been determined on the basis of the ICC’s T20I rankings after the cancellation due to the Covid-19 pandemic of the three sub-regional tournaments which were to have been held in May and June and which would have involved 24 European Associates.
Traditionally among the strongest European contenders but currently below Jersey and Italy in the T20I rankings, Denmark have suffered a huge blow to their prospects with the withdrawal of six of the squad after a dispute over two replacements, soon after the departure of national coach Ruan Louw and his replacement by former Zimbabwe international Keith Dabengwa.
While the Danish Federation has remained reticent about the details of the situation, the squad announced this week is missing many familiar names, including former captain Hamid Shah, brothers Jonas and Mads Henriksen, Rizwan Mahmood, Oliver Hald and Nicolaj Damgaard, all of whom were until recently part of the preparations for the tournament.
It does, however, include former Kent and Sussex pace bowler Amjad Khan, who turns 41 this week and who played one Test and a T20I for England twelve years ago; he last played for Denmark in WCL Division 4 in 2016-17, and currently plays alongside Dabengwa for KB in the Danish Elite Division.
Much may depend for the Danes on the undoubted capacities of skipper Fred Klokker, both with the bat and as a cohesive force in a team which has evidently seen so much acrimony in recent weeks. Klokker’s cool head and long cricketing experience, both as player and as assistant coach, will be invaluable in such circumstances.
In the absence of so many first-choice batters, Klokker is most likely to receive support from Lucky Ali, Anique Uddin, Saif Ahmad, Shangeev Thanikaithasan, wicketkeeper Zameer Khan and Musa Shaheen, while the brunt of the seam attack may devolve upon left-armer Delwawar Khan, Surya Anand, and Musa, as well as on Amjad Khan.
In the spin department the experience of left-armer Bashir Shah will be important, but the truth is that this Danish side is in many respects an unknown quantity.
So, too, is Italy but for other reasons: their squad includes several newcomers to the Italian set-up who are well-known in other quarters. The headline-grabber has been South-African born former England international Jade Dernbach, who retired from international cricket in 2019 after playing 24 ODIs and 34 T20Is, but who played a few games for Derbyshire this season and who has now made himself for Italy.
But the Italians have also recruited Kent allrounder Grant Stewart and have added another young product of the Irish system in Jamie Grassi to join Nicolai Smith, who first appeared for the Azzurri in 2019.
The captain and coach is the seasoned county player Gareth Berg, who has played 15 T20 matches for Italy since his first appearance in 2012.
Dernbach, Stewart and Berg will be part of an imposing seam attack which also includes Gian-Piero Meade, Joy Perera, Jaspreet Singh and Baljit Singh, while spin options will include two former Sri Lankans in Madupa Fernando (slow left-arm) and Dinidu Marage (leg breaks).
With such resources at Berg’s disposal, Italy will certainly be favoured to secure one of the two available places in next year’s global qualifiers.
Germany have also boosted their pool recently, with the recruitment of Leicestershire’s South-African born left-arm pace man Dieter Klein and the return of former Glamorgan allrounder Craig Meschede, who retired from international cricket with a severe shoulder problem after being the leading run-scorer at the 2019 European Qualifier but who has now made himself available again.
They will augment significantly a German side which lost a three-match series to Spain 1-2 at the same venue last month, joining players like all-rounder Dylan Blignaut and wicketkeeper-batsman Michael Richardson (son of former South African international and ICC CEO Dave Richardson).
The team is led by former Tamil Nadu player Venkatraman Ganesan, a left-handed bat and off-spinner, while the most successful bowler in the Spain series was slow left-armer Vishnu Bharathi.
Other players to watch are left-hander Talha Khan, who made an unbeaten 51 in the first match against Spain, and who also bowls off-breaks, Vijayshankar Chikkannaiah and Harmanjot Singh, both of whom did well with the bat in Germany’s tri-series against Norway and France.
Highest-ranked of the four teams, Jersey may lack big-name players, but they have an experienced squad under Charles Perchard which also includes some extremely promising youngsters.
Their squad includes twelve of those who took part in the global qualifier in the UAE in 2019, and they will be keen to ensure that they are able to represent Europe again next year.
Their leading run-scorer in the UAE, Jonty Jenner, is likely to be a key factor again, but he will need support from top-order batters like Nick Ferraby and Harrison Carlyon, while it will be interesting to see whether 17-year-old Asa Tribe is able to force his way into the line-up.
Tribe’s elder brother Zak is one of three leg-spinners in the squad, along with Dominic Blampied and Ben Ward, and with off-spinner Rhys Palmer and slow left-armer Elliot Miles Jersey are likely to rely a good deal on spin, even without the experienced Ben Stevens.
For seam bowling Perchard will be able to call on Julius Sumerauer, Charlie Brennan and Daniel Birrell as well as his own medium pace.
The four sides will play each other twice over the seven days of the Europe Qualifier, with the top two qualifying directly for the global qualifiers.
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