28 European Associate members of the ICC will be watching nervously next year as the current wave of Covid-19 runs its course, hoping that travel restrictions will have eased by the time the regional qualifiers roll around in June and July.
For most of them, and especially for those who were looking forward to making their debut in official ICC tournaments, the repeated cancellations of the previous cycle in 2020 and 2021 was a deeply frustrating experience, and everyone will have their fingers crossed that the schedules announced this week by ICC Europe will turn into reality this time.
None will be watching more keenly than Finland, who were due to host their first-ever ICC tournaments in 2020-21, and have again been assigned two of the three qualifiers.
The series will be led off, however, by Belgium, who will host an eight-team tournament between 28 June and 4 July.
It will feature one of the top seeds in Denmark, who will start in one group with the hosts, debutants Hungary and Gibraltar, while in the other Spain will face neighbours Portugal, Malta and Israel.
The Danes will be looking to recover quickly from the team selection issues which saw them finish winless in the European qualifier for the 2022 T20 World Cup earlier this year, and they and Spain will likely start as favourites to progress.
The focus will then shift to Finland, whose first tournament will run from 12 to 19 July and will have ten participants.
Group 1 will pit the hosts against Italy, Sweden, Greece and Croatia in what is likely to be a keen contest: the Italians will be strong favourites, but Finland did well in sharing a four-match T20I series with Sweden this summer, while the Swedes, coached these days by Jonty Rhodes, surprised Denmark before losing 2-1 to their much more experienced neighbours.
The other group in this tournament brings together two first-timers in Romania and Serbia, along with the Isle of Man, Cyprus and Turkey, who last played in an ICC tournament as long ago as 2011.
Romania have made something of a name for themselves since joining the ICC in 2013, and this year they won both a quadrangular tournament in Sofia and the six-team Continental Cup, going through nine matches undefeated.
The final tournament will start the following week at the same venues, again with ten sides taking part.
Guernsey are the top seeds in Group 1 here, with Austria perhaps their biggest threat and Luxembourg, Bulgaria and Slovenia completing the group; Bulgaria and Slovenia last participated in an ICC tournament in Tallinn in 2012, so a return to the Baltic completes a long-delayed circle.
It will be a shorter journey for Norway, who topped their sub-regional tournament back in 2018, only to finish last in the following year’s European qualifier.
They may well come out on top of their group ahead of France, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Switzerland; the Swiss were readmitted to the ICC this year after a period of suspension because of legal issues, and will start this qualification process as something of an unknown quantity.
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