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Intercontinental Cup's future hangs in the balance

Fears that white-ball focus in some Associate nations is endangering the Test breeding ground

intercontinetnal

Several Afghans have used the Intercontinental Cup to refine their games

Leading figures in Scotland and the Netherlands have called on the ICC to retain the Associate nations’ breeding ground for Test cricket.

The shape of the four-day, first-class ICC Intercontinental Cup tournament between the leading eight Associate Members has yet to be decided heading into the new cycle.

The new World Test Championship and ODI league will be top of the agenda at the ICC Board meeting on February 8–9. That, in turn, will in have implications for the I-Cup and the World Cricket League Championship – the first-class and one-day competitions for the Associates.

Afghanistan won the 2015–17 I-Cup, their second title in three attempts, with Ireland coming second. Both teams were promoted by the ICC to Full Member status (and by extension Test cricket) last summer and will no longer be taking part in the tournament. But for the existing Associates it is their staple diet of red-ball cricket. Several Afghans – who have had limited access to overseas first-class cricket – have used it to refine their games.

Cricket Scotland chief executive Malcolm Cannon told The Cricketer: “We’d definitely like to see the I-Cup continue. We’ve heard rumours about what’s happening, and apparently the format hasn’t been finalised.

“There are Associates who say that first-class cricket no longer meets their objectives. It doesn’t help them to develop white-ball players, and there simply isn’t the interest at home to support it.

“But it looks as though playing multi-day cricket and finishing in the top two of the I-Cup is part of the objectives in reaching Full Membership, so even if some nations don’t perhaps see the I-Cup as high in their priority list, then they will need to be involved somewhere.”

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Scotland in action

Cannon felt that Ireland and Afghanistan’s elevation left Scotland as “probably the leading voice of the Associates, and the next cab off the rank in terms of Full Member status”. He was therefore disappointed with Scotland’s performance in the last I-Cup, when they finished sixth and did not win a game.

“Our performance in the latest I-Cup is not reflective of how seriously we take it,” he added. “We were badly affected by the weather and we hope to do better next time. For us, our participation in the competition is a no-brainer, and we do see a future in red-ball cricket.”

The Netherlands have drawn heavily on players with experience of first-class cricket in the southern hemisphere – for the upcoming World Cup Qualifier, Ryan ten Doeschate has returned to the Oranje squad, but they are without the New Zealand-based Michael Rippon and Logan van Beek.

Aside from that there are around 5,000 domestic cricketers in the Netherlands, and head coach Ryan Campbell – the former Australia and Western Australia wicketkeeper, and past scourge of England – says he has used the I-Cup to blood the most talented homegrown players in red-ball cricket. Unlike in Full Member nations, where two-innings cricket has traditionally been played fairly early in an elite player’s development, 50-over cricket dominates in the Netherlands.

Campbell admits it is unlikely the Dutch can emulate Ireland and Afghanistan in achieving Test status in the near future – but says the I-Cup is crucial to developing techniques and strategies.

“If you’re asking me ‘can we play Test cricket in three years’ time? I’d say ‘no’. Can we do it further down the line? Let’s see,” he told The Cricketer.

“We finished third in the last I-Cup to Ireland and Afghanistan, who are both now Test nations. I think that was a phenomenal achievement. We played Ireland at Malahide, and they picked many of their county players. I thought that was great – I’m using the I-Cup as a way of teaching our young guys how to play high-level cricket.

“I’m pretty sure whatever format the I-Cup takes going forward, the Netherlands will always be part of it, because it’s the best way to develop cricketers.”

An ICC spokesman said they would not comment while the discussions were ongoing.

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Action from a 2008 game involving Kenya

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