The final tournament of the European season gets under way in La Manga on Sunday, where the Under 15 Division 2 Championship takes place over seven days. This will be the fifth time that the competition has taken place, with the previous winners being Isle of Man (2005), Israel (2003), Germany (2001), and Greece (2000).
The teams will be split into two Groups, with play offs then determining the final positions from 1-10th place. In Group A, defending champions the Isle of Man are joined by Italy, France, Germany and Jersey, while Group B sees the hosts Spain do battle with Belgium, Gibraltar, Cyprus and Guernsey.
There are no fewer than 4 games each day, played over 35 overs, with the first series of games starting at 09:30am each morning, and the second series getting under way at 14:45pm.
Just who will emerge victorious from the groups won’t be easy to predict, but Jersey have proven this season in European cricket that they have the winning mentality, but the other four combatants in Group A have all performed exceptionally well at this level in the past.
Group B sees the hosts Spain facing the challenging of neighbours Gibraltar, Cyprus, 2005 finalists Belgium, and Guernsey.
So who will be the star performers from the countries? Spain are captained by Brad Seekings, and he is widely tipped to have a bright future in the game, while Joel Brook is another exciting talent, who clearly has benefited from his attendance at the centre of excellence in La Manga this year. The squad looks to have a lot of depth, and includes 12 year old Jack Hersh who clearly is highly rated by the coaching staff of Jeff Matthews and Neil Brook.
Italy have two survivors from the 2004 Under 13 competition – Giorgio Scalco finished third in the batting averages, and is a fine striker of the ball. On the bowling front Kristof Starost also featured prominently in that event, and much is expected from him. The Italians will have one of the most experienced line ups in La Manga, and their captain Ali Shakeel featured well in the corresponding 2005 competition.
Jersey will begin among the favourites by virtue of their impressive season in European competition. They too have a strong, experienced squad, with much expected of Joseph Mayes, Bradley Rimeur, and the South African born Aidan Mc Guire.
Defending champions The Isle of Man have a fine track record in European events, and should feature prominently. Alex Stokoe leads their team, and he has a wealth of talent at his disposal. Jack Rowlands, Alisdair Slack, Andrew Brown and Jamie Johnstone are all fine cricketers, and coach Jeff Levin is highly respected in European cricket circles.
Guernsey have been a welcome addition to the European cricketing family in recent years, and have an excellent youth structure. Skipper Thomas Kirk is optimistic about his teams chances this year, and the squad has a nice balance to it, with quite a number of all rounders, which tends to be the case at this age group. William Thompson, Adam Hindle, Charles Wilkes-Green, James Smith, Max Ellis, and Andrew Hutchinson all are names to look out for. The side is coached by Mark Renouf, and Robert Hutchinson is the manager.
Gibraltar have made great strides in European Youth competitions, with a coaching set up that is the envy of many more senior countries. Once again they have assembled quite a strong squad. It does seem to be a very youthful one in comparison to the others, but this should stand them in good stead for years to come. Scot Chipolina is a survivor of their 2005 campaign, and he is a very accomplished batsman, from whom great things are expected. He can expect great support from amongst others Tim Caruana, Luke Collado, Rahul Daswani, Joss Hatcher, Matthew Hunter, and Charles Pons. David Young and Andrew Chioplina are in charge of coaching duties, while the vastly experienced and respected Tom Finlayson manages the squad.
Germany under the guidance of Mansor Mubarik are hopeful of a good run this time out. They are always there or thereabouts in the final placings, and this year looks to be no different. Ibrahim Awan is a prodigious talent, and in Konrad Fuchs, Mohsan Hayat, Konrad Fuchs, Ritvik Marwaha, and Manishi Mathur, who was another attendee at the ICC Centre of Excellence this year, they have a plethora of match winners. Coach Benjamin Das is another who is clearly keen to develop his role in the game, and impressed all observers at the centre of excellence.
France are led by Robin Murphy, and their line up looks to have a nice blend of youth and experience. The highly rated Ryan Cook, Andrew Bronsden, Shahzeb Mohammed, Nicholas Coombs, John Harding, and Alan Bulman are all tipped to feature heavily in the averages. Coach John Cook will be hoping for a good run this time out.
Newcomers Cyprus are another welcome debutant in La Manga, and as such are a relatively unknown quantity. They have behind them though a strong cricketing culture on the island, and are expected to acquit themselves with distinction. David Bailey and George Papaonisiforou are their two most experienced players, while William Erhartsmann, Joshua Keeling, Thomas Mills, and Alexander Mc Carrick are very highly rated. The squad is looked after by Ian Mc Carrick and John Mills.
The final participant is Belgium, who have one of the many success stories in European cricket over the past few seasons. They triumphed in the Under 13 competition two years ago, so logic would dictate that they will begin among the favourites. Sebastian Shukla leads the side on the field, and although they look to have gathered a very talented side, they are the youngest side in the event, and may well find it difficult. Players to watch out for include Shamin and Karan Shah, Vikas Pawan, Jay Savani, Oliver Pilkington and wicket-keeper Kahan Bhankharia. National Coach Fazil Mahmoud and Sheel Shukla are the men tasked with overseeing the squad.
The growth of European cricket is emphasised by the record number of teams participating – there are no fewer than ten countries, making it the biggest European competition of the summer schedule. With good weather guaranteed, it should be a magnificent spectacle of cricket, showcasing the cream of European talent.