Cricket: Test status is the ultimate goal for qualifiers

Ian Callender looks at the World Cup chances of the Irish and the Scots
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The Carlsberg ICC Trophy, which gets underway today, is now recognised as the qualifying round for the World Cup finals.

A record number of entries have turned up in Kuala Lumpur, with the top three assured of playing alongside the nine Test- playing countries in England in 1999.

Delegates from those countries are also in town because the International Cricket Council is holding its spring meeting today. So, for the first time, Malaysia can truly say they are playing host to the cricketing world.

Among the 22 nations taking part are Israel, bottom seeds of six in Group A but, significantly, making an unprecedented sporting appearance in Malaysia, with whom it has no diplomatic relations. In fact Israel's inclusion was a condition for the hosting of the tournament, which has been played as a prelude to every World Cup since 1979.

Seeded to join the top seeds the Netherlands and Bermuda, who are coached by the former Australian Test captain Bobby Simpson, are Kenya, still basking in the glory of their World Cup upset of the West Indies last year, and Bangladesh, coached by the former West Indian opener, Gordon Greenidge. They are always threatening but have yet to make it past the semi-finals stage.

Carrying the hopes of the British Isles, and a chance to host their home matches should they reach the finals, are Ireland and Scotland. The Scots, coached by the former Yorkshire batsman Jim Love, have been fortunate with the draw and have a second seeding at their first tournament, giving them a great opportunity of reaching the round-robin second stage.

Ireland, taking part in their second ICC Trophy, must make do with a third seeding, which means they will almost certainly have to beat either Kenya or the unknown but potentially formidable United States, captained by another West Indian veteran, Faoud Bacchus, just to reach the last eight.

However, they have made enormous strides since the 1994 tournament in Kenya, with the appointment of the former England Test match bowler Mike Hendrick as coach and an ex-Leicestershire batsman, Justin Benson, as captain. They won the annual Triple Crown competition last summer and two weeks later beat the Dutch in the final of the inaugural European Championship.

As for the hosts, their target is to be ranked in the top 12, which will secure them a place in the First Division of Associate Members when the next qualifying competition takes place.

Their president, Tunku Imran, who went to the same school as David Gower, has set his country a goal of achieving Test status by the year 2020. His biggest problem is that there are probably a dozen more countries who have the same vision and are likely to climb higher up the ladder in the next three weeks.

ICC TROPHY (Kuala Lumpur, starting today): Group A (in seeding order): Kenya, United States, Ireland, Gibraltar, Singapore, Israel. Group B: Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Denmark, West Africa, Argentina. Group C: Netherlands, Canada, Namibia, Fiji, East and Central Africa. Group D: Bermuda, Scotland, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Italy.