Eyes on Tests as major Associates begin Intercontinental Cup


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Ireland, UAE, Afghanistan and Scotland are set to kick off their respective campaigns to attain Test status by 2018 with their first round of ICC Intercontinental Cup matches starting Tuesday. The winner of the tournament that also features Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Namibia and Hong Kong will face the lowest-ranked Test nation for a four-match Test series in 2018. If the Associate team wins the series, it will become the 11th Test-playing nation.

While Ireland face UAE in Malahide, Scotland start their tournament against Afghanistan in Stirling. John Bracewell, Ireland's new coach, hoped the team would build on its past successes. "It's a hugely important game for us as we take the first step on our ambition to become a Test-playing nation," Bracewell said. "That opportunity was one of the primary reasons I took on the job of Ireland Head Coach. It's incredibly exciting for the team and the country as we look to write new chapters in our cricketing history.

"The team has a fantastic record in the competition having won it four times and we'd like nothing better than to make it five wins. We've selected a very strong squad for the game and are at full strength. We've got a lot of experienced players in our ranks who've played a lot of multi-day cricket.

"It's nice that my first game in charge will be at home and hopefully the crowd at Malahide will come out and support us this week. It's obviously a huge boost for us to be playing UAE in home conditions and hopefully we'll get our campaign off to a winning start against a dangerous UAE side."

UAE have made new additions to the side that travelled to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup but as their coach Aqib Javed said, the core remained the same.

Scotland's Preston Mommsen banked on familiarity to conditions against Afghanistan, who they lost to in the World Cup recently. "We are really looking forward to the challenge of facing Afghanistan in our backyard, at the start of what is a hugely important competition. We will, for the first time, have the chance to push our case for Test match cricket. We expect decent support at Stirling, and we'll be looking to put in a big performance in our own conditions to get us off to a good start against a talented Afghan team."

Afghanistan will be led by Asghar Stanikzai after Mohammad Nabi stepped down as the captain at the end of the World Cup. Stanikzai said: "The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 was a very good experience for our team, playing under those tough conditions in Australia and New Zealand. We learned a lot playing with Full members, which skills to be improved (batting, bowling and fielding) and how to prepare for top quality matches. Our team has already started to prepare for tougher opposition as onwards we hope to be playing more matches against Full Members."