The ICC’s first ever first-class cricket tournament for the countries below Test Match level begins in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.

The ICC Intercontinental Cup is a new tournament that will give the top Associate Member countries from each region exposure to the longer version of the game.

The ICC’s leading three Associate countries from four regions – Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe – will play regional three-day matches with the top team from each region progressing to the semi-finals and final to be held in the United Arab Emirates in November 2004.

The opening match will be the Asian qualifier between the UAE and Nepal in Sharjah from 25 to 27 April.

ICC High Performance Manager Bob Woolmer believes the tournament is an essential part of the ICC Development Program.

‘Following the performances of the Associate Members at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 it was patently clear that these countries needed an international program at a more advanced level,’ said Mr Woolmer.

‘The multi-day game is the clear pathway to improving the playing level of these countries. Batsmen will learn to build an innings, spend more time at the crease and thereby increase their confidence and ability. Bowlers too will get fitter and more accurate and learn more skills.’

The tournament introduces innovative playing conditions to international cricket including a points system created specifically for the event.

Teams will receive 14 points for a win plus any bonus points accumulated while teams drawing or losing a match receive only their bonus points. Only in the event of a tie will teams pick up seven additional points.

Bonus points can be accumulated in either innings with a maximum of six batting points per innings awarded on the basis of 0.5 points for every 25 runs scored up to 300 runs. A maximum of five bowling points are available per innings allocated at 0.5 points per wicket taken.

To encourage teams to play for a result, the first innings of each side will be restricted to 90 overs unless the team batting first does not utilise its 90 overs in which case the team batting second can bat for its 90 overs plus the overs short of 90 not utilised by the team batting first.

A minimum of 105 overs must be bowled on the opening two days of the match.

ICC Global Development Manager Matthew Kennedy explained that multi-day competitive international matches are essential to the development of cricket in these countries.

‘The ICC Development Program strives to provide new opportunities for non-Test playing nations to participate in international cricket competition,’ said Mr Kennedy.

‘The ICC Intercontinental Cup is a prime example of meaningful progression in this regard.’

Launched in 1997 the Program’s aim is to develop cricket into a truly global sport through fostering the game in the ICC’s existing Associate and Affiliate member countries, while also attracting new Affiliate members.

Due to the success of the ICC Development Program, the number of ICC members has increased by over 40 in the past seven years. The ICC now has 89 member countries; 10 Full, 27 Associate and 52 Affiliate members.

Uganda, Kenya and Namibia will contest the Africa qualifiers; Bermuda will take on Canada and USA in the Americas; Malaysia, Nepal and UAE will face off in Asia and in Europe Holland will meet Ireland and Scotland.

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