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Far removed in many ways from the drama of the world’s most famous Test series, some extraordinary cricket has been taking place in Amstelveen. Twenty wickets fell on the first day of the Intercontinental Cup match between the Netherlands and Afghanistan, the Dutch managing to make 181 whilst the tourists made just 107 in reply.

Hamid Hassan and Mohammed Nabi took four wickets each for the Afghans (the latter for only 45 runs in a ball less than 18 overs), but their batsmen were soon 10/4 in reply on the sort of pitch that would have the average county Chief Executive waking up in cold sweats.

Tom de Grooth bucked the trend by making 54, which is probably worth about 200-odd on the sort of wicket Tests are usually played on these days.

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Up until today, Ireland were the only unbeaten team in the ICC World Cup qualifiers, and Afghanistan’s fairytale looked like it was coming to an end at the Super Eight stage.

Ireland, however, were bowled out for a mere 196, mainly thanks to Hamid Hassan‘s 5-23, four wickets if which involved breaking the batsman’s stumps. The journey that has taken a group of players from Division 5 of the World Cricket League to victory over a side which not so long ago humbled Pakistan.

Although the Afghans still sit second-from-bottom of the Super Eight table, they are only one win behind Kenya in third place. The odds are still stacked against them (especially with difficult matches to come), but there is hope yet for a fairytale ending.

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Afghanistan’s remarkable story will attract most neutral supporters, but the talent of the likes of Hamid Hassan and Mohammad Nabi would command attention regardless of the surrounding circumstances. The step up to this level may cause problems for some of the less experienced members of the squad, but there is sufficient quality in the side to give some of the more established sides something to worry about.

Bermuda Dwayne Leverock, but the side also includes David Hemp (who has captained Glamorgan and toured with England A in the mid-nineties) and young Chris Douglas, who made two half-centuries in three days back in August (69 against Canada and an impressive 53 against the West Indies). Bermuda qualified for the finals last time around when there were five spots available, but they may struggle to claim one of the four places available for 2011.

Denmark will be missing the best-known Danish cricketer in Amjad Khan, now of Kent and England, but have a number of experienced players in their squad (eight of whom played in the last ICC Trophy). Captain Freddie Klokker, a former MCC Young Cricketer, has county experience with Derbyshire and Warwickshire, and carries extra responsibility as both wicketkeeper and opening batsman.

Kenya haven’t had to qualify for a World Cup since the 1999 competition, having made it as far as the World Cup Semi-Final in the period since. Whilst the current side is extremely unlikely to reach those dizzy heights again, Steve Tikolo and Thomas Odoyo are both capable of matchwinning performances. Both are likely to have their fitness severely tested with a potential four games in a single week once the Super Eight stage gets underway.

The Netherlands are often considered to be heavily reliant on their star man Ryan ten Doeschate, so their fans would have been thrilled when Dirk Nannes was included in their squad for this competition, and correspondingly disappointed when he signed for the Dehli Daredevils in the IPL, thus missing the qualifiers. The experienced Edgar Schiferli was the joint-leading wicket-taker in the 2005 ICC Trophy, though, and he can still pose a threat with his medium-fast seam bowling, whilst the batting line-up looks strong.

The UAE were the unlucky team in 2005, just missing out on qualification for the 2007 finals, and fortune also seems to have been unkind to their preparation for this tournament – the side had to cancel a trip to Sri Lanka following events in Lahore. Perhaps more worryingly, captain Khurram Khan was apparently so annoyed at the choice of the squad he is leading that he went as far as writing a newspaper article criticising the selection process (a criticism he later retracted) . Despite this, it would be a surprise if the UAE didn’t make the Super Eight stage at least.

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The World Cricket League Division 5 (see Well Pitched‘s guide to the WCL) reached its climax today as Afghanistan edged Jersey by 2 wickets in a low-scoring final.

Hamid Hassan took 4-27 for Afghanistan as the hosts were bowled out for a mere 80. Jersey made it hard work for the Afghans to chase down this seemingly low total, though, with only 20 balls remaining when the game was decided.

Both sides will now go on to compete in the WCL Division 4 tournament in September, along with Fiji, Hong Kong, Italy and Tanzania.

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