One sheikh-down later, cricketers hope to avoid a battering in UAE

Last year Denmark was bowled over by the quality of the opposition in the ICC World Cup qualifiers, but they should do better this time around

Earlier this week, the Danish national cricket team made the 5,000km flight eastwards to the United Arab Emirates to play in the World Cup Twenty20 Cricket Qualifiers, a two-week tournament to decide which countries will advance to next year’s T20 World Cup in Bangladesh in March.


The Danish side, who play in the fifth tier of international cricket and qualified for the tournament as runners-up in the ICC European Division 1 Championships, will face some distinguished opponents in their seven-match campaign. Following two warm-up games earlier this week, the Danish side will on Friday play their opening game in Dubai against Nepal, a side pundits have labelled ‘the next Pakistan’. This will be followed by even more difficult matches against the likes of Afghanistan, who are ranked 10th in the world for T20, and the Netherlands, who are ranked 15th.


The head selector for the national side, Peer Jensen, admitted his side have a difficult challenge ahead of them, and he remains realistic about his side’s chances. 


“Of course we will try and win every game, but we are up against some tough opposition,” he said. “We are in the fourth division and we will play teams in the first – there is a huge gap between these divisions. So realistically, if we win one or two, we have surpassed our expectations.”


Jensen is hoping to be more competitive than in the previous year’s competition in which the Danish side took home the wooden spoon, winning just one game out of seven. Jensen attributed last year’s failure to a lack of preparation. 


“Last time the domestic season had ended months earlier, so we hadn’t been playing cricket in the lead-up to the tournament, and as a result the team played poorly in some games,” he admitted. According to the selector, the main issue at last year’s tournament (also held in the Emirates) was that his side weren’t prepared for the playing conditions.  


“We are best in the field. In fact you could say that it is our main form of attack, and even though the grass on the pitch is cut the same as it would be in England, because of the sand and the wind, the pitches are much faster,” Jensen explained. “If suddenly we aren’t quick enough, this little advantage would disappear and that is where we were poor last time.”


These lessons have been learned. “Last year we had only trained in an indoor facility and we weren’t fully prepared,” he explained. “This year we have been training four times a week and we have focused specifically on physical preparation – to be honest, we can’t be much better prepared than we are right now.”


Jensen said that last year’s poor performance had also benefited his younger players – last year’s side had an average age of 23, and three quarters of them are returning – by giving them a chance to play against the very best.


“The young guys thought they were already there, but then last year they learned the hard way that the step-up was huge,” he said. “Over the course of this season I have seen our young players step up a gear.” 


The pressure this time around, says Jensen, is on the shoulders of the older players. Foremost amongst them is the wicketkeeper Freddie Klokker, 30, who many pundits concur is probably the best batsman Denmark has ever produced. So far he has had a very successful season. 


“He has had an amazing year playing in England, and he smashed the Danish scoring record,” he said.  “When we are on tour, he normally plays well because he has the ability to step up, so he should do well. And then there’s our captain, Michael Pedersen, and his brother Carsten, who have played a lot of international games. They need to do the same.” 


Should Denmark play to its potential, Jensen is confident it can spring a surprise or two. 


“It is T20, and the good players don’t have as much space and time to show how good they are – there is always the possibility to win because the games are so short,” he said. “After all, if Barcelona played FCN played ten times, they would win every time. But if every game was only 20 minutes long, then it would be a different story.¨