After being named in Cricket Italia’s 15-strong squad for their ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Europe Qualifier, Kent’s Grant Stewart has been gearing up for the tournament, held in Spain, that begins this Friday (15 October).
Taking place at Desert Springs Resort Cricket Ground in Almería, Spain; Italy, along with Denmark, Germany and Jersey, will battle it out from 15 – 21 October in a double round robin league, with the teams finishing first and second progressing to the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Qualifiers A and B, which will take place in 2022.
Italy’s squad will be led by Northamptonshire’s Gareth Berg, who will be donning both the hats of both player and coach. Former England and Surrey seamer, Jade Dernbach, will also feature for the Azzurri, with Owais Shah also travelling as Assistant Coach.
Former Kent Second XI player Ben Manenti was also set to join the Italy squad, but was unable to due to Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions. Former Kent seamer Amjad Khan has been named in Denmark’s squad for the tournament.
Little separates the teams in the ICC Men’s T20I Team Rankings, with Jersey (24th), Italy (26th), Denmark (30th) and Germany (36th) all within 12 positions of one another.
We caught up with our Vitality Blast champion ahead of their tournament opener against Denmark.
- This is your first time with the Italy squad. How excited are you to be involved in an international competition and potentially make your international debut?
“I’m very excited to get involved with Cricket Italia, and help push for a spot in the 2022 T20 World Cup.
“Italian cricket is on the rise and there’s a big push for cricket in Italy – I’m looking forward to being a part of that, and hopefully can help with the process.
“Most of all, though, I feel very privileged to be able to represent the Italian side of my family. It brings that extra significance knowing how much it means to them.”
- Where is the familial link with Italy?
“My mum is Italian. Her family are from a small village called Lettopalena in the Abruzzo region, about two hours east of Rome.”
- How did Cricket Italia get in touch?
“Initially, they contacted Kent last year to see if I was keen to get involved, and everything moved on pretty quickly from there.
“I was meant to join up with the squad last year, but unfortunately due to COVID, those tournaments got postponed. Finally now though, I have a chance to play international cricket.”
- Italy have a very good squad on paper. Is the mood in the camp confident ahead of the Europe Qualifier?
“Yeah, we look to have a good squad and we’re pretty excited as a group with what is potentially coming up for Italian cricket.
“The team sheet doesn’t win you games though – anything can happen in T20s, so we’ll be making sure we prepare as best as possible for each of the upcoming games in this tournament.”
- You won the Vitality Blast as a Kent Spitfire this year; will that exposure to success stand you in good stead for what will be a very competitive tournament?
“I’d definitely like to think so. It’s been great personally to get the opportunity to play quite a bit of T20 cricket for Kent over the last two seasons.
“To add winning the Blast to that, getting exposed to high pressure situations, it can only help me going forward. I’m very lucky to have loads of experience here to learn from as well, with the likes of Gareth Berg, Jade Dernbach and Owais Shah.”
- How important is it for Associate Nations to get continued exposure to competitive organised cricket?
“I think it’s very important for the growth of the game. The standard of cricket across Associate Nations is improving drastically, and coverage has really picked up with the likes of YouTube etc.
“Quite often you see Associate Nations put in good performances, and even win, against Test-playing nations. Teams like the Netherlands and Scotland, along with a couple of others, are really setting the benchmark there.
“I think with the introduction of cricket into the Olympics potentially coming in 2028 as well, there will be an even bigger push for exposure of Associate Nation cricket.”
- We have another Associate player in the Kent squad. Have you spoken to Fred Klaassen at all ahead of the Qualifier?
“Yes I sure have. He’s given me a lot of insight into what to expect and how to go about these tournaments, which can have such a huge impact on each team.
“Every game is so important to try and improve your ranking. We often speak about how we’d bat or bowl against each other if somewhere down the line, Italy came up against the Netherlands.”
- Is there a communication barrier at all – or do you speak any Italian!?
“Haha, no not much at all. While mine and a couple of the other boys’ Italian is very, very basic – everyone speaks English, thankfully!”
ICC Men’s T20 World Cup Europe Qualifier fixtures in full:
- Friday 15 October 2021 – Germany vs Jersey (09:15); Italy vs Denmark (14:15)
- Saturday 16 October 2021 – Denmark vs Germany (09:15); Jersey vs Italy (14:15)
- Sunday 17 October 2021 – Denmark vs Jersey (09:15); Italy vs Germany (14:15)
- Tuesday 19 October 2021 – Denmark vs Italy (09:15); Jersey vs Germany (14:15)
- Wednesday 20 October 2021 – Italy vs Jersey (09:15); Germany vs Denmark (14:15)
- Thursday 21 October 2021 – Germany vs Italy (09:15); Jersey vs Denmark (14:15)