PNG, Hong Kong seek first World Cup spot
A thrilling last day of the group stage provided a jolt to the World Cup Qualifier standings: while Canada's demise to Scotland was consistent with their overall form over the last few years, Netherlands' failure against Kenya was shocking and could have seismic consequences for their semi-professional structure.
Finishing outside the top six for Canada and Netherlands may result in a significant reduction in ICC development funding from the governing body's high performance programme. Another ripple effect is the potential loss of sponsors due to the lack of exposure from not advancing to the World Cup, something each team had accomplished on three straight occasions.
Thursday's results also open up a strong possibility that there will be at least one and perhaps two first-time participants at the 14-team event in Australia and New Zealand next year. Each of the six teams advancing will now play three games in the Super Sixes phase beginning on Sunday.
The three teams in Group A will play crossover games with the three that advanced from Group B. All teams carry forward points from the group stage that were gained against the other teams that have advanced with them to the Super Sixes. Here is a look at each of the remaining six teams' chances of qualifying for the 2015 ICC World Cup.
Papua New Guinea
The Barramundis look quite set to lock up their first ever World Cup berth and the first one for a team from the ICC's East Asia-Pacific region. The catalyst for success has been opener Lega Siaka, who has two hundreds and a fifty to go along with a tournament average of 147.
PNG carry four points forward from group play, the only team to do so. They also have the best net run rate of the six teams advancing at +1.983, including a massive +1.521 advantage over the next best team, Scotland. If they sweep their Super Six games against Scotland, UAE and Hong Kong, they'll automatically clinch a World Cup berth. Even if they win two out of three, it will probably still be enough considering the net-run-rate tiebreaker advantage they enter with.
After a first-day loss to Hong Kong, Scotland rebounded impressively to go 3-1 in Group A, culminating in a 170-run stomping of Canada. Opener Calum MacLeod is the tournament's leading scorer with 345 runs in four innings, including a pair of centuries.
Of the four teams on two points entering the Super Sixes, Scotland enjoys the best net run rate with +0.462. That puts them +0.512 ahead of Hong Kong and +0.859 ahead of the UAE. At the very least they'll need two wins to give themselves a chance of advancing to the final, while three wins would almost certainly clinch a spot.
They were 3-0 in Group A before losing to the UAE on Thursday. Had that result been reversed, Hong Kong would have carried four points forward to the Super Sixes and restricted UAE to zero moving into the next stage. Instead, they essentially conceded what could have been a sizeable advantage on everyone except Papua New Guinea and now sit third on the Super Sixes table. They are sandwiched between Scotland and UAE on two points, with a net run rate of -0.050.
Fast bowler Haseeb Amjad is the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 13 at 12.92. UAE have also had excellent contributions from allrounder Irfan Ahmed with a century and two fifties, making him the team's leading scorer with 265 runs at 132.50. Arguably, they match up better with Namibia, PNG and Kenya than Scotland do and are capable of producing the heavy wins needed to stay in the hunt to reach their first World Cup.
UAE would still have advanced into the Super Sixers had they lost to Hong Kong, but the 22-run victory ensured they moved into the next stage with points on the board and simultaneously diminished Hong Kong's advantage. With both teams on two points each, that victory could prove crucial to their progress in the tournament.
UAE's net run rate is now -0.397, not an insurmountable difference to make up with Scotland and Hong Kong but not an easy one either. Khurram Khan, 42, has had a profitable tournament with the bat, notching three half-centuries in four innings. The UAE captain must keep up that scoring pace in the Super Sixes to give his team the best chance of securing a World Cup berth.
Gerrie Snyman's impact on the tournament cannot be understated. After a year out of the national team, he scored a run-a-ball 74 on his return in a 91-run win over Netherlands in Namibia's first match of the tournament. That result went a long way towards securing Namibia's qualification for the second round, and preventing Netherlands from advancing further.
On the flip side, Namibia's final-day loss to PNG produced a double-whammy. Not only did it prevent them from carrying four points forward to the Super Sixes, but with PNG overhauling the target in 25 overs, Namibia's net run rate plummeted and now sits at -1.125. They are significantly behind not only PNG but also the three other teams who carried two points forward and will need to register three convincing wins to have any chance of finishing among the top two and qualifying for the World Cup.
They may be on the wane, but for at least one day Kenya turned back the clock to the country's golden era with an audacious chase on the final day of group play against Netherlands. With their backs to the wall, Kenya not only beat the pre-tournament favourites but won the race against time to reach the target of 266 with enough overs remaining to pass Netherlands on net run rate, keeping their World Cup qualification hopes alive while eliminating the Dutch from contention.
Regardless of how the stage goes for them, Irfan Karim has shown Kenya is still capable of developing talent. The 21-year-old spearheaded the chase against the Netherlands with 108 while former captain Collins Obuya has played with more freedom since relinquishing the reins and currently is the highest scorer for the team in New Zealand with 215 runs including one century and a fifty. Kenya's chances of finishing in the top two are remote with zero points carried forward from the group stage. They will need wins over Scotland, UAE and Hong Kong plus several favorable results in the other games in order to somehow finish in the top two.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. He tweets here