Teams fight for seeding, lighter World Cup schedule
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Bert Sutcliffe Oval, Lincoln (10:30 local, 21:30 GMT Friday, January 31)
The hardest part of the World Cup Qualifier may be over for Scotland and UAE but both sides still have something to play for heading into Saturday's tournament final at the Bert Sutcliffe Oval. Both teams managed to navigate their way through the Super Sixes to finish in the top two spots and in the process, secured qualification to the 2015 World Cup. Saturday's final will determine the teams' seeding for the main event next year in Australia and New Zealand.
The winner will join Afghanistan in Group A along with Australia, New Zealand, England, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, while the runner-up will drop into Group B with South Africa, India, Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Ireland, who won the World Cricket League Championship, Intercontinental Cup as well as the World Twenty20 Qualifier in 2013 to stamp their authority as the kings of Associate cricket.
At first glance, it may not appear to be too significant which group Scotland or UAE gets placed into, as each draw poses hefty challenges. Group A contains both host nations, a formidable obstacle for the Full Member participants to overcome let alone the Associates, while Group B contains the defending World Cup champions India.
However, a subtle yet important reward for the team that wins the final is a far less demanding travel schedule within the tournament next year. Qualifier Three, the winner of the Scotland vs. UAE match, will play their first four Group A matches in New Zealand's south island in Dunedin, Christchurch and Nelson before traveling to Tasmania for their last two Group A matches in Hobart. It means a relatively light travel schedule of just 2,084 miles.
The loser of Saturday's final will have to endure a far more taxing flight schedule, shuttling between New Zealand and Australia. Their adventure will begin in Nelson before heading off to Brisbane and then all the way to Perth before flying back to New Zealand again to round out their Group B matches in Napier and Wellington. By the end of their six group matches, that team will have traveled 7,456 miles. Professionals might have no issue with it but for a semi-pro or amateur squad like the UAE, a little thing like this can make a big difference.
In the spotlight
Stand-in skipper Preston Mommsen stepped up in a big way following an injury to Scotland captain Kyle Coetzer. After scoring 118 earlier in the qualifier against Hong Kong, Mommsen scored 94 in a 52-run win over Papua New Guinea before following it up with arguably a more valuable 78, steering his side out of trouble in a tense three-wicket win over Kenya to earn Scotland a trip to the World Cup.
Heading into the tournament, UAE captain Khurram Khan was the oldest player at 42 years and 206 days, beating out Kenya's Steve Tikolo by four days. He hasn't showed any signs of wearing down though, and is the leading scorer at the event with 547 runs, 146 more than Scotland's Calum MacLeod at number two, at an average of 78.14 including one century and four fifties.
Scotland entered the tournament on the back of a disappointing seventh-place finish at the World T20 Qualifiers. A shake-up occurred in the aftermath of that failure with longtime coach Pete Steindl stepping down to make way for Paul Collingwood. The move has had the desired effect in New Zealand. Scotland won their two pre-tournament warm-up matches against Papua New Guinea and Namibia before suffering a hiccup in the first official match, a 17-run loss to Hong Kong.
From then on though, they mowed through the competition by posting three emphatic wins over Nepal (90 runs), UAE (53 runs) and Canada (170 runs). Calum MacLeod was the catalyst for their success in Group A, posting 113 against the UAE and a Scotland record 175 against Canada to propel the team to the top of Group A. They extended their winning streak to six games with victories over Namibia, PNG and Kenya to reach the final.
Scotland: (possible) 1 Matty Cross (wk), 2 Calum MacLeod, 3 Matt Machan, 4 Preston Mommsen (capt), 5 Freddie Coleman, 6 Richie Berrington, 7 Michael Leask, 8 Rob Taylor, 9 Safyaan Sharif, 10 Majid Haq, 11 Iain Wardlaw
Even though UAE's array of left-arm spinners are their biggest strength, they have adapted to New Zealand conditions well. Pace bowlers Manjula Guruge, Amjad Javed, Kamran Shazad and Mohammad Naveed have all taken 10 or more wickets at the qualifiers. They're the only team in the 10-team event to have four pace bowlers take double-digit wickets.
On the batting side, they have a pair of explosive middle-order players to complement Khurram. Shaiman Anwar has one century in the tournament already and was the leading scorer in the World Cricket League Championship, 150 runs ahead of Ireland's William Porterfield and 30 ahead of Scotland's Coetzer. Swapnil Patil is the second-highest run-scorer at the tournament behind Khurram with 265, and can score quickly when the occasion calls for it.
UAE: (possible) 1 Amjad Ali, 2 Salman Faris, 3 Khurram Khan (capt), 4 Shaiman Anwar, 5 Rohan Mustafa, 6 Swapnil Patil (wk), 7 Vikrant Shetty, 8 Amjad Javed, 9 Mohammad Naveed, 10 Kamran Shazad, 11 Manjula Guruge
Stats and trivia
"You can't describe in words the feeling. I've been playing for UAE since 2001 and it is an amazing feeling to help my team to qualify."
Khurram Khan helped UAE reach their first Cricket World Cup since 1996
"We had heard the news that Hong Kong had a pretty convincing win, so it might have added a bit more pressure. But we wanted to win and we got over the line. It was a massive team effort."
Preston Mommsen's team was determined to make their third World Cup trip
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. He tweets here