Four more World T20 spots up for grabs
The ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier heads into the home stretch this week with eight teams battling it out for the four remaining spots at the main event in Bangladesh next year. Afghanistan and Ireland have already clinched berths for the ICC World Twenty20 after finishing at the top of their respective groups while those placed two through five in each group will now play crossover games in an attempt to grab the other berths available.
Asian rivals Hong Kong and Nepal square off in the first match of the second phase. Despite being a few rungs below Hong Kong in the international rankings, Nepal has had their number in the Paras Khadka era, going 6-2 in limited-overs contests against Hong Kong since 2006. In their most recent contest earlier this year, Hong Kong defeated Nepal by six wickets in a Twenty20. Both teams have solid batting lineups, but the leading lights for Nepal have strong records against Hong Kong, particularly Khadka. The winner of this game will qualify for the World T20 but the loser will have a second chance to qualify.
Namibia and Papua New Guinea square off in the first elimination match. After impressive wins over Kenya and the Netherlands, PNG backed their way into the playoffs with a final day win over Bermuda. Namibia started off a pair of losses to Ireland and the UAE before righting their ship later in the group stage. Even though Namibia finished fourth in Group A and PNG fifth in Group B, PNG performed far more impressively, with opener Tony Ura, who finished group play tied for second with Ireland's William Porterfield on the runs list, catalyst to their success. They are expected to KO Namibia to set up a date with the loser of the Nepal v Hong Kong match for another dig at the qualifying spot on Thursday.
On the other side of the playoff draw, the Netherlands will take on the hosts UAE for an automatic berth at the World Twenty20. The Dutch side made an emphatic statement against Afghanistan to open the tournament, then faltered against PNG and Scotland. UAE's batting lineup isn't as strong as the Netherlands, but their spinners should continue to exploit home conditions. The Netherlands are also at a disadvantage with left-arm spinner Pieter Seelaar ruled out due to a dislocated left shoulder.
Scotland take on Italy in an elimination game to set up the winner of which will take on the loser of the UAE v Netherlands game on Thursday. At one point Scotland looked like they had no chance of reaching the playoffs after three losses in their first four games. Matt Machan's batting lifted the team up in the latter portion of group play, allowing them to claim fourth place in Group B. He finished the first round as the leading scorer in the tournament with 301 runs at an average of 60.20 and his efforts went a long way to ensure Scotland avoided the same embarrassment experienced by Kenya and Canada, the only two of the six ODI Associate nations who failed to advance to the playoffs. Italy finished fifth in a weak Group A and with Scotland riding a hot streak after three straight wins it's hard to see how Scotland won't come out on top.
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. He tweets here