World T20 Qualifier 2015 July 20, 2015

Hong Kong confront a bogey, Namibia target a first

Hong Kong have never beaten Afghanistan in a T20 match, and Irfan Ahmed will likely be crucial to changing that © ICC/Sportsfile

Afghanistan vs Hong Kong

Afghanistan waltzed into first place after the group stages in each of their first three appearances in the World T20 qualifier. They were undefeated in 2010 and 2012 and suffered only one loss in 2013 before moving on. This year, playing outside their operational base in the UAE for the first time, Afghanistan ended up at third.

They did beat the teams sitting ahead of them - Scotland and Netherlands - and thumped UAE as well, but a banana peel loss to Oman sandwiched by two washouts against Canada and Kenya have proven costly. It means Afghanistan have to better Asian rivals Hong Kong to secure a berth in India next year.

Meek top order displays in the 50-over World Cup led to Mohammad Shahzad's recall. So far it seems a good move, he has muscled 74 off 37 and 75 off 36 in back-to-back games against UAE and Scotland. Pertinently, in five T20 matches against Hong Kong, he averages 68.33 with two half-centuries.

On the bowling front, Afghanistan's quicks have been upstaged by the offspin of Mohammad Nabi. With eight wickets so far, the former captain has been their most successful bowler. The pitch in Malahide has been conducive to spin and he will remain a threat. But more support is needed from Hamid Hassan and Dawlat Zadran to keep Hong Kong's batting in check.

Hong Kong are trying to recover from upsets themselves - they slipped up against Jersey and USA. That they still managed to finish in second place is a testament to team's resilience. And they will require lots of it on Wednesday considering they have lost all six T20s played against Afghanistan. Besides one eight-run defeat, the others were by big margins: 120 runs in 2009, eight wickets, nine wickets, and seven wickets twice. The most recent of those was at last year's World T20 in Bangladesh, where Afghanistan chased down 154 with ease.

As far as key players are concerned, Irfan Ahmed has turned in two Man of the Match performances against Namibia and Ireland. But his record against Afghanistan is bleak. He averages 13.50 and only once has he made it to double-figures. His 98 against Namibia on Sunday was a good sign though, and it helped that he had a former captain in Jamie Atkinson as his opening partner. Anshuman Rath, the 17-year old, was demoted after struggling to take advantage of the Powerplay. Hong Kong's best chance of a first win over Afghanistan in T20 cricket will rely on a solid foundation from the new opening pair.

Namibia v Netherlands

Ben Cooper has been one of the most consistent batsmen of the tournament © ICC/Donald MacLeod

Had Netherlands completed their ferocious chase against Kenya on Saturday three balls quicker, they would have sealed passage to the World T20 and rested up for an entire week before the semi-finals here. That they still scored 98 in 8.3 overs is a reminder of how explosive they can be when pushed into a corner. It is hard to forget what they did to Ireland in the World T20 last year.

Four of their batsmen - Ben Cooper, Wesley Barresi, Peter Borren and Stephan Myburgh - have tallied more than 100 runs from the group stages. Only Scotland, with five, are better off.

Ahsan Malik has been suspended from bowling for the rest of the tournament due to a suspect action, but Timm van der Gugten has picked up the slack, picking up four wickets in his last two games. Spinners Roelof van der Merwe and Michael Rippon have taken nine and seven wickets respectively and will like the conditions in Malahide.

Namibia, meanwhile, are aiming to qualify for their first World T20 after a disappointing exit from the qualifier tournament in 2012. They had been undefeated in the league phase and had two chances to confirm a spot in the World T20 in Sri Lanka. But they lost both times. Playing against Ireland and Afghanistan, they failed to reach a total of 100 in either game, after having been the most prolific batting line-up in the group stages.

Namibia have two cracks at the prize this year as well courtesy openers Stephan Baard and Gerrie Snyman, who have led them into the playoffs. Baard is the leading run-scorer in the tournament with 243 runs at an average of 60.75 and Snyman is in fourth place with 192 runs at 32.00. They have two half-centuries each, but no one else has been consistent enough.

Namibia possess one of the tournament's most effective slow bowlers in Bernard Scholtz. He is tied for most wickets - 10 - by a spinner with USA's Timil Patel and third overall behind John Mooney and Alisdair Evans. Snyman's offspin has also claimed seven, but their pace-bowlers have not produced performances of substance. Namibia have already conceded 161 to Jersey and 197 to Hong Kong and a similar total against Netherlands is likely to leave them in trouble. But If Namibia lose, they will have one final chance, on Thursday, to secure that elusive berth in a World T20.

Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna

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