Afghanistan finish top after seventh win
Nepal's romantic run in the tournament is over after they lost to Canada in a match in Sharjah that decided third place in Group A. Nepal looked in with a big chance after they kept Canada to 101 but needed to chase the target in 12.2 overs to lift their net run-rate above Canada's and seal a berth in the knockouts. At 21 for 0 after three overs in the chase, that looked possible, but two strikes from Junaid Siddiqui changed the course of the game and Nepal, who knew they had to keep playing their shots, ended up being bowled out for 83.
Nepal's openers Anil Mandal and Prithu Baskota were both dismissed attempting heaves over midwicket in the fourth over leaving Nepal in trouble. They still had their leading run-getter in the tournament, Paras Khadka, but when he was bowled trying to loft Zahid Hussain's left-arm spin in the fifth over, Nepal's hopes diminished. The batsmen, knowing they had to get to the target in just over 12 overs, kept going for their shots and kept getting out, and Canada completed their fifth win of the group stages.
The bowlers had given Nepal a chance, restricting Canada to 101 for 8. Khadka had kept things tight for Nepal in the middle overs, taking 2 for 15 in four overs, after Shakti Gauchan and Chandra Sawad had struck up front.
An aggressive half-century from Mohammad Shahzad and three wickets from medium-pacer Aftab Alam ensured Afghanistan beat Bermuda in Dubai and finished the group stage with a perfect record. Afghanistan had already qualified for the knockouts, but have gained a significant advantage by finishing top. They are potentially just one match, a preliminary final against Namibia, the first-placed team in Group B, away from qualifying for the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka this October. It also means that even if they lose that game they will have another chance to get to the final.
It was a fairly comfortable victory for Afghanistan, with Shahzad's unbeaten 64 helping them reach 177 for 5 and Bermuda never really threatening the target apart from a brief but violent cameo from Janeiro Tucker. The required-rate in the chase never dropped below 9, and Bermuda fell 15 runs short.
Afghanistan got off to a rollicking start, with Karim Sadiq hitting Kamau Leverock for three fours off the first four balls of the match. They were pegged back when both openers were dismissed in the space of eight balls, but Mohammad Shahzad picked his moments to attack, and rotated the strike the rest of the time, to put Afghanistan on course for a big score. Shahzad preferred clearing the ropes to finding the gaps, and hit five sixes in his 64 off 38 balls. Asghar Stanikzai gave Shahzad support in a 56-run third-wicket stand, before Gulbodin Naib went beserk in the end, hitting three sixes and a four in an eight-ball 26 not out. Afghanistan looted a scarcely believable 72 runs off the last four overs to reach 177.
Bermuda's chase never really got going, with regular wickets preventing them from accelerating. The required-rate was nearing 12 after 12 overs, before Janeiro Tucker slammed four consecutive sixes off Samiullah Shenwari's legspin in the 13th. Tucker exited for 37 off 16 balls off the last ball of that over, and Bermuda's challenge faded. The require-rate kept rising, and only a 16-run final over reduced the margin of what was in actuality an easy win for Afghanistan.
A dashing innings from Stephan Myburgh led a big win for Netherlands over Hong Kong in Sharjah that ensured Netherlands finished second in Group A. Myburgh and opening partner Michael Swart smashed 23 runs off the fifth over of the game, and Netherlands never let go of their stranglehold from then on. They pushed on to reach 201 for 5 and kept Hong Kong to 118 in the chase to record the second-largest margin of victory in the tournament so far: 83 runs.
The sixth over went for 17 runs, with Myburgh hitting the second off his five sixes, the seventh for 14 runs and the eighth for 15. Swart's dismissal for 38 off 22 balls did not stall the scoring-rate, as Tom Cooper hit the second and third balls he faced for boundaries. Myburgh scored 68 off 36 balls, and once he departed Cooper kept hitting the big shots, finishing with 42 off 25 balls.
Jamie Atkinson's 64 off 45 balls in the chase had a few flourishes: he hit two fours and six in the sixth over, and two sixes and a four in the seventh. But with no one else contributing Hong Kong were never in the game and slumped to a fifth defeat. Tom Cooper followed up his innings with a spell of 4-1-8-2.
Papua New Guinea managed a 14-run victory over Denmark in Abu Dhabi despite a six-wicket haul from medium-pacer Aftab Ahmed. Late strikes from Aftab, who finished with 6 for 22, kept PNG to 148 after they were 116 for 3 in 14.5 overs. Denmark, though, did not have the batting strength to chase the target, and were restricted to 134 for 8.
Aggressive innings from Mahuru Dai and Geraint Jones had given PNG a solid platform but Aftab's wickets meant they could not launch in the way they would have wanted to and they were bowled out in exactly 20 overs. Denmark slipped to 24 for 2 in the chase but three fours from Freddie Klokker in the sixth over lifted them. In the same over, though, quick Willie Gavera took his third wicket, dismissing Rizwan Mahmood and Denmark were never able to recover.
Kenya's 48-run victory over Uganda in Dubai did not lift their net run-rate enough for them to go above Scotland in the Group B table. Scotland lost to USA later but their net run-rate stayed above Kenya's by the slimmest of margins, to get them through to the knockout rounds as the third-place team from Group B.
After scoring 167 for 3, Kenya ran through Uganda's line-up, restricting them to 119 for 8. Shem Ngoche struck two early blows and the chase meandered after that. Ngoche picked up another wicket to finish with 3 for 20 and his brother James took 2 for 15 in his four.
Kenya had measured their innings well. The strategy from openers Duncan Allan and Alex Obanda was to get a boundary an over to maintain a brisk run-rate. Obanda went on to get 46 off 42 balls, and lent support to his captain Collins Obuya, whose 57 off 35 balls included three sixes. A 19-run final over boosted Kenya's total to 167, but even a big win was not enough to get them through to the knockouts.
Aditya Mishra's 62 helped United States of America upset Scotland in a tense finish in Dubai. Mishra's dismissal in the final over meant USA had to wait till the penultimate ball to finish the match, leaving Scotland's net run-rate 0.007 ahead of Kenya's, sealing third place in Group B for them. If USA had finished the match a few balls earlier, which they seemed on course to do when they needed 11 off the last two overs, they would have denied Scotland entry into the next round of the tournament.
Nevertheless, USA would be pleased with the way they managed a challenging chase of 162. Steven Taylor was aggressive early, scoring 40 off 30 balls and allowing Mishra to play second fiddle in the 78-run opening partnership. Mishra paced his innings well, and when USA took 11 runs off the 17th over, to leave them needing 20 to win off three overs, Kenya would have had their hopes up. The 19th over went for just seven runs, though, and Mishra was run out off the first ball of the 20th, leaving Orlando Baker to keep his cool and score the winning runs.
Scotland had reached 161 thanks to Jan Stander's 58 off 31 balls that included five sixes. A steady flow of wickets - they lost eight - meant they fell a few runs short of a winning total. Luckily for them, though, the total was just enough to ensure qualification for the knockouts.
Gerrie Snyman and Raymond van Schoor scored 70s to help make it seven wins out of seven games for Namibia in the group stages, as they beat Italy by 27 runs in Dubai. Namibia finish top of the group and will face Afghanistan in a match whose winner will automatically qualify for the final, and the World Twenty20.
van Schoor was the aggressor in the early part of the 144-run opening partnership, but Snyman soon caught up with a string of sixes between the 12th and 15th overs. Snyman was dismissed for 78 off 49 balls but van Schoor stayed till the end, reaching 73 not out and helping Namibia reach 194 for 2.
Italy's openers got the chase off to a swift start, but they lost wickets in the middle overs, and ended up well short. Alessandro Bonora provided some entertainment with a few big hits down the order, but the required-rate was always on the rise.
Ireland completed their Group A programme with a comfortable 44-run win over Oman in the Sheikh Zayeed Stadium. The result meant Oman ended the tournament as the only side without a win. Read the full report here.
The first stage of the knockouts are on March 22, with Ireland playing Canada and Netherlands taking on Scotland. The winners of those two games will play each other on March 23, with the victor taking on the loser of the March 22 game between Afghanistan and Namibia on March 24. The team that wins that match will have to play the final on the same day, against the winner of Afghanistan v Namibia. Both finalists will feature in the World Twenty20 later this year.