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Ireland and Afghanistan dominate the list, but a couple of Nepal players caught the eye as well
Peter Della Penna in Dubai
March 25, 2012
Raymond van Schoor (Namibia)
324 runs at 54.00, 6 wickets at 19.16
Namibia went undefeated in Group B and van Schoor played a leading role in taking his side to within a game of sealing a spot at the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. He wasn't as flamboyant as team-mates Gerrie Snyman or Louis van der Westhuizen, but was quietly efficient throughout Namibia's seven wins. He scored three-half centuries and led the run-chart during the group stages. He finished with the highest average of all batsmen at the qualifiers and was named Player of the Tournament. Just 21, he's one of several youngsters Namibia are building around in an attempt to force their way into the top flight of Associate nations.
Paul Stirling (Ireland)
357 runs at 44.62, 9 wickets at 18.55
In group play, Stirling was fifth on Ireland's run-chart, with 125 runs in seven matches and a high score of 41. He nearly tripled that aggregate in four playoff games, against Canada, Netherlands, Namibia and Afghanistan. Stirling truly saved his best for last with an explosive display in the final, in which he scored the second fastest Twenty20 international half-century, off just 17 balls, before finishing with 79 off 38. It was his third half-century of the playoffs. He finished as the tournament's leading scorer and ensured Ireland left Dubai as winners of the tournament.
Mohammad Shahzad (Afghanistan)
352 runs at 50.28
Afghanistan won eight straight before losing in the final to Ireland and Shahzad was at the heart of their success throughout the event. A victory over Netherlands in their second game put them in pole position to top Group A and Shahzad was Man of the Match that day, with 54 to lead the chase in a four-wicket win. Two more half-centuries followed, including his top score at the event: 77 against Ireland. Shahzad was also more than adequate behind the stumps with eight catches and two stumpings.
Jamie Atkinson (Hong Kong)
345 runs at 49.28
Atkinson, the young, brawny captain of Hong Kong, finished third overall in the run-chart and was the standout batsman among teams who failed to reach the knockout stage. His four half-centuries were tied for most in the tournament with Shahzad and team-mate Irfan Ahmed while his strike-rate of 149.35 was fourth among players with 100 or more runs in the tournament. He was comfortable against pace and spin, and was particularly impressive with his use of the sweep. Hong Kong may have disappointed as a team, but Atkinson certainly did not and the experience gained in this event will come in handy the next time they compete in a global ICC qualification tournament.
Paras Khadka (Nepal)
254 runs at 50.80, 7 wickets at 23.14
Nepal's Mr. Everything, Khadka is always under immense pressure to perform with the bat. On the first day he came through with 68 in an impressive 28-run win over Hong Kong to nab the first of three Man of the Match awards during the qualifiers. He rounded off the tournament in similar fashion, with 62 not out against Papua New Guinea to win the seventh-place game. That was just a day after he scored 26 not out and struck the winning boundary in a five-wicket victory over ODI-nation Kenya. The key to Nepal climbing up the Associates ladder is developing a few more batsmen to complement Khadka.
Gary Wilson (Ireland)
238 runs at 39.66
Stirling may have stolen the show in the knockouts, but Wilson was Ireland's unsung hero in the group stages and did a lot to erase any doubts about how the team might fare without Niall O'Brien. He was always ready to give Ireland a boost in the middle overs, and on the few times that Ireland ran into trouble he provided a cool head to help rebuild and get the team over the line, such as the match against Italy when he scored 30 not out in a two-wicket win. When Afghanistan threatened to come back in the final by dismissing Stirling and Kevin O'Brien off back-to-back balls, it was Wilson who regained control for Ireland with 32 before holing out three runs away from the target.
Kevin O'Brien (Ireland)
188 runs at 31.33, 11 wickets at 12.18
All the fanfare surrounding O'Brien is focused on his big hitting and he lived up to that with cameos against USA, Uganda, Oman and Netherlands. He never reached 50, but his strike-rate of 148.03 did a lot to devastate teams in the last few overs. However, O'Brien's real value to Ireland in the UAE was his bowling. After John Mooney and Alex Cusack went down with injuries, captain William Porterfield tossed O'Brien the ball and asked him to fill the void. He took 3 for 35 in a late spell against Scotland and his 2 for 17 cut off any hopes Netherlands had of posting a defendable total in their playoff encounter. Afghanistan looked set for 170 in the final before O'Brien's crucial spell of 2 for 18 reined them in.
Majid Haq (Scotland)
17 wickets at 11.52
Most of Scotland's players struggled to find consistency in the tournament but offspinner Haq wasn't one of them. Haq took at least two wickets in seven of the nine games his team played in the tournament, tying for the most wickets at the qualifiers. The only matches in which he didn't take wickets were in losses to Namibia and USA, underscoring how much Scotland depended on him for success. He went for less than six an over as well, the only Scotland bowler to do so.
Shakti Gauchan (Nepal)
16 wickets at 11.18
Suffocating spin bowling is Nepal's foundation for success and Gauchan was their chief exponent of that at the qualifiers, with a superb economy rate of 4.97. He bowled five maidens in the tournament, which was the most for any player and more than every team except Ireland. Some of his best performances were when he opened the bowling. He took 2 for 11 against Hong Kong, including the big scalp of Atkinson, and his 1 for 17 against Canada gave Nepal a chance for a massive upset on the final day of group play before they ultimately fell short.
Boyd Rankin (Ireland)
15 wickets at 11.06
Rankin was at a different level than just about every other bowler at the qualifiers. His economy-rate of 4.25 was the best of any bowler with a minimum of one over per match. The bounce he gets from his height combined with his pace meant opposition batsmen found it very awkward trying to get him away. Rankin gave a glimpse of his menace in the final, nailing Afghanistan's Karim Sadiq on the helmet with a bouncer that ricocheted onto the stumps. At 27, he's hitting peak form and Ireland must hope that England's fast bowling depth remains strong so that Rankin isn't snatched away from them.
Dawlat Zadran (Afghanistan)
17 wickets at 7.88
He roared with pace all tournament long, turning in one of only three five-wicket hauls at the event with 5 for 14 against Hong Kong. Namibia never had a chance in the playoffs after Zadran rocked them in his opening spell with 3 for 5 and he put in another scintillating display against Ireland, removing Porterfield with the first ball of the chase before coming back later to get rid of Stirling and O'Brien to put himself on a hat-trick. In the past, the strategy against Afghanistan might have been to see off Hamid Hassan and then take a chance against the rest of the attack. With Zadran's emergence as a potent strike weapon, that may no longer be an option.
Edited by Dustin Silgardo
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New JerseyFeeds: Peter Della Penna
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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