Big picture

The heat is on in the Group 2 permutations, and New Zealand - for all that their destiny remains firmly in their own hands - know that an apparently comfortable route to the semi-finals could yet get a touch dicey if they drop their guard against two opponents who have scotched preconceptions to prove themselves the best of the rest.

On paper, a final trio of group games comprising Scotland, Namibia and Afghanistan couldn't really be more straightforward at this level. In reality, however, the intensity of both the itinerary (three day-games for New Zealand in five days, in three different cities) and the blazing heat of the afternoon desert sun poses an intensely awkward challenge - particularly given the stirrings elsewhere in race for second place, with India's crunching victory over Afghanistan on Wednesday reawakening a challenge that looked to be dead on arrival.

So, how do New Zealand pace themselves as they enter a match that, with all due respect to a magnificently combative Namibia outfit, they really are not expected to lose? They were given a fright by Scotland in Dubai on Wednesday, not least by Mark Watt's grafting fingerspin, and while Michael Leask's devil-may-care hitting came too late to truly challenge an upset, it did limit the margin of defeat to a slender 16 runs - not the net run rate boost that Kane Williamson's men might have been envisaging to guard against accidents in the final analysis.

Moreover, speaking in the wake of his Player-of-the-Match-winning 93, Martin Guptill conceded he had been pretty "cooked" by the conditions, as he missed some of New Zealand's fielding stint with cramp. He'll have to replenish his fluids fast, as more of the same sweltering awaits in Sharjah on Friday, and again against Afghanistan on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, by which stage India will - in all probability - have beaten Scotland to leave themselves primed to strike in the event of a slip-up. By contrast, Afghanistan - ever dangerous in spite of some heavy losses - will have rested up for three days in their Abu Dhabi base before that critical clash.

It could, of course, be entirely academic. New Zealand could simply stretch their legs from hereon in, much as they did in last week's crushing win over the pre-tournament favourites India, in which the established world-beating credentials of Trent Boult and Williamson dovetailed superbly with their less-heralded matchwinners, Ish Sodhi, Mitchell Santner and Daryl Mitchell, to deliver a thumping eight-wicket win with 33 balls to spare.

And yet Namibia, lest we forget, were briefly the Group 2 leaders after a fine victory over Scotland in Abu Dhabi. They also beat Ireland and the Netherlands in the first round, and earned the respect of Pakistan's high-flyers in a gutsy 45-run loss earlier this week. With the experienced all-round knowhow of David Wiese anchoring their challenge with bat and ball, they've found a succession of star turns in a variety of key roles, not least the aggressive left-arm pace of Ruben Trumpelmann, whose consistent menace against all opponents has propelled him firmly onto the world stage.

Anticipating an upset might stretching a point. But given that Group 1 had been earmarked as the supposed "group of death", due to the presence therein of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, compared to the apparent makeweights on the other side of the draw, Namibia's poise, tenacity and unfettered talent has been a joy to watch. They'll be in it to win it on Friday. Why not? They've waited the best part of two decades for their second go on the global stage, and these are the times of their lives.

Form guide

New Zealand WWLWL (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Namibia LLWWW

In the spotlight

With his imposing frame and propensity for raw power, Martin Guptill is a crucial cog in New Zealand's T20I line-up, and one who came good at a vital moment to guard against any accidents versus Scotland. His 93 from 56 balls was his first half-century in the format since March, but if he is to build on that innings, he may need to overcome one major weakness in his record. His record against left-arm pace bowlers pales compared to all other forms of bowling - with an average of 13.8 in 16 innings, and a strike rate of 78. Trumpelmann, JJ Smit and Jan Frylinck may be queuing up to keep the pressure on.

Batting in the powerplay has proven tricky for Namibia in this tournament, with only one opening stand exceeding either 30 runs or a run-a-ball in six attempts, including four different pairings at the top of the order. Craig Williams had a go in three of those outings, without any great success, but he was back at No. 3 against Pakistan this week, from where his 40 from 37 balls offered a bit of ballast before Wiese's late onslaught helped Namibia to finish on a high. At the age of 37, and having come out of retirement specially for this campaign, he'll be looking to produce more of the same on a wicket that may not be far removed from the sorts of slow, low surface that he's encountered back home in Windhoek.

Team news

Despite the challenge of the itinerary, there is little need for New Zealand to fiddle with their successful line-up. Kyle Jamieson continues to wait in the wings in case of the need to rotate the quicks.

New Zealand (probable): 1 Daryl Mitchell, 2 Martin Guptill, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Devon Conway (wk), 5 Glenn Phillips, 6 Jimmy Neesham, 7 Mitchell Santner, 8 Adam Milne, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Trent Boult/Kyle Jamieson, 11 Ish Sodhi.

Namibia's captain Gerhard Erasmus has been coping with a broken finger, sustained in the tournament warm-ups, but he's unlikely to bow out now. The one change could come in the bowling stakes, where Ben Shikongo could make way once more for Bernard Scholtz.

Namibia (probable): 1 Stephen Baard, 2 Michael van Lingen, 3 Craig Williams, 4 Gerhard Erasmus (capt), 5 David Wiese, 6 JJ Smit, 7 Jan Frylinck, 8 Zane Green (wk), 9 Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton, 10 Ruben Trumpelmann, 11 Bernard Scholtz/Ben Shikongo.

Stats that matter

  • This will be the first meeting between New Zealand and Namibia in any international format.
  • With 63 wickets in 48 appearances since the 2016 World T20, Ish Sodhi is the joint-second most-successful bowler in the T20Is in the past five years. Only Afghanistan's Rashid Khan (83 in 41) has more. The average first-innings score in 22 T20Is at Sharjah is 146 for 7. However, in a reflection of the difficulty of defending totals, the average winning first-innings score at the venue rises to 163 for 6.
  • Both teams have played a solitary T20I in Sharjah. Each of those contests came in the current tournament, with Namibia defeating Ireland in the first round, before Pakistan's victory over New Zealand in the Super 12s.

Quotes

"They are [dangerous] for sure. Especially in T20 cricket, there's an upset just around the corner. We've got to be ready. We've got to treat it as just another match, not look too far ahead, obviously."
Mitchell Santner acknowledges the threat that Namibia will pose in their penultimate outing of the tournament

"In T20 cricket, one person can take the game away from the opposition. And if it's your day, you can stand up and be that Man-of-the-Match performance, and you never know what can happen."
David Wiese has eyes on a big performance for his team

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket