The hunters have become the hunted at this year's World Twenty20 Qualifier, and nowhere is that more evident than in the case of Afghanistan. A group-stage loss to Oman in Scotland has now been followed by their first ever loss to Hong Kong in T20 cricket.
Afghanistan must now win against Papua New Guinea on Thursday, or be left home for next year's World T20 in India. The pair of losses for Afghanistan coincided with strike bowler Hamid Hassan being out of the line-up after taking six wickets in the first three games. His possible return may galvanise the team in the field, but if he can not go again, PNG will be very much in the contest.
On the batting side, Samiullah Shenwari has been relatively quiet since scoring 44 and 30 not out in the team's first two wins over Netherlands and UAE to start the qualifiers. He is one of only three batsmen in the side, along with opener Mohammad Shahzad and captain Asghar Stanikzai, to pass 100 runs for the team. Najibullah Zadran has the capacity to devastate in the middle alongside Shenwari, but his aggression has backfired in the two losses to Oman and Hong Kong, scoring just 2 and 5. Shenwari and Najibullah must back up the good starts laid at the top.
PNG flew out of the gate with three straight wins, including a stunner over Group A favourites Ireland in Belfast. However, having three games scheduled back-to-back in Dublin clearly took its toll on the team. After a straightforward win over Nepal to kick off that stretch, they were beaten by Namibia. A tired bowling and fielding effort against USA followed, and it cost them a chance at the top spot and an automatic berth to India.
The one positive to finishing fourth on net run-rate behind Hong Kong and Namibia despite being equal on points, is that they got three days to rest instead of one. A fully charged PNG unit will be a handful for Afghanistan to deal with, and will help close the talent gap between the two sides.
On the whole, though, PNG's batting unit has struggled. The team's highest individual score has been 34, made by both Assad Vala and Tony Ura. Only once have PNG had a fifty-plus stand in the whole tournament, between Vala and Ura against Namibia, tied for the fewest in the tournament. If it were not for the No.10 batsman Norman Vanua's four sixes against Ireland, they may not even be in this game. The batting needs to pick up the slack to have any chance against Afghanistan's bowlers.
Namibia v Oman
After blowing two chances to qualify for the World T20 in 2012, Namibia tripped up again on Tuesday against Netherlands. The tournament's most explosive batsman, Gerrie Snyman, was run out before facing a ball while fellow opener Stephen Baard, the tournament's leading scorer, fell for single digits and from there, Namibia had little chance against a clinical Netherlands outfit.
Of Namibia's five highest partnerships during the tournament, four have involved Baard. He is arguably more crucial to Namibia's hopes of putting up a defendable total than Snyman just for his consistency.
Bernard Scholtz almost single-handedly kept Namibia in the match against Netherlands with his slow left-arm spell of 3 for 13. He now has 13 wickets in the tournament, but lack of support from the seamers continues to be a problem hindering Namibia's performance on the field. To make matters worse, JJ Smit left the field during the Netherlands chase with what appeared to be a rib injury. If he can not go on Thursday, more responsibility will fall on Jason Davidson and Sarel Burger to pick up the slack with the ball.
Oman currently sit in World Cricket League Division Five and have a global ranking of 29th, which pits them seventh among Asian Associates behind even Singapore and Malaysia, who sit in Division Three. If Oman were to continue their remarkable journey through this tournament with a win over Namibia, they would become the lowest ranked team to qualify for a World Cup.
Foremost among their heroes in Scotland is allrounder Zeeshan Maqsood. In their first win of the tournament over Canada, Maqsood raced to an unbeaten 86 off 41 balls, a knock which Oman technical consultant Derek Pringle told ESPNcricinfo was Chris Gayle-esque. He also took 4 for 23 in the 40-run win over Afghanistan.
But Maqsood has not done it alone. Slingy fast bowler Munis Ansari's 4 for 15 against Netherlands reduced them from 134 for 5 to 135 all out. No.3 batsman Jatinder Singh then struck an unbeaten 65 not out to round out their first shock win before sucker-punching Afghanistan. If Oman can outlast Namibia on Thursday, it would make a fantastic fourth win and a spot in India will be theirs.