Group A: Afghanistan, Nepal and Hong Kong paired with Full Member Bangladesh. Winner joins Australia, India, Pakistan and West Indies in Group 2 of the Super 10s
Afghanistan's loss to Ireland on Saturday night was a double-whammy. Not only did they miss out on reclaiming the tournament title in front of a partisan crowd, but they have now been dropped into Group A at the ICC World Twenty20 with the host side Bangladesh. Afghanistan are definitely capable of matching up with Bangladesh's roster and if Hamid Hassan can stay healthy enough to be in the starting XI for the tournament opener on March 16, Afghanistan will feel they have every chance of winning.
The problem for Afghanistan remains the ifs and buts. They are not a team that deals in certainties and as they showed against England in 2012 they are more capable of spontaneously combusting than they are of causing an upset. Despite the Cinderella nature of Afghanistan's ascent through the Associate ranks, it must be remembered that the shoe still only fits Ireland. They have beaten Full Members in ICC tournament play while Afghanistan have not.
Nepal's strength in Bangladesh will be their spin bowling. Left-arm spinner Basant Regmi adjusted very well to the step-up in class he faced at the qualifier in bowling to Division One Associates and there's no reason he can't do the same against Bangladesh. Shakti Gauchan had an off tournament in the UAE, but he was invited to train with Rajasthan Royals in 2012 and it wouldn't take much for him to regain his best form.
Unfortunately for Nepal, they have a popgun fast-bowling unit and they'll find it hard to seriously threaten better teams until they can find someone who bowls in the 130s kph at the very least. The batting is stronger than it was three years ago when they were in Division Five of the World Cricket League, but it doesn't match up well against quick attacks. They struggled against Afghanistan's fast men and may find the going difficult against Mashrafe Mortaza and Rubel Hossain.
Hong Kong possesses an X-factor in fast bowling, the heavy-hitting allrounder Irfan Ahmed that Nepal wish they had. With him at the top of the order plus decent support in Jamie Atkinson, Hong Kong may actually stand a better chance of giving Afghanistan and Bangladesh a good fight. Curiously, though, they do not have a good record against Nepal and if they can't beat them, Hong Kong realistically have little chance against the other two teams in their group.
Bangladesh just walloped New Zealand on home soil in an ODI series and although they lost the lone T20, the overall results are a reminder of how formidable they can be in home conditions. The three Associates in Group A have their work cut out for them.
Group B: Ireland, UAE and Netherlands paired with Full Member Zimbabwe. Winner joins England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka in Group 1 of the Super 10s
Winning the T20 Qualifier final on Saturday achieved two things for Ireland. First, it ensured they would not have to face Bangladesh on home soil. Second, their run spree in amassing 225 for 7 put England, New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka on notice that the Irishmen are coming to the games in March with a fully loaded batting arsenal. Perhaps most impressive of all is that the total was amassed with neither Niall O'Brien nor Ed Joyce in the line-up.
Ireland won't threaten to bowl any Full Member out, but they won't need to if they can muster up the same batting firepower against better attacks. Zimbabwe's line-up possesses few demons with bat or ball. It would be a major letdown for Ireland if they cannot capitalize on the Full Member pairing that the victory in the UAE has granted them.
Having said that, Ireland is not the only Associate in the group who will be penciling themselves in for two points against Zimbabwe. Netherlands may have scraped into the World T20 with a fifth-place finish in the UAE, but their qualification becomes very commendable when looking through a different lens.
Netherlands came to the UAE without Tom Cooper and Timm van der Gugten, two players who have been key contributors with bat and ball respectively over the last two years. They have also gone without the services of Ryan ten Doeschate for more than two years since he last appeared in an orange shirt at the 2011 World Cup and made two centuries. He's occupied himself with a T20 freelance career but the prospect of testing himself against the best at a World Cup event could lure him back. There's also the possibility of a Dutch requalification by Dirk Nannes, who was with Netherlands when they upset England at the 2009 World T20. He hasn't played for Australia since 2010 and would be eligible to return to play for Netherlands if he so desired. If he does, then all of a sudden, Netherlands are on equal terms with Ireland.
Judging by UAE's performance against Ireland in the semi-final at the qualifier, they appear to have drawn the short straw in this group. Their batting is a bit erratic but more than anything it is their fielding which will hold them back in major tournaments. They threaten to concede 20-30 runs each game due to their own inferiority and their opponents' superiority in ground fielding and catching. Against a Full Member that's too much debt to forgive.
However, UAE will have some very capable spinners to contend with, provided all of them are cleared to bowl. Nasir Aziz was reported twice during the qualifier for a suspect bowling action. Heading into the World T20 without his services would be a major blow.
While many people are caught up in the rush of Ireland potentially knocking off the lowest-ranked Full Member, it's worth keeping in mind that Zimbabwe beat Pakistan in a Test this September. Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza were the architects of Zimbabwe's famous win over Australia at the first World T20 in 2007 too. They will expect to do the humbling in Group B rather than being humbled.
Ireland may currently hold the best chance of causing an upset against the Full Member in this group, but Netherlands should not be overlooked provided they can get all hands on deck. If that happens, it could be a three-way scrap between Ireland, Netherlands and Zimbabwe to make it out of Group B and into the Super 10s.