Afghanistan, Ireland, Papua New Guinea and the USA booked their tickets to the ICC Under-19 World Cup after victories in Tuesday's round of matches. Two more qualifying spots remain in now what promises to be an exciting finish to the nine-team tournament in King City.
Afghanistan, who arrived late for the tournament due to visa issues, sealed their passage to next year's event in New Zealand with a three-wicket victory over Uganda. Zakiullah Zaki's 3 for 22 helped Afghanistan bowl out Uganda for 182 before they overhauled the target with 7.2 overs to spare.
"I am very happy especially for the people back in Afghanistan," said captain Shir Mohammad Shirzai. "It is a great achievement for the country. All the boys are really excited. It has been a dream to play in a World Cup against some of the big nations like India and Pakistan."
Ireland maintained their supremacy at the top of the points table after crushing Hong Kong by 93 runs. Captain Andrew Balbirnie's 70, along with James Shannon's unbeaten 68, helped Ireland post a competitive 252 for 7. Hong Kong were flattened for 159 in the chase with George Dockrell (6 for 19) and Liam Nelson (4 for 30) the wreckers-in-chief. Ashish Gadhia was left playing a lone hand for Hong Kong with 58.
Balbirnie said his side was delighted to qualify for the main tournament. "It's huge for us to qualify, particularly when we have got two games of our campaign still in hand," he said. "Now the aim is to move on and win the tournament and I think we can do that as we have done really well here, apart from the loss to the USA. Our aim is to beat a Test playing nation at the World Cup. We know it will be a big task as we know how good players from those countries are."
He also thanked Phil Simmons, the senior team coach, who had been in Toronto during the tournament to watch proceedings. "It's been really good to have Phil here as he is an experienced coach and player," Balbirnie said. "He has been talking to us one on one to help improve our games and it has been great for him to be here."
USA made quick amends after their first loss yesterday, beating Netherlands comfortably by 33 runs at the Maple Leaf South-West Ground. It was all stops and starts once USA chose to bat, with Abhijit Joshi's patient 26 being the highest score of the innings. The Netherlands bowlers maintained a tight line with Philip van den Brandeler (3 for 48) leading the way and Lucas Brouwers and Paul van Meekeren chipping in with two wickets apiece. Naseer Jamali provided some late ammunition for USA with a quick 25 to inch the score past 200.
Thirties from opener Mels Hartman and captain Tim Gruijters looked to have put Netherlands on course during the chase before legspinner Saqib Saleem turned on the heat. Having provided USA with the first breakthrough by running out Dennis Coster, Saleem prised open the middle order and end any chance of a Netherlands fight. He picked up 3 for 42 as Netherlands were bowled out in the 46th over.
"People don't realise that cricket is growing fast in the USA," said USA captain Shiva Vashishat. "But now that we have qualified for the World Cup, it shows the pace of its growth and popularity of the sport. We are looking forward to come hard at the bigger teams at the World Cup and do well. It will be a very good experience as we all want to make it to the senior team."
Papua New Guinea made light work of Vanuatu at the Maple Leaf North-East Ground, chasing down a below-par 194 with five wickets in hand. Batting first, Vanuatu got off to a positive start with openers Lazaro Carlot (40) and Walford Kalworai (38) putting on 68, but legspinner Charles Amini picked up 4 for 32 to undo the good work. Amini's two middle-order wickets and two from the tail effectively ended any chances of consolidation from Vanuatu. Well-compiled thirties from Lega Tau, Sese Bau and Vagi Oala then steered Papua New Guinea home in the 42nd over, although it was Amini's efforts with the ball that won him the Man-of-the-Match award.
"I didn't really expect to win the award," said Amini, who was also part of the Papua New Guinea squad during the 2008 Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia. "We're still not satisfied with everything we have achieved here - we want to win all our games and finish on the podium. I definitely want to get a chance to play at the World Cup again. I think we have the potential to do well as we have lots of stars in our team."
With Sierra Leone ejected from the tournament over visa issues, Canada picked up two points by virtue of a walkover.