The bulk of Hong Kong's batting success throughout the WCL Championship was down to the form of captain Babar Hayat, vice-captain Anshuman Rath and power-hitter Nizakat Khan. Wicketkeeper and former captain Jamie Atkinson had been a mainstay at the top of the order for nearly half a decade, but work commitments in his job as a PE teacher have curtailed his availability.
It has opened a path for Scott McKechnie to emerge as a diamond in the rough in the middle order. The Manchester-born talent bounced around several second XI sides in county cricket before settling in Hong Kong. A heavy scorer on the domestic scene, he made his ODI debut in
Dubai against Papua New Guinea during the final round of the WCL Championship in December. Despite modest scores (29 and 11 not out), he impressed with his bold shot selection, regularly jumping around the crease in the death overs to attempt ramps and scoops. He could play a pivotal role in Zimbabwe - both behind the stumps and in the Hong Kong middle order.
The youngest player in the tournament at 15, the middle-order batsman was an unsung hero at WCL Division Two in Namibia. Lost in the shuffle of Sandeep Lamichhane's Player-of-the-Tournament performance, Paras Khadka's vital knock in a brief but nervy chase against UAE and Karan KC's tail-end heroics in the do-or-die showdown against Canada, Paudel finished as the team's second leading scorer - behind only Khadka - in his debut tournament with the senior team, ending with 140 runs at an average of 28, not to mention cutting off runs galore in the field and patrolling backward point with vigor.
That may not sound like much, but in a notoriously brittle Nepal batting line-up, he provided a bridge in the middle order to stretch out several chases before the tail-enders clinched victory. A 37-run stand for the seventh wicket with Sharad Vesawkar, Nepal's biggest of the day, kept hope alive for a one-wicket win over Namibia on his senior team debut. Paudel top-scored with 47, adding an 87-run sixth-wicket stand with Aarif Sheikh, in a final-ball win over Kenya. Against Canada he teamed with Sheikh again for another key
partnership - 46 for the sixth-wicket - to keep Nepal's pulse beating before the epic stand between Karan and
Lamichhane took them home. With vice-captain Gyanendra Malla struggling for form, Paudel's emergence couldn't come at a better time.
The 20-year-old former Zimbabwe junior representative and Harare native is looking to make a splash on return to his homeland this month. In a team with enviable pace bowling depth, Snater has worked his way toward the top of the queue through his performances over the last six months. It began in white-ball cricket against his former countrymen, claiming 3 for 30 in a romp at the Hague, albeit with several first-choice players rested after Zimbabwe had clinched the series two days earlier.
He showed more promise at the end of the northern summer with his maiden five-for against Ireland, in just his second Intercontinental
Cup in September. He then backed it up with another five-for against Namibia in Dubai, in the final round of the I-Cup. Most recently, he claimed 4 for 46 in a tournament warm-up against Afghanistan before rain denied Netherlands a chance to chase. Paul van Meekeren was making a strong claim for the title of best pace bowler in Associate cricket at the start of 2017, but Snater's form at
the start of 2018 may keep him out of the Netherlands XI in Zimbabwe.
Doriga was PNG's leading scorer at the 2014 Under-19 World Cup in the UAE but it has taken some time for the 22-year old to mature at the senior level. Part of the difficulty in terms of breaking into the line-up was that as a wicketkeeper. He was competing with the experienced former captain Jack Vare for time behind the stumps.
However, his batting improved in 2016 to the point where PNG's coaching staff couldn't keep him out any longer, selecting him as a
specialist batsman for his ODI debut against Scotland in November 2017, when he was the second-highest scorer for the team with 34 off 64 balls, although in a losing cause. In his fourth ODI against Hong Kong, he produced an unbeaten 89, batting intelligently with Alei Nao in a 69-run ninth-wicket stand before he ran out of partners in a losing effort. Sandwiched around those scores are innings of 0, 1 and 0, marking him out as a boom or bust proposition.
Scotland's transformation as a consistent threat to Associate opposition has been propelled mainly by the explosive batting approach at the top of the order from Kyle Coetzer and Matthew Cross. But as Afghanistan have demonstrated, to become a serious challenger to Full Members, an Associate team needs a a pace-bowling spearhead capable of rattling a few cages. Enter the 23-year-old Sole, who never shies away from sending down a bouncer or two. The son of David Sole - the man who captained Scotland's rugby team to the 1990 Grand Slam - Chris was reared with the
aggression that has been evident since his ODI debut against UAE in 2016.
After Coetzer's century took Scotland to their maiden ODI win over a Full Member against Zimbabwe last summer, Sole nearly inspired
Scotland to a series win the following day with an electric burst of 3 for 36 defending a low total. He may miss the opening match against Afghanistan as he is recovering from a hamstring injury in the lead-up to the tournament, but his value
may be evident later in the tournament when fit.
The past two World Cup qualification cycles for UAE have been dominated by two men respectively - former captain Khurram Khan and middle-order batsman Shaiman Anwar. Current captain Rohan Mustafa has emerged as an all-round force, but most of UAE's bowlers rarely get the plaudits they deserve. Nobody exemplifies that more than left-arm spinner Ahmed Raza. In a country that is often derided for a failure to produce homegrown talent resulting in an over-reliance on South Asian expats, Raza is one of the rare success stories of a player who
came through UAE's Under-19 programme, born and bred in Sharjah, to achieve senior team success.
A boa constrictor with the ball, and a surprisingly athletic fielder in the circle for a man of his 6'5" stature, Raza's unheralded economical spells tighten the noose before others bask in the spoils of wickets. Nowhere was that more evident than in a crucial encounter against Oman at WCL Division Two. Facing elimination on the fourth day of the group stage, his nine-over spell of 2 for 16 built the pressure before the dam burst in a run-out by Mustafa. On the slow wickets in Harare, Raza might find himself amongst the wickets more regularly.