T20 World Cup Qualifier Review: PNG come back from the dead and the other remarkable campaigns

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PNG produced a fairytale campaign. Image - ICC.

The 2020 T20 World Cup Qualifier in the UAE drew to a close on Saturday, with the Netherlands stopping the Papua New Guinea (PCNG) juggernaut in the final to defend their crown.

14 teams battled it out over the course of two weeks in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with six of them including Netherlands and PNG booking their tickets to Australia for next year’s T20 World Cup.

There was heartbreak for hosts UAE with Ahmed Raza and his men agonisingly missing out on qualification after a chaotic campaign.

Their disappointment notwithstanding, there was plenty to be excited about from the best of associate cricket with an extremely competitive tournament throwing up some memorable story lines.

At the end of a highly entertaining Qualifier, we look at some of the more remarkable highlights.

Oman make it two World Cups in a row

Two in two for Oman. Image - ICC.

Two in two for Oman. Image – ICC.

While there was disappointment for the UAE, their neighbours Oman went home satisfied after clinching what was a second T20 World Cup qualification in a row. Zeeshan Maqsood and his men have been one of the most improved side in the past few years, but qualification definitely did not come the easy way for them.

They finished second in Group B to advance to the play-offs but were crushed by Nambia in the first Qualification play-off. They were in real danger of missing out after being reduced to 42-6 by Hong Kong in their second qualification play-off, but were able to summon their reserves to produce a terrific comeback.

Pace superiority is key for the Dutch

Netherlands had many protagonists in their stellar title-winning campaign, but it was the superiority of their formidable pace attack which really shone through.

The trio of Brandon Glover, Paul van der Meekeren and Timm van der Gugten accounted for as many as 43 wickets between them in Netherlands’ run to the title. The Dutch had narrowly missed out on direct qualification as Group A toppers after being pipped by PNG, but their pace supremacy came to the fore as they crushed UAE in the first Qualifying play-off.

Batting first, the hosts were reduced to 9-5 by the Dutch pacers and there was no returning from that point as Pieter Seelaar and his men secured their berths for Australia. The title-winning run was just the icing on the cake for them after that decisive win.

Ireland banish T20 woes in style

While much can be said about Ireland’s ODI exploits in the past decade or so, the same didn’t really hold true for their T20I showings. They had won just 11 out of 38 T20 clashes coming into the preceding pentagular series held in Oman before they set for the UAE.

It was in Oman that their form really turned around and the Irish carried that momentum to the Qualifier. Despite early hiccups which saw them go down to UAE, and shockingly Canada, Ireland rebounded with comprehensive wins over Jersey and Nigeria to eventually top Group B.

That feat saw them book a direct qualification to the T20 World Cup and a third-place finish overall will do little to dampen their spirits.

Erasmus leads from the front to secure Namibia’s maiden T20 WC berth

Namibia have been a side on the rise of late with the African side coming into the competition on the back of an impressive 2019.

Having clinched the World Cricket League Division Two title in April this year, Namibia sounded a further warning by capturing the T20 World Cup’s Africa Regional Qualifier.

That formidable form was on display when it mattered most in the UAE as well, with skipper Gerhard Erasmus leading from the front. The Namibia captain’s three vital half-centuries saw his awarded the player of the tournament trophy, but it was his side’s maiden T20 World Cup qualification that was the biggest success.

Erasmus’ men finished third behind PNG and Netherlands in Group A, but seized qualification in some style after a thumping victory over Oman in the play-off. Erasmus’ displays were backed up by a formidable bowling attack comprising of JJ Smit, Jan Frylink and Bernard Schotlz with the trio accounting for a total of 46 wickets.

Reverse sweeping Munsey leads Scotland’s charge

Scotland left it late to clinch their World Cup qualification after a campaign which oscillated from the brilliant to the horrendous.

Kyle Coetzer’s men were pretty ordinary in the group-stage with three wins coming at the cost of as many defeats. However, that was enough for them to sneak through to the play-offs as the fourth best team in Group A where they eventually faced hosts UAE in a straight shootout for World Cup qualification.

The Scots had been beaten by UAE in a pre-tournament warm-up clash, but they were devastating when it really mattered in an emphatic 90-run win. George Munsey’s reverse sweeps became the talk of the tournament with the left-hander collecting a large part of his 234 runs in the campaign through that effective shot.

PNG bury the ghosts of 2013 and 2015 with extraordinary campaign

Vanua dug PNG out of a hole. Image credit - ICC.

Vanua dug PNG out of a hole. Image credit – ICC.

Among all the remarkable stories on show in the Qualifier, it was PNG’s stupendous campaign that stood out the most. The side had come agonisingly close to clinching World Cup qualifications in 2013 and 2015, but had squandered the chance in both attempts despite being in a great position.

In the UAE, they stunned one and all with a scorching group-stage campaign which saw them win four out of their first five clashes. That put them in the driving seat to qualify for the 2020 edition as Group A toppers when they took on Kenya in their sixth and final group-stage clash.

The familiar script of previous heartbreaks looked to be repeating itself again as PNG were reduced to 19-6 by the Kenyans, but they refused to wither away this time. Norman Vanua’s 54-run knock started an extraordinary comeback for PNG which saw them ultimately post a competitive total of 118.

That was all PNG needed as they went on bowl out Kenya for just 73 runs and create history in the process.

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