How the participants of the T20 WC Qualifier stack up
With seedings for the groups based on T20I rankings immediately ahead of the draw in August, Group A, which will be based in Dubai for the Group phase, is widely seen as marginally the tougher of the two groups including both the teams that shared the Qualifier title in 2015 after a washed-out final. Based in Dubai, many of the early group matches will be held at the ICC Academy grounds rather than in the Dubai Stadium, regrettably meaning much of the early running will not be broadcast, but more pertinently for the sides themselves meaning that pace bowlers may have more of an impact early in the tournament, with Academy 1 traditionally the most seam-friendly ground in the Emirates.
Scotland are widely seen as early favourites to win both the group and the tournament; Kyle Coetzer's side are currently ranked 11 in the world and were closest to securing a bye to the World Cup by dint of their ranking. Nonetheless, they've shown some vulnerability in recent results, twice losing to resurgent hosts Ireland at the recent tri-lateral series with the Netherlands and only scraping a 1-run win against their near-neighbors in their second warm-up match, having lost the first to the UAE. Perhaps still acclimatising after spending their preparatory tour in South Africa, the Scots are nonetheless widely fancied to secure direct qualification. Always a strong batting side, Scotland famously knocked over soon-to-be World Champions England in a high-scoring boundary-fest at the Grange earlier this year, and with the explosive George Munsey at the top of the order partnering skipper Coetzer, and Calum Macleod and Richie Berrington coming in behind them, the Scots have probably the strongest batting line-up at the tournament. With a varied seam attack, boasting the competition's highest-rated bowler in Ali Evans, Scotland have in recent years also developed a potent spin attack, with the slow-bowlers key to their success both in their first CWC League 2 fixtures and recent T20 outings.
One to watch: Hamza Tahir, nephew of Scotland stalwart Majid Haq, is something of a new face in the side. The left-arm spinner has excelled this year in both the 50 and 20-over formats and is key to Scotland's emerging spin-bowling threat.
On paper, fellow 2015-finalists the Netherlands ought also to be strong contenders for the title, especially fielding close to a full-strength side with the addition of Colin Ackermann and the return of the iconic Ryan ten Doeschate to Orange. The Dutch have however arrived in Dubai looking an unsettled side, in thoroughly miserable form. Coach Ryan Campbell's rotating cast of players had lost fully nine of their previous ten T20Is prior to the tournament, and duly lost both of their warm-up matches to Ireland and Oman on arrival. Yet even if the Netherlands have gone from serial overperformers to a team that looks less than the sum of its parts, anything short of a top-three finish and comfortable qualification would be a significant upset. With fully half the squad now contracted to County sides, key players' regular absences due to domestic commitments in England have had a clear effect on team cohesion, but remains a testament to the depth of talent in the country. Young legspinner Phillipe Boissevain comes into the squad to complement the left-arm spin pairing of skipper Pieter Seelaar and Somerset's Roelof van der Merwe, while county-contracted seamers Fred Klaassen, Timm van der Gugten, Paul van Meekeren and Shane Snater will compete for a starting spot with newly-introduced quick Brandon Glover. With familiar faces such as Stephan Myburgh and Wesley Barresi missing out on selection, Campbell will put his trust in Max O'Dowd and the explosive Tobias Visee at the top of the order, with the in-form Ben Cooper returning from injury at three.
One to watch: Toby Visee may be the scion of a venerable Dutch cricketing family, but is thoroughly modern in his approach to the game. A genuine 360-player, able to clear the rope straight but often preferring an array of ramps and scoops to drive the scoring in the powerplay, Visee came to global attention outpacing opening partner Chris Gayle at the recent GT20 in Canada and was duly snapped up by the Delhi Bulls in the upcoming T10 league. He remains something of a hit-or-miss gambit in the openers spot, still vulnerable early and comparatively untested at the highest level, but when he comes off, he generally comes off big.
Papua New Guinea, who like the Dutch are coming off a string of disappointing results, likely lack the quality to coast through the tournament on current form. Though the Barramundis have generally looked more comfortable in the shorter format, having gone unbeaten through the East Asia Pacific sub-regional and regional qualifiers to earn their spot, an eight-match losing streak in ODIs is not easily shaken off, and losses to Oman and the UAE in their warm-up matches does not bode well for Assad Vala's side. Vala himself remains the linchpin of the batting, but PNG will hope opener Tony Ura rediscovers his fluency on return to his preferred format. The Papuans remain something of a squad off bits-and-pieces players, which has seen them repeatedly shown up in the longer white-ball format but need not be such a disadvantage in T20.
One to watch: Nosaiana Pokana, the tall left-arm quick, is one of the real specialists in the PNG side. Still just 23, Pokana came into the senior side while still a teenager and has since developed into a canny bowler, especially at the death, bowling at a decent pace and able to extract troubling bounce when the conditions suit. For at least the last year he has been the Barramundi's standout bowler, one of the few youngsters to have genuinely settled into his role in the side.
African regional champions Namibia meanwhile arrive at the tournament on something of a high, having secured ODI status for the first time in their history by winning the final World Cricket League Division 2 at Windhoek earlier this year, and sweeping Botswana in their most recent T20 outing, with the in-form JP Kotze striking their first T20I century, which he followed up with a blistering ODI 136 against a more fancied USA-side away in their first CWC League 2 tour last month. Kotze is the outstanding hitter in a line-up packed with rope-clearers, skipper Gerhard Erasmus himself arguably the most technically gifted, but destructive batsmen are found well down the order, with the big-hitting seam-allrounder JJ Smit attracting franchise attention after making a name for himself at Division 2. Traditionally known more for their seam bowling, Namibia nonetheless now boast a pair of genuinely threatening left-arm spinners in Bernard Scholtz and Zhivago Groenewald, who proved a particularly potent pairing in the recent CWC League 2 series in Florida. Namibia have a habit of underperforming in crunch tournaments however and traditionally take a while to acclimatise abroad, as evidenced by their warm-up loss to an out-of-sorts and understrength Hong Kong side. Nonetheless, on recent form, this tournament looks like Namibia's best shot at making a flagship global tournament since their solitary World Cup appearance in 2003.
One to watch: JJ Smit, originally a dedicated left-arm seamer, was forced to concentrate on his batting after injury kept his bowling arm out of action for a protracted period. Reinventing himself as a destructive lower-order right-hand bat, Smit returned to the national side with an additional string to his bow, earning his Player of the Tournament award at Division 2 by taking 13 wickets across the tournament and hitting 221 runs at an average over 50. There may be no home crowd in the UAE to celebrate his exploits with chants of "Smit can hit," but there's every chance they'll be shouting at the television back in Windhoek.
Another team arriving in the UAE on an unambiguously upward trajectory are Singapore, who secured a place at their first-ever global qualifier by beating out favourites Nepal to the top-spot at the Asia regional finals in July. They followed that up by beating Canada in the final match of the first round of the 50-over CWC Challenge League A at Kuala Lumpur to go neck and neck at the top of the table last month, before capping off an extraordinary year by recording their first win over an ICC full member when they beat Zimbabwe in front of a home crowd at the Indian Association Ground in a preparatory T20I tri-series with Nepal two weeks ago. Bolstered by the addition of Perth Scorchers' allrounder Tim David, but also looking a hugely improved all-round outfit, Amjad Mahboob's side arrived with momentum very much on their side. Back-to-back warm-up losses to Canada and Jersey may have deflated them somewhat, and they remain outsiders to win through to a qualifying berth, but certainly look capable of beating any team on their day.
One to watch: Tim David may have learned his game coming up through the grades in Perth, breaking into the Scorchers team last year, but his cricketing roots in the country of his birth are deeper than many might think. A second-generation Singapore player, his father Rod turned out for them at the 1997 ICC Trophy. That said, it's clear that David brings something a little different to what was previously a competent but serially underperforming Singapore side, not just a heap of runs and some handy occasional leg breaks, but a certain fearlessness that makes them genuinely dangerous.
Likewise seen as unlikely qualifiers are Bermuda, who blasted past a highly-regarded USA side at the Americas regional final to secure a place at the global qualifier alongside Canada. Despite a long absence from the top-flight of Associate competition the tiny island nation nonetheless continues to punch above its weight. In Sussex-signed Delray Rawlins they have one of the most gifted young batsmen at the tournament, backed up by such talents as fiery seam all-rounder Kamau Leverock and the Bascome brothers the Gombey Warriors should not be taken lightly, as the USA found to their cost. Bermuda arrive in the UAE as unquestioned underdogs but will have little to lose, and plenty to prove. Should Rawlins or Leverock have a solid tournament have every chance of springing some upsets or even putting together a run to the play-offs.
One to watch: Kamau Leverock is perhaps still best known to the world as the nephew of the iconic Dwayne, and indeed "Dwayne Leverock's Nephew" is the name he goes by on twitter, yet he is arguably a more complete cricketer than his celebrated and yet underrated uncle. His right-arm pace can be genuinely quick when he finds his rhythm, and behind Rawlins is the most consistently dangerous batsman in the side. Though his combative character has in the past caused him disciplinary problems off the field, few in Bermuda would change it as he's charging into bowl. Bermudan cricket is about ready for some new iconic image, and who better than Leverock to provide it?
Meanwhile the once-mighty Kenya, African runners-up and a once standout side of the Associate world, come into the tournament wearing the now all-too-familiar label of underdogs, a situation they underscored on arrival by losing a warm-up to wildcards Nigeria and then sinking to defeat at the hands of unfancied Jersey, the toll of a year (or arguably ten years) of unrelenting administrative turmoil continues to show on the field, and Shem Ngoche leads a side in desperate straights into the tournament. The talent is still there, Alex Obanda remains a menace at the top of the order and young Dhiren Gondaria shows great promise, veteran Collins Obuya's belligerence is undiminished by age and on paper the side ought to be title-contenders. As it stands, though, Kenya are bereft of confidence, form and match practice, beset by infighting and selection controversies, and widely seen as no-hopers. That's likely putting it rather too strongly, however, and if the erstwhile powerhouse of Associates cricket can somehow leave their baggage at the boundary they could again be a genuine threat.
One to watch: Dhiren Gondaria, the Indian-born-but -Kenya-raised opening bat, Gondaria is already a comparative veteran at just 23, having remained a steady presence through Kenya's tumultuous past two years. Rather more a finesse player than a natural power-hitter, Gondaria is nonetheless capable of putting bad balls over the boundary and serves as a fine foil to the more straightforward hitting of veteran Alex Obanda at the top of the order.