Depleted Namibia face test of depth against stiff competition

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Six teams battle a variety of challenges in a stiff competition
Six teams battle a variety of challenges in a stiff competition © Getty

Fittingly for a tournament that effectively occupies the same space on the fifty-over ladder as the now-defunct World Cricket League Division 2, The new World Cup Qualifier Play-Off sees six teams converge back at Windhoek - the traditional venue for what has arguably been the most consequential tournament on the Associate calendar. For Namibia and the USA, already safe for next cycle, the tournament is only an opportunity to make the Qualifier itself, but for the UAE, PNG, Canada and Jersey there's four years of fixtures, funding and ODI status on the line.

Hosts Namibia might have hoped to avoid this tournament altogether, as just a few weeks ago they looked set to take third place in CWC League 2 and progress directly to the qualifier. Mixed results on their final League 2 tours left them vulnerable however, and in the event they had to watch on as Nepal completed an improbable late surge to knock them off the podium on the final day of the 126-match competition, leaving Namibia to rue a fateful dropped catch.

Skipper Gerhard Erasmus leads a depleted side into the tournament, with injuries to Jan Frylinck, Lo-handre Louwrens, JJ Smit and Tangeni Lungameni and David Wiese unavailable, the next two weeks will be a real test of the hosts' depth. Ruben Trumplemann is the sole survivor of Namibia's battery of left arm pacers, with Ben Shikongo the only other front line seamer with significant experience. Indeed the Namibian squad looks uncharacteristically spin-heavy, the slow-section spearheaded by southpaw Bernhard Scholtz, with Pikky Ya France and the captain providing off-spin options, all-rounder Nicol Loftie-Eaton offering legspin, with young offie Mauritius Ngupita waiting in the wings. Namibia would have been firm favourites ahead of the tourney were it not for this extended sick-list, but have little to lose given that their 4th place League two finish has already secured their ODI status. Conversely, fringe players such as Ngupita, Shaun Fouche and Niko Davin will doubtless be hungry for a chance to lay claim to a regular spot in the side.

Key Man:Associates player-of-the-year Gerhard Erasmus, lead scorer in League 2, has his work cut out for him. Should he have a poor tourney with the bat it's hard to see the hosts coming away with a top two finish, but perhaps more important is how he utilises what resources are left to him as captain.

One to watch:Opening bat Niko Davin is something of a throwback to the big-hitting death-or-glory top order that Namibia boasted in years past, but has struggled to hold down a regular place even in the T20 side. Back in the squad and presumably with a point to prove, Davin may prove a menace to opening bowlers over the coming fortnight.

Namibia squad: Gerhard Erasmus (c), Niko Davin, Michael van Lingen, Shaun Fouche, Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton, Karl Birkenstock, Michau du Preez, Zane Green, Helao Ya France, Bernard Scholtz, Ruben Trumpelmann, Ben Shikongo, Joshuan Julius, Mauritius Ngupita

The United States of America have know for some time that their 35 League 2 points would not be enough to bypass this play-off, but will at least be relieved to have finished 5th with their ODI status secure. On paper one of the stronger sides in the competition, the USA have nonetheless often looked less than the sum of their parts, and arrive in Windhoek comparatively cold in terms of match practice, having played their last fixture almost five months ago.

The Americans, under new coach Kevin Darlington, have been on a preparatory tour to Karnataka, albeit missing a number of players due to visa complications. Mixed results on that tour did see most of the American top order crossing fifty at least once however and Jesse Singh, Nosthush Kenjige and Saurabh Netravalkar were all in the wickets. While the absence of Cameron Stevenson and Iain Holland leave significant gaps both with bat and ball, seamer Kyle Philip returns for the tourney as does, crucially, the long-injured Ali Khan. Khan's return and the hints of form in the top order ought to make the USA favourites for a top-two finish, but then the same might have been said ahead of League 2.

Key Man: Right arm speedster Ali Khan dominated the equivalent tournament back in 2019, but is freshly back from a broken arm and having missed the warm-up tour will be starved of match-practice. How well he finds his rhythm could be decisive.

One to watch:

USAsquad:Monank Patel (c), Steven Taylor, Gajanand Singh, Sushant Modani, Saiteja Mukkamalla, Usman Rafiq, Gajanand Singh, Aaron Jones, Shayan Jahangir (wk), Nosthush Kenjige, Nisarg Patel, Jasdeep Singh, Kyle Philip, Ali Khan, Saurabh Netravalkar

The United Arab Emirates'League 2 campaign collapsed dramatically on the final stretch, losingof their last fixtures, including at home. They arrive in Windhoek with their ODI status in jeopardy and in a state of some disarray, having just parted ways with head coach Robin Singh and already onto their third captain in as many months. Mohammad Waseem's two predecessors in that role, CP Rizwan and Ahmed Raza, both lost their place in the side along with the captaincy, though Raza is with the squad as assistant coach and his calm head in the dressing room will likely be welcome. A recall for the veteran Rameez Shahzad also lends some much-needed experience to a team that has looked in shambles. Some the Emiratis can find cause for optimism in how their younger players have performed in recent years, with Vritya Aravind their most reliable source of runs in League 2, while Aayan Khan looks a star in the making. Though bereft of form confidence ahead of the tournament, the UAE have bounced back from worse before. If the squad can pull together under interim coach the quality is certainly there to progress.

Key Man: Former captain Rohan Mustafa's performances, often playing controlling role with bat and ball, are often something of a bellweather for the Emirates in general. When the spin all-rounder performs well he has a habit of taking the team with him.

One to Watch: Aayan Afzal Khan has been a stand-out for the UAE in recent matches, the 17 year-old playing with a maturity beyond his years, and indeed often his team-mates.

UAEsquad:Muhammad Waseem (c), Vriitya Aravind, Asif Khan, Rameez Shahzad, Aryan Lakra, Rohan Mustafa, Aayan Afzal Khan, Matiullah Khan, Ansh Tandon, Aryansh Sharma, Junaid Siddique, Karthik Meiyappan, Sanchit Sharma, Zahoor Khan

Papua New Guinea's late League 2 resurgence under new coach Mark Coles has seen the Barramundi's finally string some wins together in recent months, but PNG remain bottom of the League 2 table for a reason, having looked somewhat outclassed in the top Associate competition. Though not bereft of talent, PNG remain reliant on Assad Vala, the PNG skipper scoring more than twice as many runs in League 2 as any other PNG bat, while also taking more wickets than anyone bar Chad Soper. Though most of the PNG top order have occasional flashes of form, with Sese Bau and Kiplin Doriga in the runs recently, Vala remains the only consistent performer with bat and ball. The spin section especially looks threadbare, with PNG yet to settle on a consistent frontline spinner, though young left-armer John Kariko shows promise. The pace attack has also lacked for penetration at times, with PNG often reliant on live-wire fielding to put sides under pressure. It took a minor miracle for PNG to claim ODI status the last time they were in Namibia, and may well take something similar now. At the very least they'll need to be better than they've been over the past cycle.

Key Man: PNG have kept faith with Tony Ura through extended slumps in form, but for good reason. The explosive opener is one of the few PNG bats to be able to take a game away from the opposition, and perhaps the only player who could take them to a top-two finish if he finds form. If Ura has a quiet tournament however it is easy to imagine PNG slipping out of the top flight.

One to Watch:While at 31 Chad Soper is not exactly a rising star, the veteran plays a crucial defensive role in the PNG side as lower order backstop and middle-over stump-to-stump merchant. His contributions are easily overlooked but are often key to keeping PNG alive in games when they are foundering.

PNG squad:Assad Vala (c), Kipling Doriga, Tony Ura, Hiri Hiri, Sese Bau, Charles Amini, Alei Nao, Riley Hekure, Chad Soper, Gaudi Toka, Norman Vanua, Sema Kamea, Kabua Vagi-Morea, Hila Vare, John Kariko

Challenge League A champions Canada have looked a cut above the competition during their stint outside the top flight, losing just a single match in 15 as they cruised to the Group A title. Having been stripped of their ODI status by the tiniest of margins on their last visit to Windhoek, the Canadians will be aiming at the very least to reclaim it under returning coach Pubudu Dasanayake. Anything less would be an underperformance for this Canadian side, who on current form could make a good claim to the title of favourites to win the tournament. Though former captain and stand-out bat Navneet Dhaliwal is missing the tour, both Aaron Jones and especially Matt Spoors have been in fine touch at the top of the order on the Canadians warm-up tour to Sri Lanka ahead of the tournament, and with Srimantha Wijeyeratne back from retirement the batting looks as strong as any in the tournament. In captain Saad bin Zafar and Nikhil Dutta they also boast a solid spin section, and with the addition of left arm quick Kaleem Sana to the seam attack Canada look the most balanced team at the tournament. Though a four year stint in the Challenge Leagues means Canada have not ben tested against this level of opposition in recent times, they nonetheless look more than a match for the opposition here, and heavily favoured to reclaim ODI status at the very least.

Key Man:Captain Saad bin Zafar himself has been Canada's most dependable performer through the challenge leagues, both as wicket-taking spinner and lower order stalwart.

One to watch: Left arm quick Kaleem Sana is a recent addition to the Canada squad, but made an immediate impact on the league, bagging 16 wickets in the four matches he played. If he can replicate that form in Namibia, Canada look well set to take the honours.

Canada squad: Saad Bin Zafar (c), Aaron Johnson, Srimantha Wijeyeratne, Matt Spoors, Nicholas Kirton, Nikhil Dutta, Pargat Singh, Ravinderpal Singh, Parveen Kumar, Shreyaas Movva, Dilon Heyliger, Harsh Thaker, Jeremy Gordon, Kaleem Sana

Jersey will be playing their first ever recognised ODIs at the Play-Off, the only side in the competition never to have risen higher on the 50-over ladder. It's principally been Jersey's batting that has earned them a shot at breaking that ceiling, narrowly edging out Uganda and Hong Kong to top the Challenge League Group B table. Nick Greenwood, Harrison Carlyon, Josh Lawrenson and Jonty Jenner all averaged 38 or better in the competition, while Asa Tribe averaged over 80. Though the seam attack lacks somewhat for out-and-out pace, they proved effective enough at Challenge league level, where Jersey generally found their wins by outscoring and throttling the opposition.

Carlyon's offspin combined with left arm spinner Eliot Miles also proved an effective combination through the competition, though Jersey remain an exception in Associates cricket as principally a batting side. A remarkably strong Jersey outfit arrive in Windhoek with a number of traditionally stronger teams at a low ebb, and the Islanders have never had a better chance of claiming a place among in the Associate top-tier.

Key Man: Julius Sumerauer, a tall and rangy right arm seamer, is the closest to express pace in the Jersey attack, as well as an increasingly impressive lower order hitter. Though Sumerauer didn't quite find the same reward on Jersey's recent tour to Namibia as he did in the Challenge League where he was Jersey's top scorer, whether he has a better tour this time round could be key to the side's fortunes.

One to Watch:Still just 18 years old, Asa Tribe only made his list A debut for Jersey late last year but already looks the most gifted bat the island has produced in some time. The teenager averaged 80.25 in the five matches he played for the Island, and if he can step up to the next level ODI status, and possibly even a Qualifier berth will be within Jersey's grasp.

Jerseysquad:Charles Perchard (c), Harrison Carlyon, Nick Greenwood, Josh Lawrenson, Asa Tribe, Jonty Jenner, Ben Stevens, Julius Sumerauer, Benjamin Ward, Daniel Birrell, Dominic Blampied, Jake Dunford, Anthony Hawkins-Kay, Elliot Miles




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