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Scotland, Netherlands, Oman, Ireland fight for T20 supremacy

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The T20 World Cup Global Qualifier may be eight months away, but three sides who will be at that event are getting away from the European winter with an eye towards ramping up their preparation in their quest to secure a spot at next year’s main event in Australia.

The 2019 World Cup becoming a no-go zone for Associates has resulted in a shift in focus to the T20 World Cup, which at least has kept the door ajar for emerging nations to have a crack at Full Member countries on the widest platform possible.

Here’s a primer on each side ahead of the T20I Quadrangular series that begins on Wednesday at the Oman Cricket Academy.

Scotland (ICC T20I ranking – 11th)

Coming off their victory in the T20I tri-series held in Netherlands last June combined with their status as the highest ranked side in Oman, Scotland are arguably the favourites on paper. However, they also arrive having the longest layoff, with their last official match taking place on June 20 against Netherlands in the tri-series finale. In the interim, they’ve been building up to this series with a one-week winter training camp in La Manga, Spain.

George Munsey‘s tri-series tally of 204 runs at 51 concluded with 71 off 34 balls in that encounter, the highest T20I score by an Associate player in 2018, in what was also Scotland’s highest ever T20I total of 221 for 4. Calum MacLeod, who scored 140* off 96 balls in an ODI win against England earlier that month, faced exactly one ball in that romp over the Netherlands, highlighting the depth in firepower. Matthew Cross and Richie Berrington also passed 50 in that record score against the Dutch in a bulky batting line-up led by captain Kyle Coetzer.

On the bowling side, Safyaan Sharif has made incredible strides over the last three years to arguably become the leader of the attack. Young left-arm spinner Hamza Tahir‘s emergence will help lessen the pressure on the left-right spin combo of Mark Watt and Michael Leask in favourable slow-bowling conditions in Oman.

Netherlands (ICC T20I ranking – 13th)

The Dutch have a beefed up squad compared to the group that finished second on home soil to Scotland, as Ryan ten Doeschate enters the side fresh off a successful stint in the Bangladesh Premier League with Rajshahi Kings. Yet even without ten Doeschate last home summer, Netherlands managed to beat Ireland twice in the tri-series thanks to superb all-round contributions from captain Pieter Seelaar and some fiery starts by Tobias Visee and Max O’Dowd.

Like Scotland, it’s a sign of increased depth giving the selectors a good headache they haven’t had in a long time as Wesley Barresi now has the option of playing as a specialist batsman with Scott Edwards taking over the gloves, while Visee and O’Dowd give options to consider at the top of the order alongside Stephan Myburgh.

On the bowling front, left-arm medium pacer Fred Klaassen‘s excellent ODI series against Nepal in August means he may be hard to leave out in spite of the established group of fast bowlers led by Paul van Meekeren, Timm van der Gugten and Shane Snater. Roelof van der Merwe and Seelaar form a potent left-arm spinning combo, making it hard to find a weakness in an increasingly strong side.

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Oman (ICC T20I ranking – 17th)

The tournament hosts have played T20Is sparingly since securing status at Malahide during the 2015 T20 World Cup Qualifier. But when they have, they’ve made plenty of noise. It was at that tournament that they beat Afghanistan by 40 runs. They showed it was hardly a fluke when they beat Ireland the following March in front of a global audience during the opening round of the T20 World Cup at Dharamsala.

With the exception of an agonising loss to UAE at WCL Division Two in Namibia last February that effectively eliminated them from moving forward to the World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe, Oman have hardly taken a step back since that seminal win over Ireland. In 50-over cricket, they are coming off an undefeated run on home soil this past November to win WCL Division Three while the country showcased their depth in T20 cricket this past weekend by virtue of two victories by an Omani Development XI over the touring Ireland side.

While they don’t have the depth of other teams, Bilal Khan is one of the most menacing pace bowlers on the Associate circuit and can swing it both ways at 140 kph. Along with the awkward bounce posed by 6’5″ Kaleemullah, Oman’s new-ball attack poses enough problems to keep opponents off balance.

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Ireland’s T20I captain chats about the impact the tournament will have on their preparations for the World T20 qualifiers

Ireland (ICC T20I ranking – 18th)

Gary Wilson’s medically-mandated absence has thrust Paul Stirling into the role of stand-in captain on tour as Ireland aim to end a five-match winless streak in T20Is including a tie to Scotland and a pair of series losses at home to India and Afghanistan. After years of opening alongside William Porterfield, the team management tried Kevin O’Brien at the top of the order with Stirling in the pair of losses to the Omani Development side. Though the result was disastrous in the first match, the duo produced 100 runs between them in the second match to demonstrate that it’s an experiment worth persisting with.

The tour is shaping up as an opportunity, with 22-year-old Lorcan Tucker one of the young talents to emerge. He scored a century and a fifty in five one-day innings during the recent Ireland Wolves tour of Sri Lanka to create competition for the wicketkeeper spot with Stuart Poynter. Wolves captain Harry Tector was the only other Ireland player to score a century in the one-day series and at just 19 is coming along at just the right time in a side that is desperate to fill the runs that have been lost through the retirements of players such as Ed Joyce, Niall O’Brien and John Mooney.

On the bowling side, Boyd Rankin provides veteran leadership in the pace unit. Joshua Little, the 19-year-old left-arm fast bowler, was one of the few to come out with his reputation enhanced following the pair of warm-up losses to the Omanis by taking three wickets at an excellent economy rate of 4.86. Under spinning conditions in Oman, it would not be surprising to see Ireland field a trio with George Dockrell, Andy McBrine and allrounder Simi Singh, whose performances were a silver lining in the tri-series defeats last summer.

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