I have been following the ICC WT20 Qualifier 2015 with interest over the last week and the tournament has produced some unexpected results. However, what could be deemed unexpected in this exciting format of the game?
As always there has been one eye firmly fixed on net run rate impacting on results elsewhere resulting in tight and exciting finishes, upsets and man of the match performances. That's T20 at its very best. Anything can happen and often it only takes one bad over for the game to be gone and possibly a World Cup dream with it.
In Group A, a much easier group on paper, there have been some massive upsets. Firstly, PNG beat Ireland in a final over flurry that caught everyone by surprise. This wasn’t the first time that PNG had got the better of Ireland as they took the honours in a tournament warm up game in Dubai in 2013. Then, Hong Kong, coached by the very impressive and well prepared Charlie Burke, beat Ireland for the first time. Luckily for Ireland PNG's scheduled fixture against Hong Kong was washed out costing both sides the opportunity of a valuable point. So, heading into the final round game it was all to play for as various scenarios meant that six teams could progress through to the next stage. A must win game for Ireland against a youthful Jersey side which had two wins under its belt.
Ireland obviously reviewed its performances to date and took the opportunity to shuffle the batting order and returning to the successful opening pairing of Porterfield and Stirling. Those two should go down as the best opening combination in Associate history and it was great to see them walking out together against Jersey. Ireland did what was expected thanks to an outstanding final few overs with the ball which saw Jersey lose 8/16 and John Mooney collect a well-deserved hat trick. Later in the day, Papua New Guinea, who were leading the group three days ago, finished fourth after losing by 18 runs to the USA. Namibia also missed the chance to take top spot when they were thumped by Hong Kong by 83 runs thanks to a 98 from Irfan Ahmed.
In Group B, Oman caused a stir by easily beating heavyweights Afghanistan by 40 runs and the Netherlands who have been inconsistent so far in the tournament by 6 wickets. Apart from the loss to Oman, the Afghans have looked in good shape and have returned the highest innings total of the tournament to date (210). The return of Mohammad Shahzad is great to see for this T20 event, his hard hitting at the top of the order adds to the strength of the team.
Scotland, who recently beat Ireland in a series leading into this tournament, claimed top spot in Group B and their place in India. They are a team on the ascendancy and have performed well so far. The Netherlands finished the group stage better than they started winning the right to play Namibia in the cross over phase. Afghanistan will consider themselves hard done by as two no result games cost them dearly. They now play the spirited Hong Kong to keep their hopes alive.
I was fortunate enough to represent Ireland at three ICC T20 World Cups, hosted in three different continents, by three very different countries. I will never forget playing in Ireland's first game of the T20 World Cup in England in 2009 when we beat Bangladesh in a close game at Trent Bridge.
I walked into our dressing-room around 45 minutes after the game had ended only to see three or four of my team-mates fast asleep! The T20 game is taxing physically but is also mentally draining. You have no time to stop and think as you are always involved in this action packed format, bowling, fielding, and backing up. The expression widely used is; "There's an event every ball".
The big difference for me between the T20 format and a 50 over World Cup is the turnaround time. With T20 you effectively play every second day and travel in between where necessary. It's a tournament that fires from start to finish and you can't afford to take your eye off it for a second or you might miss something!
Good luck to Ireland, Scotland and the other four sides to qualify. Represent the Associate and Affiliate nations with pride. I'm sure upsets will come as that's T20 cricket!