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Scottish challenge awaits Netherlands in I-Cup

After a surprise opening loss to PNG in Round 1, pressure is on the Netherlands to get campaign back on track
The second round of the ICC Intercontinental Cup 2015-17 will get underway on Tuesday (September 8) when Netherlands squares off against Scotland at Sportpark Westvilet, The Hague. Scotland earned crucial additional points in a rain-curtailed draw against Afghanistan in the first round of the seventh edition of the tournament through the first-innings lead. Netherlands, on the other hand, suffered an unexpected defeat to Papua New Guinea at home and will have its task cut out from the outset against a tough opponent. 

Despite being an experienced side, Netherlands hasn't had as much success as it would have liked in the competition. It will therefore seek to make amends and recover from the early loss.  

The batting, comprising Stephan Myburgh, Wesley Barresi, the wicketkeeper-batsman, and Peter Borren, the captain, is Netherlands's stronger suit. Max O'Dowd, the Auckland-born right-hand batsman, is the only relatively new face. With the ball, Netherlands will bank on the experience of Pieter Seelaar, the left-arm spinner, and Timm van der Gugten, who carries out the new-ball duties and is fresh off a six-for against PNG. 

Scotland will have the advantage of familiarity of conditions and probably has the edge heading in to the contest. Scotland's batting wears a solid look and it will take confidence from the fact that all its bowlers stood up in the match against Afghanistan where it hunted in a pack. 

After one round Netherlands with seven points sits in sixth place, while 2004 winner Scotland is fourth on 13 points. This means the side that collects 20 maximum points will jump to the top of the table. This outcome will surely inject fresh impetus to their ambitions of winning the ICC Intercontinental Cup and qualify for the ICC Test Challenge, which will be played against the 10th-ranked Test side on a home and away basis in 2018. If the ICC Intercontinental Cup winner wins the ICC Test Challenge, then it will secure Test status until the next ICC Test Challenge, which will take place in 2022. 

In the second match of Round 2, Namibia will face Ireland in Windhoek on October 24. Going by form and overall success, this could be the most exciting of the four matches. 

Namibia played a near-perfect game against Hong Kong, doing most things right with bat and ball. Most of the middle order made significant contributions in its first innings, while Xander Pitchers, the opener, impressed with an unbeaten 105 in the second. Sarel Burger and JJ Smit, the two medium pacers, did the bulk of the damage with the ball in Hong Kong's first innings, while the Scholtz brothers - Bernard, the left-arm spinner and Nicolaas, the leg-spinner -- were the most impressive in the second. 

Ireland has been the most successful side in the tournament by some distance, and once again demonstrated its strength with an innings win over United Arab Emirates. 

Ireland has what is arguably the strongest batting unit in the tournament. Its prowess with the bat came to the fore against UAE where Ed Joyce's double century and Paul Stirling's ton took it to a massive first-innings total. It has the right blend of youth and experience, as well as variety in the form of Tim Murtagh and Craig Young, its new-ball duo, and George Dockrell, the young left-arm spinner. John Mooney, Kevin O'Brien and George Dockrell can all come in handy with bat and ball. 

Two matches take place in November, with UAE v Hong Kong scheduled first for November 11-14. Both teams will look to put behind their losses in the opening round. 
UAE has made a quite a few changes to the squads that played in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 and the ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier 2015, including bringing in Asif Iqbal to open the innings and Saqib Ali at No. 3. But it is still faced with the same issue of an ageing team.

UAE did have a few positives to take from the tough match against Ireland, including Amjad Javed's four-wicket haul. UAE will also take heart from the fact that Shaiman Anwar, inarguably its best batsman of the year, scored a half-century in the first innings and will once again carry the burden of expectations. 
UAE has done well at the ICC Academy Ground in Dubai, the venue for the match, where it has won four of its last five matches and that should give the side some confidence. 

Hong Kong had to rely on contributions from the lower middle order and the lower order in both innings against Namibia. It will, however, hope for more from the batsmen up the order. Haseeb Amjad's recent good form extended to the match against Namibia, where he bagged a career-best 5 for 49, while Tanwir Afzal impressed with an all-round show. 
The second round of matches concludes with the Afghanistan-PNG game, scheduled to begin on November 21 in Sharjah.  
PNG is playing the Intercontinental Cup for the first time and is coming off a confidence-boosting win against Netherlands in its first-ever first-class match. While it was Assad Vala's century in the second innings that proved to be the telling contribution as it helped the team scale down a 305-run target, it was a team effort throughout. Willie Gavera, Loa Nou, and John Reva, the three strike bowlers came good and though PNG failed to impress with the bat in the first innings, it made amends in the second where Mahuru Dai and Lega Siaka supported Vala well. 
Afghanistan will be happy with its effort with the ball against Scotland but batting is an area of concern. The middle order could only chip in with brief contributions, while there was little of note from the top order. 
These are still early days in the tournament with as many as five rounds to go after this. But with the opportunity of playing a Test series with a full member present, there is much to be played for and form and consistency will be key going forward.    

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