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Ireland, UAE, Nepal and Oman through to semis after dramatic final group round


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Ireland and the UAE took the top two spots in Group A of the T20 World Cup Qualifier A in Oman this morning, with Ireland blasting past Germany to top the group on net run rate, while young Viriitya Aravind ensured the UAE did enough to hold onto second place despite defeat at the hands of Bahrain, securing their places in the semi final. There they will face hosts Oman and Nepal respectively, Nepal winning their afternoon match against Canada to top Group B unbeaten and Oman crushing the Philippines to finish runners-up. With just two qualifying berths on offer, tomorrow's semi-finals will be the tournament's decisive matches, meaning one or other of 2021 qualifiers Oman and Ireland will miss out, with either the UAE or Nepal returning to the world stage in Australia.

Ireland were the first to claim a semi-final spot, holding Germany to 107-7 and chasing in just 79 balls to go to two wins from three and lifting their net run rate to +.99, ensuring they would finish it the top two regardless of the outcome of match on the other ground. After impressing with the bat against the Emiratis, the German top order struggled in the face of a hostile opening spell from Josh Little, who took 2 wickets for just nine runs in his first three overs. The Germans found the going little easier against the spinners, just 2 boundaries coming in the first ten overs as they struggled to 38-3 by the halfway stage. A 33 run stand between Bylan Blignaut and Faisal Mubashir took them to 65 without further loss after 14 overs, but when Blignaut was caught off Singh for 22 the recover stalled. Some late hitting from Mubashir, who would finish unbeaten on 45, got them into three figures, but the target of 108 was never likely to trouble Ireland.

Paul Stirling and Andrew Balbirnie again looked comfortable in the powerplay, adding 55 runs in the first six, but once again the field spreading signalled a swift end to their partnership. Balbirnie lofted drive straight to mid off off Venkatraman Ganesan in the 8th over to go for 32, and Muslim Yar removed Stirling three balls later, a thick top edge on the cut flying to Mubashi in the gully. Garth Delaney gifted Yar a second wicket in his next over, failing to clear long on driving straight, but with just 23 left to defend it would come too late for Germany. Harry Tector would make light work of the remaining runs, and in company of Lorcan Tucker would see Ireland home and into the semis with 6.5 overs and 7 wickets to spare.

Meanwhile, on the second ground an altogether more dramatic game was unfolding, the UAE struggling chasing a target of 173 against Bahrain, knowing that if they were to fall more than 14 runs short they would drop into third place and out of the tournament. Bahrain had recovered from the early loss of Muhammad Younis, caught off Basil Hameed on the second ball of the game, as the top order exposed the UAE's bowling in the absence of the rested Zahoor Khan. Sarfaz Ali and Umer Imtiaz put on a brisk half-century stand before the former was caught off Karthik Meiyappan on the last ball of the 7th over, and Imtiaz would add another 44 with David Mathias before being bowled by Kashif Daud for 42. Mathias would only accelerate however, racing to 35 off just 16 balls before being stumped off Junaid Siddique on the final ball of the innings, having seen his side to a daunting total of 172-4.

The UAE would be on the back foot throughout the innings, Muhammad Waseem falling in just the second over, edging behind off Shahid Mahmood, and Chirag Suri miscuing a short ball from Veerapathiran to square leg on the first ball of the seventh with just 35 runs on the board and the asking rate already in double figures. Aravind and Rohan Mustafa would keep the required rate in check with a measured half-century stand, the pair taking the UAE to 114-2 by end of the 15th over, still needing 69 runs off the final five overs for the win and 44 to cling on to the second spot. The pair could not find the rope in the next two overs however, and on the first ball of the 17 some inexplicably casual running from Mustafa saw him run out strolling back for a second, before Kashif Daud holed out first ball leaving the UAE staring down the barrel at 125-4.

Aravind was undaunted, however, dispatching Imran Anwar's next two balls for back to back sixes over midwicket and then the bowler's head to bring up an outstanding half-century under pressure. With two overs to go the UAE still needed 33 runs to win, just 18 to keep ahead of Bahrain on net run rate. Captain Ali would bowl the penultimate over himself, giving away just four runs from the first three balls and then finding Hameed's outside edge with the fourth, and then pinning Farid with a low full toss on the next. 12 off 6 was the only equation that mattered to most onlookers going into the final over, Shahid Mahmood with ball in hand. But Aravind, it seemed, had only one goal in mind. He slotted the first ball perfectly through the gap straight, and whipped the next over the square rope for four more. Two balls later he sealed the UAE's semi final berth with a six, then took them within one hit of an improbable victory with another. Still needing four runs to tie the scores from the final ball, Aravind's drive was just too close to beat the fielder to the rope and the Bahrain would hold on for an empty 2-run victory, Aravind apparently bitterly disappointed to have merely saved his teams qualification hopes with his knock of 84* off 52.

There would be no such close calls in the conclusive Group B matches in the afternoon, Canada collapsing ignominiously to 80 all out in their must-win match against Nepal who strolled through the chase to finish unbeaten in the group, while Oman rolled the Philippines for just 36 and taking just 29 balls to claim their place in the semis.

Canada's innings started as poorly as it would continue, Matthew Spoors picking up Kamal Singh Airee off leg stump and picking out deep square leg on just five balls into the match. Rayyan Pathan also found the fielder on the square rope on the pull in Mukhiya's fourth ball, but the catch was spilled. Nepal would not have to wait long however, Airee striking again in the fifth as Navneet Dhaliwal miscued to mid-off. Pathan would be run out for 14 in the sixth over following a needless mix-up with Ravinderpal Singh, who stayed rooted to the crease as Pathan called through. Singh would only stay there for four more balls however, top-edging Abinash Bohara up for he keeper to go for 1 as Canada stumbled to 39-4 after the powerplay.

The wickets would keep falling every over, Hamza Tariq made the mistake of padding up to a wrong'un from Sandeep Lamichanne in the seventh, another display of mindless running saw Saad bin Zafar run out for two in the eighth, Kaleem Sana pulled a half-tracker from Lamichhane into the hands of deep square in the ninth, Harsh Thaker was pinned in front by Kushal Malla in the tenth, Junaid Siddique given caught behind pushing at Lamichhane outside off in the eleventh. It was only last-wicket pair Dillon Heylinger and Salman Nazar that showed some defiance, twice slog-sweeping Dipendra Sing Airee for six in the next over, but it was not to last. Nazar was eventually caught off Bohara to bring the innings to a close, Heylinger's unbeaten 24 seeing Canada to 80 all-out.

Nepal would experience a brief scare in the powerplay as Aasif Sheikh was pinned LBW by Salman Nazar on the last ball of the fourth over and Kushal Malla was bowled by Sana three balls later, but Kushal Bhurtel and the ever-dependable Dipendra Singh Airee would see them comfortably home in the end, the pair finishing unbeaten on 34 and 27 respectively to preserve Nepal's perfect record in the tournament and set up a showdown with the UAE tomorrow.

Canada's capitulation will have come as a relief to Oman, who would have faced elimination had the result gone the other way. Despite steam-rolling the Philippines in their final group match, Oman had not done enough to have a chance of securing a top two finish on net run rate were they wind up level on points with Canada and Nepal. Losing the toss a blow in itself, as there was only so much impact that a brisk chase could have on the net run rate compared to a big win by runs. Oman made the best of it however, handing the Carabaos arguably their heaviest defeat of the tournament. After winning the toss and electing to bat, stand-in skipper Daniel Smith slapped Kaleemullah up into the hands of mid-on on the first ball of the 3rd over, and thereafter the Phillipines seemed to temper any aggression. Four more wickets would fall before the first boundary came in the eleventh over, Hern Isorena fetching four with a handsome straight drive off Fayaz Butt, only to lose his off stump to the next ball to leave the Philippines five down with just 23 on the board. Player-coach Henry Tyler would be the only other bat to find the rope as the innings rapidly unwound, Khawar Ali taking 4-11 as the Philippines were bowled out for the first time in the tournament, for a score of just 36.

Oman looked in a hurry from the off, throwing all caution to the wind in the knowledge that anything less than a breakneck chase would leave their fate entirely out of their hands. Kashyap Parajapati opened with a boundary but then pulling Huzaifa Akram straight to midwicket next ball and Jatinder Singh ought to have been held at short fine leg in the next over. Khurram Nawaz played with similar disregard for his average, and he too was reprieved in the third over, spilled over the rope by Podolsky for four to go to 27 off just 10 balls. Two balls later and he would seal the win, but two balls too late to alter the net run rate equation.

In the end, the hosts could have taken their time to chase, as Nepal's win secured their hosts progression to the all-important semi finals. The four semi-finalists are now just one win away from booking their tickets to Australia, while the remaining teams will have to content themselves with two rounds of largely inconsequential consolation play-offs. The first of these will see Bahrain take on the Philippines and Canada face Germany tomorrow morning, before the crucial semi finals are played simultaneously in the afternoon.

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