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Scotland, Netherlands, Oman, Ireland fight for T20 supremacy

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 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.

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.

On the batting side, Aqib Ilyas is a consistently explosive threat at the top of the order regardless of format. He struck an unbeaten 56 off 30 balls against Hong Kong at the Desert T20 Challenge in January 2017, Oman’s last official T20I competition, to help them into the tournament semi-finals. 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.

play1:55A chance for young Irish players to stand up – Stirling

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.