It is the knockout before the knockouts, with the winner of the clash between Namibia and Ireland guaranteed to join Sri Lanka in the Super 12s with the loser set to join Netherlands on the way out. And for both teams, the desperation to progress is immense.
Ireland have not qualified for the main draw of a T20 World Cup since 2012, and have been particularly poor in the shortest format. Their inconsistency belies their status as a Full Member – as a contrast, Afghanistan, who were awarded that status at the same time as Ireland, are automatically in the Super 12s – and failure to progress will likely result in serious introspection. Although they are ranked seven places above Namibia, victory is anything but certain for them against a plucky side who have already punched above their weight.
These two teams have scant history against each other, having only played the other once in competitive fixtures before. The sub-plot, as has been the case throughout this group, will be about the South Africans: both sides are coached by South Africans, and feature several South Africa-born players too. For extra entertainment, watch out for the battle between David Wiese and Curtis Campher in particular, and the side-eyeing from the bench between Pierre de Bruyn and Graham Ford.
(Last five completed matches, most recent first)
In the spotlight
Opening partnerships on both sides will be crucial, especially as runs have not been plentiful for either of these teams. Ireland have had first-wicket stands of 8 and 27, while Namibia have posted 10 and 34 so far, with both units relying on players in the middle order to push the totals towards and over 100. That has left the bulk of the run-scoring to Andy Balbirnie and Gareth Delany for Ireland, and Gerhard Erasmus and David Wiese for Namibia. Having middle-order muscle is no bad thing, but both teams will want better starts in this crucial fixture.
Ireland: 1 Paul Stirling, 2 Kevin O’Brien, 3 Andy Balbirnie (capt), 4 Gareth Delany, 5 Curtis Campher, 6 George Dockrell/Harry Tector, 7 Neil Rock (wk), 8 Simi Singh, 9 Mark Adair, 10 Josh Little, 11 Craig Young/Ben White
Namibia: 1 Stephan Baard, 2 Zane Green (wk), 3 Craig Williams, 4 Gerhard Erasmus (capt), 5 David Wiese, 6 JJ Smit, 7 Jan Frylinck, 8 Jan Nicol Loftie-Eaton, 9 Ruben Trumpelmann, 10 Pikky Ya France, 11 Bernard Scholtz
Pitch and conditions
The tournament moves to Sharjah for the first time, which has been talked up as the most difficult venue to bat on, on the evidence of the UAE leg of the IPL this year. In ten matches in the second half of the tournament, the average score batting first in Sharjah was just around 137, with the chasing team successful on seven occasions out of ten. Expect a low-and-slow-scoring match, where pace off the ball will be commonplace on the hottest day of the week so far.
Stats and trivia
“They’ve got some dangerous players. They’ve got some very hard-working cricketers that quite a few of them have learnt quite a lot of their cricket in South Africa, as well, and as Andrew [Balbirnie] said earlier, they pushed us close in the qualifying or the last game of the qualifiers. We know that they’re going to be tough. If we’re slightly off our best, we will struggle.”
Ireland may be considered the favourites but coach Graham Ford expects Namibia to be tough opponents
“Come Friday against Ireland, if we can put in one more big performance, we could find ourselves in the next part of the tournament.”
Namibia are brushing off underdog status with belief that they could qualify for the next stage, according to David Wiese
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent