Challenge League Day 1: Denmark fight, but Canada too strong

Heyliger accepts player of the match award in Canada's win over Denmark. Credit: Cricket Canada

Canada (219/8 in 50 overs. Kirton 48; Shah 2/31) defeated Denmark (145 in 43.2 overs. Anand 39; Heyliger 5/34).

With last-minute preparations and customary organised chaos, Challenge League’s Group A finally returned to the field after a 3-year break since the competition’s last outing in 2019. Hosts Canada fronted up against Denmark at King City’s Maple Leaf Cricket Club, around half an hour’s drive north of Toronto, on a pitch that had barely existed 24 hours prior when the grounds staff received an emergency delivery of an extra heavy roller.

Despite rolling continuing throughout the morning, while Cricket Canada representatives scrambled to set up the venue according to tournament regulations, the pitch was still barely distinguishable from the outfield at the toss. So it was no surprise that Denmark opted to bowl first when they won the toss; fortunately for the hosts, they failed to capitalise on the pitch and allowed Canada to accelerate in the last 10 overs with some wayward bowling and lax fielding. It was a lapse that ultimately proved the difference between the teams. 

Denmark got off to a good start, as opener Rayyan Pathan looked all at sea against left-arm seamer Oliver Hald before finally playing around an expansive drive to be bowled in the third over. Right-arm seamer Saud Munir struck next as Canadian skipper Navneet Dhaliwal was caught behind, playing away from his body at one that stuck a little in the pitch, and Canada looked in trouble at 23/2 off 10.

Nicholas Kirton started with a bang, easing a lovely cover drive to the rope to get off the mark before tucking into a gift of a full toss from left-arm orthodox Nicolaj Damgaard, and biffing Saif Ahmad’s offspin back over his head for a lost ball. After the sixes however, he and no. 3 Matthew Spoors (27 off 63) settled into a dour partnership as they duelled with disciplined spells from the Danish spinners. Several half-chances briefly sparked, including Spoors escaping from a stumping chance as he leaned too far forward, but skipper Hamid Shah’s offpsin was what flared for Denmark as he grabbed Spoors and Varun Sehdev, both on the drive – Spoors bowled and Sehdev holing out on the rope at long-off.

Canada were 78/4 at the halfway mark and Denmark sensed a chance to restrict them to a chaseable total. Kirton and Harsh Thaker (39 off 56) ground out a partnership of 33 over the next 11 overs, and while Kirton was run out chasing a nonexistent single for 48 (82), Damgaard and Shah (0/27 and 2/31 in their allotments respectively) continued the squeeze to keep Canada to 124/5 in 40. Denmark failed to close out the innings at the death though, as Saad bin Zafar (43 off 40) cut loose peppering the backward square boundary with a series of pull and hook shots, and Shreyas Movva played a busy cameo of 35* (16) by shuffling around the crease and putting the seamers off their lines – though he was assisted by some sloppy fielding and untidy bowling which ultimately proved the difference as Canada breached the 200 barrier.

Denmark’s chase started badly, with big-hitting opener Nicolaj Damgaard caught behind, fending at an offspinner from Sehdev that popped off the pitch, then Hamid Shah became the first of five victims to quick man Dillon Heyliger as he played away from his body to give keeper Movva his second dismissal. Being 31/2 after 10 overs, Denmark looked superficially to be fractionally ahead of Canada, but given the importance of Shah and Damgaard to their batting lineup they were well behind in reality.

Denmark’s middle overs followed a similar grinding cadence to Canada’s with Zameer Khan (28 off 51), Surya Anand (39 off 81) and Saif Ahmad (34 off 69) all putting up stout resistance against probing spells from the Canadian spin flotilla of Varun Sehdev (2/29 in 10), Saad bin Zafar (0/26 in 9) and Salman Nazar (3/28 in 8.2).

At the 40-over mark they were 135/5, and needing 8.6 per over with most of their hitting arsenal already dismissed. They did go down swinging, but it was a total collapse as Heyliger grabbed 3 wickets in an over to claim 5/34 while Salman Nazar finished off the innings for 145 in the 44th over by bowling Oliver Hald immediately after he’d launched a huge six over long-on. In the end, Denmark had scored off just 87 of the 266 deliveries they faced (32.7%) compared to 128 from 300 in the Canadian innings (42.7%). It was a crucial difference that proved decisive in separating the two teams.

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