Belgium’s Red Tigers narrowly came out on top in a controversial T20I series against Malta. Although the series result came up 3-2 in favour of the visitors, on field events took the shine off an otherwise competitive series.
Match 1 – Malta won by 6 wickets
Belgium arrived to play their Mediterranean as strong favourites, having whitewashed their opponents in their last outing, the 2020 Luxembourg T20I trophy. Despite their billing, they came unstuck in their opening game. Belgium batted first, but lost early wickets to Malta’s Bilal Muhammed. From 12/2, Belgium never got comfortable on the artificial wicket, making only 99 all out with Muhammed Muneeb’s 44-ball 30 the only significant score.
The Maltese made use of home advantage to cruise through the chase. Although Ashiqullah Said was able to remove the Maltese openers, the hosts completed their chase in the 17th over to win by 6 wickets.
Match 2 – Belgium won by 10 wickets
After a surprise defeat to the underdogs on Thursday morning, Belgium came back with a vengeance on Thursday afternoon. The visitor’s bowling attack tore through the Maltese batting line-up, routing the hosts for a mere 50 all out in 13 overs. Every Belgian bowler picked up at least one wicket, but it was Burhan Niaz who stole the show. The 17-year old seamer finished with figures of 4-1-8-4 on debut.
Belgium’s batters were equally ruthless. Whilst Said Hakim was in no rush (6* off 12 balls), his partner Hadisullah Tarakhel blitzed 45 off 21 balls. Belgium completed the chase within the powerplay.
Match 3 – Belgium won by 4 wickets
The series was squared at 1-1 going into Friday’s game. Belgium won the toss, put Malta into bat and were rewarded with three wickets in the first 13 balls. From 18/3, the Maltese looked to consolidate, but were pushed back further with a middle-overs hattrick by Sheraz Sheikh. A late blitz from Bilal Muhammed (30* off 14 balls) raised the host’s total to a reasonable 114/9.
If the score looked under-par at halfway, Malta’s bowlers made it look much greater during Belgium’s powerplay. Wickets for Muhammed, Ashok Bishnoi and Washeem Abbas reduces Belgium to 29/4. It took a slow-but-assured innings from Burhan Niaz (20* off 53 balls) to anchor the chase, whilst batters at the other end did the bulk of the scoring. Belgium got home with 9 balls to spare.
Match 4 – Malta won by penalty runs
Saturday morning’s fixture would prove the series’ biggest talking point. Belgium, batting first, were off to a steady start, before the Maltese bowlers sparked a collapse from 22/0 to 37/6. Among these wickets was Belgian captain Shaheryar Butt, adjudged LBW to Washeem Abbas. Although no incident occurred at the time, Butt reportedly threatened the officials in the aftermath. The matter was referred to the ICC, but with a decision not expected immediately, play resumed.
Malta’s target was 129, one they found tough going. Four of the Maltese top five were out for single-figure scores. Whilst Samuel Stanislaus was able to build partnerships with middle order, regular wickets kept Belgium on top. Going into the final over, the hosts were 124/9, needing five runs to win. Ashok Bishnoi was out LBW 2nd ball of the over, Malta were 125 all out and Belgium had won the match and the series.
Or so it appeared. The swiftly appointed ICC Match Referee has found Belgium’s captain guilty of a Level 4 breach of the ICC Code of Conduct. Five penalty runs were added to Malta’s seemingly closed innings, raising their total from 125 all out to 130 all out. Malta were declared the winners, and the series level at 2-2.
Match 5 – Belgium won by 39 runs
You could forgive the Belgians for feeling confused, aggrieved or even angry going into Saturday afternoon’s decider. Certainly, they were motivated, raising 172/6 in their 20 overs, the highest score of the series. Lead by Tarakhel’s 40-ball 78, and later finished by Saber Zakhil’s 64* off 34 balls, the Belgians put the Maltese bowlers to the sword.
To win the series, Malta would have to chase a challenging 173. The were off to a good start, with an 83-run partnership between Gopal Chaturvedi and Heinrich Gericke broken at the end of the 10th over. Though Gericke would make Malta’s only 50 of the series (55 off 33 balls), the chase fell away after his dismissal. Malta were bowled out for 133 in 18.4 overs. Belgium took the series win, Zakhil the pick of the bowlers with 3/28.
Malta 2 – 3 Belgium
A series dominated by the bowlers, Belgium’s Hadisullah Tarakhel was a class above the rest with the bat. His 154 runs across the series was 58 more than the next best effort, by Saber Zakhil, with Malta’s Gericke in 3rd with 89 runs.
Malta’s Washeem Abbas took the most wickets in the series; 11 with an average of 9.9. Burhan Niaz was the pick for Belgium, the teenager took 8 wickets at 7.75.
However, it is the nature of Malta’s penalty run win that will live longest in the memory. The curious series of events is believed to be the first time a result has been changed by the retrospective application of penalty runs in international cricket.
Scorecards of each match are available via the European Cricket Network
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This was a great series to watch, despite the controversy. Two hat-tricks in fact with one for Waseem Abbas in the first game, in addition to Sheraz Sheikh in game three.