Challenge League Day 2: Vanuatu and Singapore win despite missing stars

Malaysia (124 in 37.5 overs; Hayat 42*, Nipiko 3/42) lost to Vanuatu (125/8 in 32.3 overs; Allan 39*, Aziz 3/36) by 2 wickets with 105 balls remaining.

Singapore (244/9 in 50 overs; Uchil 52*, Ikramullah 3/48) defeated Qatar (213/9 in 42 overs; Rizlan 52, Uchil 3/39) by 7 runs (DLS method).

Vanuatu made a thrilling return to international cricket as they edged Malaysia today, while Singapore held on to squeeze out Qatar in a tense but rain-affected encounter.

On Maple Leaf Cricket Club’s North-East ground, Vanuatu had an emotional morning before the match started, with five debutants – Jarryd Allan, Junior Kaltapau, Rival Samson, Ala Viraliliu, and Obed Yosef – welcomed into the team by senior players. It was a touching ceremony that highlighted the strength of the team’s spirit as they finally got back on the field after almost 3 years away from international cricket (their last match coming in early October of 2019 against the same opponents); it was only unfortunate that it was necessary because regular captain Patrick Matautaava missed the game owing to delays in obtaining a Canadian visa.

At the toss, Malaysian skipper Ahmad Faiz called correctly and chose to bat. The decision quickly looked like backfiring, as a sharp runout from Ronald Tari saw the back of opener Vijay Unni in the first over, while the captain himself was trapped LBW by seamer Nalin Nipiko. Syed Aziz briefly rallied with opener Virandeep Singh, before he and Muhamad Syahadat both went in successive Nalin Nipiko overs to leave Malaysia in the hole at 36/4 in the 12th over. Vanuatu didn’t let up, displaying great energy and passion as they hustled around the field and called noisily to each other, and legspinner Williamsing Nalisa took up the attack from Napiko. First he drew a false shot from the dangerous Sharvin Muniandy to bring wicketkeeper Jarryd Allan into play, then he pinned Virandeep Singh LBW for 28 (50). Josh Rasu also got involved with his offspin, grabbing two wickets in the 23rd over, and Malaysia were truly in tatters at 64/8. But Vanuatu were frustrated by a determined counterattack from Kizar Hayat, whose 42* (66) was scored in spite of a knee injury and constrained by his reduced mobility. Seamer Apolinaire Stephen, who had earlier presented Obed Yosef with his cap with a moving speech, broke through the 38-run nuisance value partnership with Muhammad Wafiq (15 off 23) which had dragged Malaysia into triple figures. After a rain shower rolled over the ground, interrupting play for roughly 20 minutes, he completed the job as linked up with keeper Allan to execute a smart runout inside the ring, and Malaysia were finally dismissed for 124.

The previous Challenge League A encounter between these two teams resulted in a record-breaking defence of 65 by Vanuatu (the lowest successfully defended total in List A cricket), and this time another remarkable defence looked to be on the cards as Vanuatu steadily lost wickets. 

The Ni-Vanuatu got off to a solid start though, being 0/25 and 1/44 as they took advantage of some wayward seam bowling from left-arm opener Muhammad Wafiq, who looked to be a little overeager to intimidate openers Nalin Nipiko and Josh Rasu with a few too many bouncers that travelled wide (though he did eventually castle Nipiko). The introduction of Syed Aziz shifted the balance though, as the allrounder produced his best-ever List A bowling figures of 5/36 in 10 overs of probing right-arm seam. Wickets kept falling and Vanuatu looked increasingly nervous as they slumped to 68/6 and then 104/8, but newcomer Allan kept his head. Coming in at 61/4, he called on years of experience in Victorian Premier Cricket, absorbing pressure as wickets fell around him, manipulating the field, pouncing on boundary balls and shepherding the tail with aplomb. So it was appropriate that he slapped the winning runs off Anwar Rahman over cover, scrambling through for two with fellow debutant Rival Samson to reach the target in 32.3 with two wickets in hand.

Vanuatu now move off the bottom of the Challenge League A table, chasing a top 4 finish to avoid the potential relegation zone and playoff tournament against the highest-ranked teams outside the current Challenge League structure.

Meanwhile at the other end of the points table and across the field at the North-West ground, Singapore kept pace with ladder leaders Canada by avoiding a slip-up against Qatar. In the 2019 Challenge League A, the Qataris managed to get one over a Tim David-inspired Singapore thanks largely to left-arm seamer Gayan Munaweera; this time both David and Munaweera are missing from the tournament and it was Singapore who prevailed in a rain-affected arm wrestle.

Opting to field first at the toss, Qatar were successful at keeping a lid on Singapore’s scoring rate, with miserly left-arm orthodox Musawar Shah (0/27 off 10) and incisive left-arm fast man Muhammad Ikramullah (3/48 off 10) leading the way; Singapore for their part saw contributions from much of the top order without anyone going on to a big innings, and when the eventual Player of the Match Aryaman Uchil came to the crease at 179/6, they were limping to a subpar total. Uchil put the foot down with 52* (34) including two sixes and 5 fours and dragged Singapore to a respectable 244/9 in their 50. 

Rain interrupted Qatar’s chase twice, the second time shaving off 8 overs to leave them needing 221 off 42. They were a little sluggish, though kept in touch with the run rate thanks to 52 (77) from skipper Mohammed Rizlan; for Singapore, Aryaman Uchil (the leading wicket-taker in the 2019 edition) backed up his earlier knock with 3/39 off 9 overs of right-arm pace bowling. Fellow seamer Janak Prakash was expensive, with 2/57 in 8 overs, but he held his nerve in the last over – with Qatar needing 13, he conceded just 5 and bowled the charging Muhammad Murad for 26 (23) to seal the game and keep Singapore in touch with top spot and the accompanying position at next year’s World Cup Qualifier

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