Challenge League Day 7: Canada unbeaten and Denmark chasing second place

Canada (246/4 in 38 overs; Kirton 108*, Nipiko 2/19) defeated Vanuatu (42; Rasu 10, Shahzad 4/8) by 244 runs.

Denmark (242/6 in 49 overs; Shah 75, Rahman 3/46) defeated Malaysia (151 in 40.0 overs; Faiz 57, Damgaard 6/6) by 91 runs.

Canada thrashed Vanuatu after an early scare to conclude their unbeaten home Challenge League campaign, while Denmark went 4 from 5 with a remarkable bowling performance from Nicolaj Damgaard over strugglers Malaysia.

On Maple Leaf Cricket Club Field A, which was noticeably wet after overnight rain, the match was delayed until 12:30 (from a 10:00 scheduled start) and reduced to 38 overs per side. Once play began, however, Vanuatu got off to a dream start with the ball, after skipper Andrew Mansale called correctly on his 36th birthday.

Opener Rayyan Pathan’s torrid run at the tournament continued, being dropped as he skied a drive to mid-on, then caught smartly by Mansale at slip as he slashed at a wide one for 7 (9). Dhaliwal (10 off 22) briefly threatened, slashing away a cut shot and a pull as Nalin Nipiko dropped short, but Nipiko had him two overs later, cramped for room trying to cut one too close to his body. When Matthew Spoors (4 off 7) was given out, adjudged after consultation to have tickled one from Apo Stephen down leg, Canada were 23/3 and Vanuatu sensed an opening. Stephen (2/34 off 8) and Nipiko (2/19 off 5) both made life difficult for Nicholas Kirton (108* off 95), who hung his bat out without catching an edge, and he collected 4 with a lucky top edge landing in the vacant midwicket region. 

Shreyas Movva (4 off 13) was next to go, pinned LBW trying to flick it across the line, and Canada were on the back foot for perhaps the first time in the tournament at 34/4 in the 11th over. With 27 overs left to bat, Canada opted to protect their big-hitting finisher Ravi Singh by promoting spinner Salman Nazar. It proved to be a tactical masterstroke, with Nazar’s slight frame and compact technique aptly suited to weather the storm as he helped to see off a difficult period while the pitch dried out. Kirton meanwhile grew more comfortable, taking advantage of several free hits gifted by Stephen overstepping as he slapped boundaries and a six down the ground.

With Nazar deploying a range of flicks and nudges to keep the score ticking along, and Kirton settling in with some slaps through cover and powerful pull shots, Canada were looking comfortable and Vanuatu were suddenly searching for wickets. Simpson Obed (0/46 off 7) was tidy, but too easily milked for singles down the ground, and Williamsing Nalisa (0/51 off 8)’s legspin too often drifted down leg for wides or slog sweeps. When Josh Rasu (0/57 off 6) returned and Kirton slammed him over long off into the Canadian team tent, the Canadians had switched gears. Salman Nazar paddled a dainty sweep to reach 50, and immediately retired hurt.

The move raised some eyebrows, and subsequently questions to the match referee when he was on the field and athletically fielding immediately in the Vanuatu innings, but it was another good tactical move as it gave Ravi Singh four overs to cut loose at the back end. And Singh delivered – smashing 42 in just 17 deliveries including four monstrous sixes down the ground. It was just the boost needed by Canada to take them to an unattainable score.

In response, Vanuatu started watchfully, reaching 24/0 in the 6th over before Dillon Heyliger (2/12 off 4) broke through with Tari skying a pull shot, and precipitated a disastrous collapse. Vanuatu’s entire batting lineup was dismissed for just 18 more runs, with Josh Rasu (10 off 25) the only batter to reach double figures. Saad bin Zafar (2/2 off 5) lured Junior Kaltapau out for an unnecessary step forward, with Shreyas Movva whipping the bails off when he slipped. Andrew Mansale was Heyliger’s second victim edging a length ball tamely to slip, and U19s graduate Rommel Shahzad (4/8 off 4.3) bamboozled the lower order with his twirling action and ripping offspin in his first senior match. It was a comprehensive bowling performance that exposed Vanuatu’s batting frailties in all disciplines – their impatience, their difficulty handling canny spinners, and their inexperience against high-speed bowling. While Jeremy Gordon was wayward, his express pace was deployed expertly to soften up the Ni-Vanuatu.

It was also a match that veered at times into acrimony, with some heated words exchanged between Rayyan Pathan, Jamal Vira and Jarryd Allan, while umpiring blunders drew the ire of the Canadian and Vanuatu sides – Spoors was initially given not out until the bowler’s end umpire saw his colleague indicate bat, and at one point Canada had six men on the leg side without the officials noticing (and the next ball, which should have been a free hit, Nipiko was dismissed).

Meanwhile on Field C, Denmark made it 4 from 5 in this leg of the Challenge League, taking them ahead of Singapore on the ladder with a big win over Malaysia (though Singapore have a game in hand).

With their pitch in better condition, the match was only delayed to a 49-over affair. Denmark stuck to their tested formula with opener Hamid Shah’s 75 (126) providing a steady base as they negotiated the tricky early period and launched at the back end. Pavandeep Singh (1/48 off 10) extracted the dangerous Nicolaj Damgaard early, stumped as he charged and missed one fired outside off, and then Shah was watchful, hitting only 7 boundaries (highlighted by a pair of massive slog sweeps for 6).

Meanwhile Saif Ahmad (92* off 103) was fluent, rotating the strike and stepping out to heave the spinners through midwicket as they united for a 116-run third wicket partnership. When Shah sliced a drive high to mid-off and departed in the 42nd over, Surya Anand injected some momentum with a few agricultural swipes, And Denmark flew home at a run rate of 10 in the last 7 overs.

Denmark’s defence was all about Nicolaj Damgaard. The tall left-armer snared 6/6 in 9 overs of unplayable finger spin. He got Syed Aziz in his first over, caught slog sweeping on the boundary, then had Saifullah Malik edging behind as he reached for a wider one.

This brought Ahmad Faiz (57 off 89) and Virandeep Singh (52 off 101) to the crease, and the pair united for a 106-run partnership that brought Malaysia right back into the match. The pair were patient, and displayed their class with well-timed boundaries through the covers and point region when they were offered width. With the score at 122 off 33 overs and 8 wickets in hand, the chase looked very achievable, until Hamid Shah (1/37 off 10) broke the partnership by getting Faiz caught, and then Damgaard did the rest.

He had Virandeep edging behind on the cut, with a delivery that bounced a little more, then Muhammad Ramli reaching away from his body to gift a catch to Zameer Khan at first slip. Saif Ahmad (3/43 off 10) added to the chaos with three wickets in an over, and Damgaard took two more in two balls to finish off Malaysia in double-quick time: the final 8 wickets fell for just 29 runs, and no other batter made it to double figures.

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