There was Asian cricket aplenty this week in the Emerging Cricket world, as the Thailand women continued their T20 World Cup campaign, their men host the ACC Eastern Region Asia Cup qualifiers and the Western region concluded with upsets and a net run rate photo finish.
Manuka Oval in the Australian capital of Canberra held 5 matches of the Women’s T20 World Cup this week, with Thailand women in action for two of them. Against England, a pair of early strikes briefly threatened to derail the lineup smarting from their first-match loss to South Africa. But it was one-way traffic after that, with Nat Sciver and Heather Knight rebuilding through both defense against some probing overs and attack when the Thai bowlers were loose (as happened too frequently). Knight ended on a magnificent 108* and England posted 176/2 – beyond the reach of a frail Thai batting order. Nattakan Chantam lit up the chase early with some sparkling offside boundaries, but England adapted effectively and denied her the width she needed to choke off her innings. Spinners Sophie Ecclestone and Sarah Glenn proved impossible for the Thai batters to get away and the innings fizzled out to 78/7 off their 20.
Two days later against South Africa it was a similar story, as the Thailand women again struck early before Lizelle Lee’s power hitting (with support from Sune Luus) took the game away. Repeatedly launching over extra cover and slog-sweeping to midwicket, Lee scored 82 in boundaries out of her 101, and took South Africa to 195/3 off their 20. In response, Thailand turned in arguably their worst batting performance of the tournament, as the opening bowlers delivered a lethal one-two punch with Shabnim Ismail’s extra pace and a suffocating 4-over spell of left-arm orthodox from Nonkululeko Mlaba. There was, again, an individual highlight as Onnika Kamchomphu reached a free-flowing 26 (21), but she lacked support, and Thailand failed to make the most of a sloppy South African fielding effort as they gifted five dropped catches. However, the fact that Thailand limped to their highest score of the tournament despite batting poorly will offer a glimmer of hope as they move into their clash against Pakistan on Tuesday. With low and slow conditions expected at the Sydney Showground Stadium, Thailand are targeting their final match opponents to finish the tournament on a high.
While Thailand were stealing the headlines in Australia, Oman was the site of a remarkable tussle as the Asia Cup Western Region qualifiers played out at the Al-Amerat facility outside Muscat. Oman’s Persian Gulf rivals staged a home-ground heist in Group A as the hosts were knocked out in the group stage due to a boilover against Qatar, before Bahrain flattened Qatar to leapfrog them and Oman on NRR into the all-or-nothing crossover semi-finals.
Group B’s action played out rather more according to the form guide, with UAE and Kuwait cruising to the first and second place, and even the politically intriguing Iran-Saudi Arabia match ended in an easy (and resolutely un-explosive) win to the Saudis. After the excitement of Oman’s elimination, the semi-finals (which feed into the final round of qualifying later in the year) were a coronation for Group B, as Kuwait crushed Bahrain and UAE overcame Iqbal Hussain’s 4/16 through Junaid Siddique’s 4/12. In the final UAE again imposed themselves with a dominant 102-run win, thanks to Sultan Ahmed’s career-best figures of 4/9. The two sides will meet the Eastern Region finalists in Kuala Lumpur this August as 4 countries battle for a single Asia Cup berth.
While Oman will be disappointed with their failure to qualify, the camp was likely distracted by some off-field drama as former player Abdulrahim Al-Balushi was banned for seven years by the ICC for multiple violations of its anti-corruption code.
In a busy time for Thai cricket, the men’s side got their Asia Cup qualifying campaign underway, with Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Nepal joining them in Bangkok. Unfortunately for the hosts, they slipped to two early losses against Singapore and Malaysia.
The Malaysians had already caused a stir in their first match as Syed Aziz biffed 51* to set up a victory over the more-fancied Nepal, while discontent grew in the Himalayan republic after they slipped to a second defeat against Hong Kong with Haroon Arshad’s 5/16 making him the first man from Hong Kong to claim a five-wicket haul in T20Is.
Malaysia’s win over Nepal shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise (despite a 20-place gap in the T20I rankings) to observers of the recently-concluded Interport series. A revival of historical fixtures between a range of teams in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong visited Malaysia for 5 T20Is, all held at Kinrara Oval. The hosts triumphed with a 5-0 drubbing, rarely looking like losing any of the matches. Ahmed Faiz (162 runs at 40.5) led the way with the bat for Malaysia, whose top-order unit fired – Syed Aziz and Ahmed Faiz also registered over 100 runs; for Hong Kong only Kinchit Shah reached the mark, mostly due to 72 in the last match. Ball in hand Syazrul Idris (8 wickets at 9.87 and an economy of 5.6) was the star for Malaysia, who consistently ran through Hong Kong’s brittle top order.
Elsewhere in Asia, and the buildup to the Everest Premier League continued with Chitwan Tigers announcing their signing of Singapore-born Aussie Tim David, and Hampshire’s James Fuller as overseas players.
Half a world away in South America, and Argentina completed its traditional North v South 3-day fixture. The North claimed victory in the 121st edition of the contest, among the oldest-running cricket series in the world, and one of the few multiday cricket matches still held in the emerging game.
Back across the Atlantic Ocean, and Ireland Wolves concluded their development series against Namibia. They won the final two T20 matches, which were both high-scoring affairs, to complete a 4-1 series victory. Namibia then cruised both the 50-over fixtures by 7 wickets with effective bowling performances setting up easy chases. Runs to Neil Rock, Curtis Campher, Harry Tector and Gareth Delaney bodes will for Ireland’s squad depth in a T20 World Cup year, while Craig Young continued an impressive series with the ball. Namibia will be encouraged by hit-and-miss opener Niko Davin finding form in both formats, fringe bat Karl Birkenstock made a case for a recall, and evergreen allrounder Craig Williams gave no indication of slowing down. Among the bowlers, seamer Tangeni Lungamene showed promising signs of improvement over his past returns.
Staying on the continent, and this week’s roundup concludes with Uganda’s visit to India. Playing a range of club sides in 40-over encounters, the Africans managed just one victory in six attempts. While they faced strong opposition and foreign conditions, the poor returns will give them plenty to think about as they gear up for a busy period of cricket, with the Africa T20 Cup in March, T20 World Cup qualifying scheduled for April and Challenge League B in Kampala this July. Several players showed glimpses of form, including left-arm finger spinner Gerald Mubiru and flamboyant young batsman Frank Akankwasa, but the selectors will almost certainly have as many questions as answers after what they can only hope was a learning experience.
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