Frank Spiteri / Jon Collard
A delighted Malta team secured their third major international trophy last weekend, becoming the T20I Valletta Cup champions on home soil. It was Malta’s first major tournament success since back to back triumphs in the Malta T20 International Tournament (2013) and the 2014 Pan European T20 in Hungary. The hosts were joined by Bulgaria, Gibraltar and Switzerland. All were looking to improve their T20I Global Ranking ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup European Qualifiers. The 4-day international cricket festival took place at the iconic Marsa Oval.
Day 1: Malta start with a win
Thursday’s first day saw a dominant display by Malta as they defeated Gibraltar by 61 runs. Heinrich Gericke (64 off 25) and Samuel Sanish M. Stanislaus (42* off 18) were in full flight for the hosts. For Gibraltar, the ever-promising teenage all-rounder Louis Bruce top scored with 57 runs and Phil Raikes contributed a hard-hitting 45.
Day 2: Switzerland go top
Two outstanding all-round victories by Switzerland on Friday saw them installed as early tournament favorites. The Swiss were playing their first official T20I matches since being reinstated as an associate member of the ICC in July. In the morning game, the Swiss chased down 134 against Gibraltar with more than 5 overs to spare as Osama Mahmood top scored with 58. The afternoon game saw an even more emphatic victory as the Swiss reached their target of 82 within the 6 over Powerplay. For the Swiss, Aneesh Kumar captured 3 for 3 and Arjun Vinod top scored with 43 off 20.
Day 3: First T20I win for Gibraltar, Swiss top the round-robin
Gibraltar defeated Bulgaria by 37 runs after posting an emphatic 217 for 4 from their allotted 20 overs. Gibraltar captain Balaji Pai scored a brilliant century (107* off 52) before leaving the field with a leg injury. Together with Louis Bruce (73 off 50), the pair put on 172 runs for the opening stand. For Bulgaria, Hristo Lakov (80 off 63) and Ishan Aravinda De Silva (42 off 32) saw them to a very respectable 180 for 5 in reply.
Saturday’s second match saw hosts Malta face Switzerland in what would be a prelude to Sunday’s final. Some excellent spin bowling by captain Bikram Arora (3 for 20) saw Switzerland restricted to 150/9. For the Swiss, Asad Mahmood top scored with 33 off 25. In reply, a steady flow of wickets put pay to any chance of victory for Malta. Late order fireworks from Bilal Muhammad (35 off 17) were not enough and the home team fell just 8 runs short on 142 for 9. The sides would clash again the next day to determine who would become the Valletta Cup champions.
In the final match of the group stage, Malta were victorious over Bulgaria after some nervy moments in the field. Bulgaria batted first and were in trouble at 53 for 4 in the 10th over. Omar Rasool (63 off 36) rescued the innings and guided Bulgaria to a respectable 150 for 6. Varun Prasath took two wickets while Bilal Muhammad and Waseem Abbas conceded only 24 runs apiece in their 4-over spells. Malta’s response was a positive one with Basil George (41 off 27) and Heinrich Gericke (38 off 17) leading from the front. Deon Vosloo’s 23* off 20 guided Malta home with a comfortable 3 overs to spare.
Third-place playoff: Bulgaria take bronze
Sunday’s third-place playoff between Gibraltar and Bulgaria was one of the most exciting matches ever witnessed at the Marsa Oval. Bulgaria secured victory from the very last ball, scoring 16 runs off the final over. Earlier, Gibraltar’s star openers Balaji Pai (71 off 37) and Louis Bruce (61 off 43) put on another century partnership before a late fightback by Bulgaria saw Gibraltar finish on 177 for 9. For Bulgaria, captain Prakash Mishra took 3 wickets for 22. In reply, Hristo Lakov (60* off 52) and Ishan Aravinda De Silva (62 off 40) shared an outstanding 104 runs for the 2nd wicket before Kevin D’Souza’s final over heroics handed Bulgaria a memorable victory and the bronze medal.
Malta victorious in the Valletta Cup final
The Valletta Cup final between Malta and Switzerland showcased the international event with some excellent cricket on display. Malta won the toss elected to bat. Some excellent Swiss bowling restricted Malta to 95 for 5 after 14 overs, however some enterprising batting by Bilal Muhammed (16 off 5) and Niraj Khanna (37 off 15) rallied the home side with 81 runs from the final 6 overs to reach 176 for 7. For Switzerland Aneesh Kumar (2 for 26) and Ashwin Vinod (2 for 29) were the pick of the bowlers.
In reply, the Swiss raced to 62 within the powerplay before Varun Prasath removed both openers in successive overs. Osama Mahmood (22 off 17) and Idrees Ul Haque (42 off 23) were responsible for the rapid start. With 42 runs required from the final 5 overs, two inspirational run outs by wicketkeeper Aaftab Khan and Zeeshan Khan tipped the scales in Malta’s favour. Malta secured the title of Valletta Cup champions with a narrow 6-run victory. Victory saw them move to 65th in the ICC rankings, up 20 places in just over one calendar year.
After the final, a presentation ceremony took place with the following awards:
Most Valuable Player: Balaji Pai (Gibraltar) – 209 runs and 3 wickets (economy 6.41)
Best Batter: Louis Bruce (Gibraltar) – 222 runs
Best Bowler: Ashwin Vinod (Switzerland) – 9 wickets for 104 runs (economy 6.50)
Malta v Gibraltar T20I series
On Monday 25th October, the scheduled two-match series between Malta and Gibraltar was curtailed by rain and the one match that could take place ended dramatically in a tie via the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method. After being put in to bat, the hosts were dismissed for 145. Varun Prasath scored 50 off 27 and Louis Bruce took an impressive 4 for 13. Gibraltar were 57 for 2 in the 8th over (Kieron Ferrary, 35* off 25) when rain forced an early finish. The game marked the final match for Malta’s stalwart wicketkeeper Sam Aquilina after a career that has spanned 10 years and included 56 international caps.
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