The regional qualifiers being played out in Rwanda are showing just how competitive and thrilling international cricket outside of the elite tier can be.
The weather, and subsequent number of no results, has also meant that the group is looking far more dynamic than would otherwise have been expected at this stage of the tournament.
So how is everyone getting on?
The big boys
The group favourites Kenya had a frustrating start to their qualifying campaign, with their first two matches being rain affected. This meant they only picked up two points from a possible four.
When they finally did get a chance to play though, they were determined to show just why they’re the favourites to go through. They bowled Mali out for just 30 runs in 11 overs, before then seeing off the required score within 15 balls.
They convincingly put Rwanda to bed with 56 balls to spare. Colins Obuya showed everyone why he’s still making the side as part of a solid opening parternhsip with Rishab Patel, even hitting a six to win it for the Kenyans. Rwanda were then swept aside in their fifth match.
Elsewhere the second favourites in the group Botswana found themselves in an incredibly tight final over against Malawi on Sunday 20 November.
Malawi needed nine from the final six balls. Having conceded seven runs from the first four balls, including a two run dash that ultimately led to a run out, Tshobe saw an opportunity and dismissed Jakiel at the non strikers end with a mankad.
Jakiel had only faced one delivery, scoring three from it, so one can only assume that the Botswana coaching staff have a sophisticated opponent monitoring programme in place to brief their side on opposition players before each match.
Unfortunately for Botswana it was to no avail, as Malawi made the required total off the fifth delivery with one ball to spare. With two rain affected matches meaning they’ve only chalked up one win in four, their chances of qualification now hang in the balance.
After a rain affected match against Kenya, Malawi haven’t quite been able to find their rhythm yet. Beating Botswana and Mali, they then fell well short against Rwanda, albeit under yet more rain affected circumstances.
They sit three points off first spot with a comparatively easier run in for their final three matches, setting up a potentially tight finish at the top of the group.
Lesotho have managed two wins out of four so far, with Khan’s 68* against The Seychelles particularly pleasing. Kenya’s 167 run margin of victory last time out however won’t have done anything for the confidence.
They’ll want to bounce back and take some points off St Helena in the next match no doubt, but their current form suggests that they’ll find Malawi and Rwanda hard work.
After a reasonable showing in their first game against Lesotho, Mali have really struggled to get going. They’re not putting enough pressure on batting sides, and are equally struggling themselves when facing the ball.
Of their four matches, they’ve only made triple figures once, and a rain affected game led to a no result against The Seychelles, where they might have otherwise hoped to have picked up some points.
Seychelles themselves are looking stronger as the tournament goes on. After a no result against Botswana, they were on their way to a convincing victory against Mali before another no result thanks to the weather. In their third game they gave Lesotho a good run for their money, but then came up against a St Helena side that are also growing into the tournament. In another great advert for the global game, their island opponents ultimately proved too much of a challenge.
Madusanka carried his bat for a half century in the first innings for The Seychelles, but that wasn’t enough to get them over the line, in what turned into a nail biting finish.
Seychelles needed 39 runs from 30 balls before Scott Crowie went to work with the ball. He bowled a wicket maiden in the 16th and took a wicket in the 18th. An expensive 16 run 19th over left Seychelles with eight needed off the last over. Crowie conceded five from his first three balls, before taking two wickets in the next two balls of the match. That saw Seychelles all out with only three needed to win.
St Helena’s win means they now hold the record for the smallest cricketing nation to record an international victory, having been granted full T20I status in 2019 as an Associate Member, taking the crown from previous holders the Cook Islands.
The Seychelles’ final three games are against the current top three of Kenya, Rwanda and Malawi, so at this point they’re playing more for pride than realistic qualification hopes.
St Helena on the other hand have four games remaining. If they can get past Mali and Lesotho, who knows. Maybe the plucky side from the south Atlantic might just pick up enough momentum to get through Malawi and a stuttering Botswana, and creep into a qualification spot.
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