Disappointment for Saudi team in first match of ACC Men’s Premier Cup

AL-AMARAT: On April 12, the men’s Asia Premier Cup got away to a flying start on Oman’s two side by side turf grounds at Al Amerat, Muscat.

This excellent facility provides the opportunity for two matches to be played on each turf per day. The press tent is situated between the two grounds so that both matches can be observed simultaneously.

Prospects of upsets were high. In Group A, Oman, one of the favourites to earn the top place and progress to the Asia Cup in 2025, were run close by Bahrain, who fell four runs short of victory. Oman had been given a scare and an upset avoided.

Another contender for top spot, the UAE, was subject to a steady top order batting display by Kuwait, who posted 178 for eight.

At 26 for three, the UAE innings was on the back foot, but an unbroken fourth wicket partnership of 153 avoided another potential upset.

Nepal twanged the heartstrings of their supporters against Malaysia, who posted a creditable 143 for three.

Captain, Virandeep Singh, anchored the innings with an unbeaten seventy-two, supported by S Muniandy, Nepal using eight bowlers.

Nepal made heavy weather of its reply, wickets falling at critical times, before a sixth wicket partnership of thirty runs sent their delirious supporters into raptures. No other team in this tournament has this boisterous, enthusiastic support.

There seemed to a hundred or so, all working in Oman, making a noise far beyond their numbers. Crucially for them, another potential upset had been avoided.

In their performance, Malaysia had given a warning that they represented a strong challenge for Saudi Arabia on Day 2. Choosing to bat first, Malaysia lost Virandeep Singh in the first over, bowled by Ishtiaq Ahmad. Tight bowling by Saudi’s quicks reduced Malaysia to fifty-three for five after ten overs. Several smart catches were taken but there was some ragged fielding.

At this critical juncture in the innings, Saudi needed to turn the screw. However, the left-handed A. A. Wahid rebuilt the innings, with help from V Unni and late flurry of scoring in the last two lovers took Malayasia to 146 for seven. This target looked achievable on a good batting pitch.

Saudi’s start was steady, but the introduction of spin at both ends stifled the scoring. In the sixth over, Saudi attacked but then lost two wickets in the seventh over, the score forty-seven for three. Then came drama. First came the dismissal of the captain, H Shaikh, was adjudged to be stumped and K Abbas caught behind in the same over, the batter being unimpressed to be out.

At 91 for five in the fifteenth over, the game was in the balance. A profitable over of twelve runs then ensued off a left arm quick. The return of slower bowlers brough extra pressure and, despite several lusty blows, the lower order all gave straightforward catches in their attempts to find the boundary. As a result, the innings closed twelve runs short on 134 all out, with five balls spare.

It is a match that Saudi will be disappointed to lose. At 53 for five, the Malaysian innings was in deep trouble, but they managed to wriggle free and then post a competitive score. The Saudi batters had difficulty in scoring sufficiently against the slower bowlers. Even so, to finish twelve runs short with five balls remaining suggests that some improved game management will be beneficial. Overall, the Malaysian team probably fielded better. The margins are so tight in T20 cricket that fielding often makes the difference.

In the other matches of day two, Kuwait made light of Cambodia’s 141 for five, reaching the target in the twelve over for the loss of only two wickets. The UAE totalled an imposing 236 for six against Bahrain, who responded in positive fashion particularly by Ali Butt and I Anwar with some superlative straight hitting. Ultimately, they perished and the team fell short by thirty-seven runs.

However, the real fireworks of the day were provided by Nepal who scored 210 for seven. Before the last over they had scored 174 for seven. Dipendra Singh Airee then smashed six sixes to place himself as only the third player to do that in T20I cricket. The others were Yuvraj Singh in 2007 and Kieron Pollard in 2021. Qatar replied with a spirited 178 for nine and will wonder how much closer they might had been, but for Airee’s blitz.

At the end of day two, the UAE and Nepal lead their respective groups, each with two wins from two matches. Saudi Arabia play Hong Kong in a must win match on Day three.

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