Israel remain undefeated in Group A, Sweden top Group B
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The battle for the semi-final places from Group B in the ICC Championship Tournament remained too close to call on Thursday morning, as Finland ensured that their afternoon showdown with Hellas would decide the outcome, when they dismissed the Isle of Man for 82 and went on to win by six wickets.
The Manx began quietly against the Finnish attack of Tariq Sarfraz and Bilal Khan, but once Sarfraz removed Max Stokoe in the fifth over with the total on 11, wickets fell at regular intervals, and with only Alex Stokoe and Philip Littlejohns reaching double figures they were in deep trouble at 40 for seven.
Madhu Bhandari was the main destroyer for Finland with four for 12 from his four overs, and then Obaidullah Sadiqui took over, taking three for 11. The total would have been even lower but for a quick 21 from Garreth Roome, batting at No. 10, who made 21 from 10 deliveries to get his side up to 82.
Finland lost three quick wickets when they replied, and when Arne van den Berg removed Jonathan Scamans they were still in some peril at 32 for four. But skipper Amrik Bhatia and Bilal Khan added 52 in an unbroken fifth-wicket stand which took them past the winning post with three overs left. Bilal made 35 from 20 deliveries, while Bhatia finished on 23.
Hellas kept their slim hopes of reaching the semi-finals alive, and put an end to those of Cyprus, by securing a 7-wicket victory in the first-ever meeting between the two sides at Messonghi.
A Cypriot total of 138 for seven was largely due to a fine half-century by Muhammad Mohsin, whose 55 came from 40 deliveries with three fours and four sixes, while captain Michaelis Kyriacou gave his side a steady start with 32 from 34 balls, sharing an opening stand of 44 with Syed Hussain.
Aslam Mohammad bowled a useful spell of medium pace, removing both openers and finishing with two for 21, but it was left-arm spinner Mehmood Ahmed who cleaned up at the end, taking three wickets, all caught in the deep, in the final over of the innings to finish with three for 29.
Aslam then began the Greek reply at a gallop, reaching his half-century from just 22 deliveries and enabling his side to reach 78 without loss from the first six overs. He and Anastasios Manousis put on 89 for the first wicket before Aslam, having made 60 from 24 balls, skied Gurbhej Singh to cover.
Singh and Mohsin now put on the brakes, picking up a wicket each and conceding only five runs in four overs as the Greek juggernaut briefly ground to a halt. Singh even had the rare distinction of bowling a wicket maiden, in which he took a skied return catch after bowling a full toss to Manousis.
But Hellas had plenty of overs in hand, and Nic Pothas and Mehmood Ahmed gradually got the momentum going again, Pothas ending the game with a six over midwicket with more than four overs to spare. He finished on 30 not out, from 17 deliveries with two fours and two sixes.
At Ropa Valley No. 2 Spain made sure of a place in the semi-finals by inflicting a 10-wicket defeat on Malta.
Maltese captain Andrew Naudi was again his side’s top-scorer with 29 in a total of 119, while his opposite number Mark Spencer was the main wicket-taker for Spain, cleaning up the tail to finish with three for 10.
But the early damage was done by Talat Ali, Mohib Hussain and Sajad Ali, who claimed two wickets apiece at a cost of 33, 22 and 17.
Armaghan Khan and Tariq Ali knocked off the runs in just 11.2 overs, with Khan finishing on 51 and Tariq on 58, each facing 34 balls. Khan’s innings included four fours and three sixes, while Tariq his three fours and five sixes, bringing his aggregate for the group phase to 383 runs, made at a strike rate of 211.60.
Rain intervened for the first time in the tournament as Portugal set a substantial total of 165 for five against Luxembourg. Opener Tariq Aziz batted throughout the 20 overs, making an unbeaten 85 from 65 deliveries with four fours and five sixes, and sharing in a stand of 59 for the fourth wicket with Rizwan Khaliq (32 from 15 balls) and an unbroken one of 52 with Paulo Buccimazza in the closing overs.
Spinners Chris Evans and Piran Merkl picked up two wickets apiece, at a cost of 21 and 24 runs respectively.
But then a spell of heavy rain caused a five-over reduction in Luxembourg’s allocation, with a consequent revision of their target to 131. It was always going to be a difficult task, and despite a 33-ball innings of 40 from Joost Mees the chase fell 11 runs short. Nadeem Nazar was the most successful of the Portuguese bowlers with two for 27.
Sweden made sure of the top spot in Group B with a comprehensive victory over winless Croatia in the final group match at the Marina, and were joined by the Isle of Man – despite their defeat at the hands of Finland in the morning’s games – as a result of the outcome of the match at Messonghi between the Finns and Hellas.
In Group A, meanwhile, Israel maintained their unbeaten record by overhauling a competitive Estonian total of 154 for three to top the table, with Spain completing the semi-final line-up.
Hellas and Finland both went into their final group match with a chance of reaching the promotion play-offs. For Finland it was quite simple – win and a play-off place was secured; for Hellas it was much more complicated in that they had not only to win but also improve their net run rate by a considerable margin in order to better that of the Isle of Man.
In the end, neither team was to qualify as Hellas won the match but their margin of victory, 53 runs, was insufficient to bridge the run rate gap between them and the Manxmen.
Having been put in to bat, Hellas began slowly with just 15 runs coming off the first four overs for the loss of Manousis. However, Aslam Mohammad and Alexandros Souvlakis then set about the Finnish bowling in some style, scoring 114 runs from the next seven overs.
Souvlakis was dismissed immediately after reaching his fifty, while Aslam went on to make 80 before he was well caught by Zahidullah Kamal at cover. Between them they hit 13 sixes and 8 fours. Nic Pothas also played a cameo innings as Hellas went on to reach 211 for eight at the end of their 20 overs.
Finland dropped a number of catches which, if they had been taken, would have given them a less formidable target to chase. They had to be aggressive right from the start of their innings which, as often happens, led to a flurry of dismissals.
By the fifth over they had slumped to 26 for five against some pacey bowling from Dimitrios Triantafillidis and Zois Ntemsias. Although Ekhpelwak Kuchey made an impressive 54 and Madhu Bhandari showed some late resistance with an unbeaten 33, victory was always well out of their reach.
Pick of the Hellas bowlers was Triantafillidis who finished with the excellent figures of four for 29.
Sweden made short work of Croatia, bowling their opponents out for 63, 20 of which came from wides. Only captain John Vujnovich was able to reach double figures, with the Croatians contributing to their own misfortunes with three run-outs.
Khalid Ahmad and Aman Momand picked up two wickets apiece in economical spells, Khalid conceding 12 runs and Momand 15.
Sadat Sidiqi went after the Croatian bowlers from the outset of the Swedish reply, and with Shahid Mustafa in a supportive role the openers put on a rapid 32. Michael Grzinic eventually removed Mustafa, but Sidiqi continued in partnership with Sunny Sharma, and when the latter was dismissed by Josip Jukic only two runs were required for victory.
Sidiqi finished it off soon afterwards, finishing on 40 not out from 28 deliveries as Sweden won with almost nine overs to spare.
Batsmen dominated the clash between Israel and Estonia at Ropa No. 1, with Nand Lal Riar making a 34-ball 59 and sharing an opening stand of 57 with a patient Mart Tammoja, and Tim Filer making an unbeaten 48 as Estonia put on a creditable 154 for three.
Riar also caused the Israelis problems with the ball, snatching two quick wickets as Israel slumped to 7 for three. But Eshkol Solomon, who has been their most consistent batsman throughout the tournament, put on 55 with Gabi Schachat and 86 with Danny Hotz to turn the game around, and Israel reached their target with ten balls to spare and five wickets in hand.
Solomon finished with an undefeated 85, made from 52 deliveries with seven fours and two sixes, while Riar ended on two for 20 from his three overs.
At Ropa 1: Isle of Man 82, 19.2 overs
Finland 84-4, 17 overs, Finland won by 6 wickets
At Ropa 1: Estonia 154-3, 20 overs (Nand Lal Riar 59, Tim Filer 48 not out)
Israel 155-5, 18.2 overs (Eshkol Solomon 84), Israel won by 5 wickets
At Ropa 2: Malta 119, 19.2 overs (Mark Spencer 3-10)
Spain 121-0, 11.2 overs (Armaghan Khan 51 not out, Tariq Ali 58 not out), Spain won by 10 wickets.
At Marina: Portugal 165-5, 20 overs (Tariq Aziz 85 not out)
Luxembourg 119-4, 15 overs (Joost Mees 40)
Portugal won by 11 runs (D/L Method)
Revised Target: 131 in 15 overs
At Marina: Croatia 63, 17.2 overs
Sweden 66-2, 11.1 overs (Sadat Sidiqi 40 not out), Sweden won by 8 wickets
At Messonghi: Cyprus 138-7, 20 overs (Muhammad Tahir Mohsin 55; Mehmood Ahmed 3-29)
Hellas 139-3, 15.4 overs (Aslam Mohammad 60), Hellas won by 7 wickets
At Messonghi: Hellas 211-8, 20 overs (Aslam Mohammed 80, Alexandros Souvlakis 50)
Finland 158-9, 20 overs (Ekhpelwak Kuchey 54; Dimitrios Triadafillidis 4-29)
Hellas won by 53 runs.
Portugal v Finland (A3 v B4), Ropa 1 10.30;
Estonia v Hellas (A4 v B3), Ropa 2 10.30;
Israel v Isle of Man (A1 v B2), Marina 10.30;
Spain v Sweden (A2 v B1) Marina 1530;
Luxembourg v Cyprus (A6 v B5), Messonghi 10.30;
Malta v Croatia (A5 v B6), Messonghi 15.30.
Photograph – ICC/CricketEurope shows Hellas celebrating their seven wicket win against Cyprus.