Saudi Arabia. Bahrain win through ACC Challenger Cup


Saudi Arabia, Bahrain win through ACC Challenger Cup

by Bertus de Jong • Published on Sun, Mar 5, 2023

Pre-tournament favourites Saudi Arabia and Bahrain both topped their groups unbeaten in the inaugural ACC Challenger Cup before seeing off Bhutan and Thailand respectively in the semi-finals to claim the two qualification spots for the inaugural ACC Premier Cup. Saudi Arabia went on to prevail in the final, trouncing Bahrain by ten wickets to claim the trophy in the first edition of the ACC’s new third tier 50-over competition.

Though both Gulf sides were remarkably dominant through the competition, Saudi Arabia were particularly brutal in their demolition of Group B rivals Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar. Indonesia were the only side to post a triple figure score against the Saudis throughout the competition, tournament top-scorer Padmakar Surve’s 73-ball 63 in the tournament opener seeing Indonesia to 117 all out, Saudi taking exactly half their allotted overs to chase for the loss of two wickets. From there, the wins only got bigger, a nine-wicket win over Thailand followed, completed in 15.4 overs after the hosts had been skittled for 80. Then batting first in their final group game against Myanmar the Saudis racked up 424-7, Abdul Manan Ali striking 102* from the top of the order before retiring hurt and Ahmed Baladraf bagging 4-29 as Myanmar were rolled for 97.

Indonesia and Thailand would also rack up big wins over the Burmese, Daniel Jacobs hitting 152 off 143 for the hosts on the way to a 272-run victory. Surve struck a 91-ball 128 for Indonesia and Gede Arta took 5-23 in their match against Myanmar to claim their first victory by a margin of 195 runs. The only competitive match of the group was between the hosts and Indonesia, Thailand claiming a semi-final place in a nervy, low-scoring 4-wicket win in the final group match.

Bahrain likewise had little difficulty in breezing through Group A besting Bhutan, Iran and the Maldives by wide margins. Again their first match was the closest to a contest, chasing 105 against Bhutan three wickets down, before Shabaz Badar’s 144-ball 178 set up a mammoth 292-run win over the Maldives. An emphatic 10-wicket win over Iran, bowling the Iranians out for 46 and chasing in just four overs saw them cruise into the semis, though the battle for second was more closely contested in Group A. Each of the other sides picked up a win, the Maldives defending 157 against Iran in their opening match despite eye-catching left arm spinner Zahed Afarain taking a five wicket haul, Iran besting Bhutan by fifty runs in their next match, before Bhutan scraped into the semifinals on net run rate thanks to a four-wicket win over the Maldives in another low-scoring thriller to conclude the group.

Saudi Arabia brushed Bhutan aside in the first semi final, Ishtihaq Ahmad taking 4-7 as Bhutan wilted for 62 and Waqar Ul-Hasan’s unbeaten 41 taking Saudi to a nine-wicket victory to seal their qualification for the ACC Premier Cup and a place in the final. Thaliand looked to hav Bahrain on the ropes in the other semi-final as Jandre Coetzee’s 4-18 saw Bahrain struggle top 169 all-out, but the hosts couldn’t capitalise Zeeshan Abbas taking a four-fer f his own as the Thais crumbled to 91 all-out and Bahrain sealed the second qualification berth.

The one-sided results, few of them unexpected, rather underlined the gulf of experience between the sides in the fifty over format, and the rise of Gulf countries through the lower ranks of Asian cricket. The blow-out in the final was less expected however, with Bahrain widely regarded as an up-and-comer, with a winning record against Saudi Arabia in the shorter format at least. In the event the Saudis administered another drubbing however, opening bowlers Atif Ur-Rehman and Ishtiaq Ahmad scything through the batting order as a shell-shocked Bahrain lost eight wickets for just six runs. Abdul Majid’s 7 was the top score for Bahrain with 11 extras the largest contribution to the eventual total of 26. Openers Waqar Ul Hassan and Abdul Waheed needed just four overs to overhaul the target and claim the inaugural Challenger Trophy for Saudi Arabia, laying down a marker ahead of the coming ACC Premier Cup, to be held in Nepal in late April.

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