The UAE beat Bahrain by eight wickets in the last day-night game of the inaugural Asian Cricket Council (ACC) Men’s U16 West Zone Cup to clinch the title at the Vision Cricket Centre in Sharjah last night.
Needing a mere 116 to win off 35 overs, the UAE reeled off the required runs for the loss of only two wickets and 15 overs to spare with Shalom D’Souza, batting at number three, scoring a fluent, unbeaten 44 off 51 balls with four fours and two sixes.
The game was a virtual final with the UAE, having won all four of their previous four matches, simply needing one last win for a tournament triumph. Bahrain, who had won three matches and lost one in their first four games, needed to beat the UAE in order to draw level on points and win the six-team tournament on account of having won the top-of-the-table clash.
However, Bahrain were left to rue a dismal batting performance earlier that saw them lose their last eight wickets for 41 runs in 12.2 overs after a steady, 31-run third-wicket stand between opener Aryan Ashwin and number four Mohammed Basil had seen them well-placed at 74 for two after 22 overs.
Aryan, who top-scored with 34, and Basil, who managed 22, appeared to have justified captain Vishwaesh Gurumurthy’s decision to bat first after winning the toss as Bahrain seemed poised for an all-out assault off the final 13 overs of the innings with eight wickets in hand.
However, once Aryan fell to leg-spinner Hemant Rao Velluri, and Basil succumbed to another leg-spinner, Yayin Kiran Rai, four overs and 11 runs later, none of the incoming batsmen were able to collar the disciplined UAE medium-pace and spin attack as wickets tumbled regularly and the innings stagnated.
A target of 116 at 3.28 runs an over was never likely to test the UAE unless Bahrain succeeded in making early inroads into their batting line-up. And openers Akshat Rai and captain Shrey Sethi signalled their intent in the first over bowled by Vishwaesh which went for 11 runs.
Akshat Rai eventually fell to Basil’s off-spin for a run-a-ball 17 with the UAE 35 for one after 4.5 overs. The left-handed Shalom walked in to join Shrey and dominated an untroubled 32-run stand for the second wicket before the UAE captain was dismissed for 26 by the left-arm spin of Sai Sarthak.
At 67 for two after 12 overs, with just 49 more required off 23 overs, the UAE were in sight of a comfortable win. And Shalom ensured they didn’t experience any further hiccups as he partnered with Yayin (17 not out) to knock off the remaining runs, sealing the run-chase with a magnificent lofted drive back over medium-pacer Mohammed Adil’s head for the winning boundary.
Despite the disappointment of their team falling short at the final hurdle, the tournament was a resounding success for the Bahrain Cricket Federation (BCF) which organised the tournament after the hosting rights were awarded to Bahrain by the ACC last February.
This was the first time Bahrain hosted any international cricket tournament with the championship being staged in Sharjah after the Emirates Cricket Board accepted the BCF’s request to allow it to hold it in the UAE because of the lack of a cricket stadium in the kingdom.
It is for that very reason that the Bahrain players – who play on concrete pitches with sandy outfields in the kingdom – have every reason to feel proud of how well they performed in the tournament against teams who have the benefit of regularly practising and playing on proper cricket grounds.
Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were the other teams who participated in the tournament along with the UAE and Bahrain.