A dogged, unbeaten half-century stand between Imran Ali and Junaid Aziz followed an outstanding four-wicket haul by medium-pacer Rizwan Butt to lead Bahrain to a six-wicket victory over Saudi Arabia and their first win in the Gulf Cricket T20I Championship 2023 at the West End Park International Cricket Stadium in Doha last night.
Chasing a mere 111 to win, after the Saudis were skittled out for 110 in only 18.4 overs earlier, Bahrain had slumped to 48 for four after 10.2 overs with 63 runs still needed off 58 deliveries when Aziz walked in to join opener Ali, who was holding one end up.
But with debutant left-arm spinner Ahmed Baladraf, who had taken two wickets in consecutive overs, bowling tight lines along with fellow left-armer Zain ul Abedin, the two found it tough going initially with the innings’ stagnating after 12 overs at 49 for four.
But the 13th over, bowled by off-spinner Abdul Waheed, opened the floodgates as Ali launched him into the stands for six.
That over went for 10 runs and Aziz, who had taken 10 balls to get off the mark, suddenly shifted gears, smashing Baladraf for a six and a four to take another 10 runs off the 14th over.
Suddenly, Bahrain were 69 for four with just 42 required off 36 balls and, when Ali stroked two fours off the medium-pace of Kashif Abbas in the 15th over which leaked 12 runs, the kingdom’s team were suddenly in the driver’s seat at 81 for four, with just 29 more required off 30 balls.
When the 16th over, bowled by medium-pacer Faisal Khan, went for another 11 runs, courtesy of a humongous hit over mid-wicket by Aziz and three wides, Bahrain were 92 for four and within sight of a much-needed win.
And that moment arrived in the 19th over, when Aziz pumped a medium-paced delivery from Atif-ur-Rehman through the covers for the winning boundary.
Ali and Aziz both finished on 39 not out with their match-winning, fifth-wicket stand of 66 coming off just 51 deliveries.
Earlier, after Saudi skipper Hisham Sheikh won the toss and elected to bat first, the Bahraini bowlers wasted no time in imposing themselves on the game.
Medium-pacer Ali Dawood struck with the second ball of the innings’ third over – his second – as he clean-bowled opener Faisal Khan for one with Saudi Arabia 14/1.
In the very next over, Rizwan Butt joined in on the act, castling Abdul Waheed for two and having Saad Khan caught by Abdul Majid Abbasi for nought off the very next ball.
Suddenly, Saudi Arabia were 21 for three after four overs and they slid further as the other opener, Kashif Abbas – who had done the bulk of the scoring till then – fell to the left-arm medium-pace of Imran Anwar for 19 with the score 29 for four after 6.2 overs.
In strode Sheikh to join Manan Ali, who had come in at number five, and the two set about repairing the damage.
The pair put on 60 for the fifth-wicket with Ali doing the bulk of the scoring. He hit left-arm spinners Abbasi and Mohsin Zaki for fours off consecutive overs and, when off-spinner Yousif Wali came on in the 14th over, Ali smacked him for two sixes as he plundered 18 runs off it.
The 51-ball stand was finally broken when Zaki trapped Sheikh leg-before for 17 with Saudi Arabia 89 for five in the 15th over, setting the stage for another collapse which saw the Saudis losing their last five wickets for just 21 runs, with player-of-the-match Rizwan Butt claiming two more victims to finish with the excellent figures of four for 24 off his four overs.
Bahrain have now moved to fifth position in the six-team table with two points from this win and losses to Qatar and Kuwait in their first two matches while Saudi Arabia, who have lost all three of their matches thus far, are in last place.
The kingdom’s team will now play Oman tonight.
Oman are currently in fourth place with two points but are above Bahrain in the table because of a better net run-rate (NRR).
The UAE lead the table with four points from two consecutive wins while Kuwait and Qatar, who have both played three matches and won two and lost one each, are in second and third place with four points apiece.
Bahrain need to beat Oman tonight and the UAE in their last group match – and hope that the results of other matches go their way – to have any hope of reaching Saturday’s final which will feature the top two teams in the table.
BRIEF SCORES: Bahrain 114/4 off 18.5 overs (Imran Ali 39 not out, Junaid Aziz 39 not out, Ahmed Baladraf 2/19) beat Saudi Arabia 110 all out in 18.4 overs (Manan Ali 49, Rizwan Butt 4/24) by six wickets.