In the afternoon match at Malahide, the Dutch overcame Namibia by four wickets in a repeat of the ICC World Cricket League Division 2 final last January, thanks to a solid batting and bowling display by Peter Borren’s men.
But it was the thrilling manner in which underdog Hong Kong got through against Afghanistan that will live long in the memory as a fantastic advertisement for Associate cricket. It demonstrates the significant depth in quality that exists at this level.
Four balls then changed everything. Two full tosses that yielded 10 runs were followed by a wide and a three turning the game on its head as Babar Hayat rose to the occasion and, suddenly, Hong Kong needed just two runs from two balls. But there was to be another twist as Tanwir Afzal ran himself out off the penultimate delivery leaving Hayat on strike with two to win from the final ball of the match and all three possible results still in play.
Hayat picked the length up early, hit it through the ring at extra-cover and came back for a double that inspired wild scenes of celebration as the entire Hong Kong dugout emptied onto the lush Malahide outfield to embrace the 23-year-old for taking care of business at the death.
“It has been a brilliant effort. We are so happy,” said a jubilant Hayat when the dust had settled somewhat. “We made it to the World Twenty20 last time and we will be there again next year. It will be another chance to show the world that cricket in Hong Kong is good. It is down to the hard work of the boys and we never stopping believing in ourselves.”
When Hayat came to the middle, Chapman was hitting it well and, at that point, one thought HK’s chances rested with him alone.
“I was trying to give Mark the strike because he was batting very well so when he got out first ball of that final over I was a bit nervous. I could see he (Nabi) was bowling yorkers so I thought I would go down the track and get it on the full and hit over mid-on or mid-off. I believed in myself and I managed to hit a couple of boundaries. Then, when I was facing the last ball I still thought we could do it and that I could hit two or four. So it came down and I was able to hit it into the gap and we took an easy two runs to win the game for Hong Kong.”
In some ways, HK has been the surprise package of this tournament. Not mentioned as a pre-tournament favourite, observers are starting to accept what the players have believed all along – that they can win.
Hayat said: “We have a lot of confidence we can go on and win the tournament now. We have beaten Ireland and now Afghanistan, who are supposed to be the strongest teams, so we have to believe now that we can do it. We can lift the trophy.”
Meanwhile, Namibia’s total of 135 never looked like being enough, except perhaps after just one ball of the run-chase when Netherlands’ prolific opener Wesley Barresi top-edged one to ’keeper JP Kotze, giving the Africans hope of an upset.
But while Namibia’s spinners bowled well, took wickets and never let Netherlands dominate them, that target always looked well below par. That said, it took the Dutch until the final over as Stephan Myburgh (31), Michael Swart (28) and Max O’Dowd (19 not out) finally got the job done with four wickets and four balls to spare.
Netherlands assistant coach and former England Test player Chris Adams admitted it was closer than he would have liked. He said: “It got tight in the end and that was clearly down to the pressure of the situation and the prize which is to be on the plane to India. Fair play to both sides – it was a good game of cricket.
“Qualification for the World Twenty20 next year means everything to us. It means that a passionate group of cricketers and committed, dedicated coaching staff can continue their work and hopefully get some growth going back at grass-roots level in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and all over the Netherlands… It keeps them on the world stage and keeps Netherlands cricket strong.”
With qualification now in the bag, focus will now shift to the tournament as an end in itself. Netherlands will play in the semi-final on Saturday at Malahide against an Ireland team that is the defending champion and the top Associate side in all formats of the game for much of the past decade.
“Ireland are the strongest Associate side at the moment. I think everyone see them as the best and they have some wonderful cricketers. I think it will be a good contest on Saturday. Having a winning mind-set is very important and that is something I have tried to instil in this Netherlands team. The focus here has been on qualification but also on winning the tournament. That is very definitely on the agenda,” said Adams.
So Hong Kong and the Netherlands head for the semi-finals where they will play Scotland and Ireland, respectively. For Afghanistan and Namibia, one more chance remains of qualifying for India. The Afghans will face Papua New Guinea in Malahide on Thursday morning with Namibia taking on Oman at the same venue in the afternoon with the last two places on the line.
Qualifying Play-Off 1
At Malahide: Afghanistan 161-7, 20 overs (Nawroz Mangal 53, Asghar Stanikzai 29; Haseeb Amjad 3-28)
Hong Kong 162-5, 20 overs (Jamie Atkinson 47, Mark Chapman 40, Nizakat Khan 26; Shapoor Zadran 2-31)
Hong Kong won by five wickets
Qualifying Play-Off 2
At Malahide: Namibia 135-6, 20 overs (Craig Williams 43, Nicolaas Scholtz 37, Sarel Burger 27; Timm van der Gugten 2-22)
Netherlands 137-6, 19.2 overs (Stephan Myburgh 31, Michael Swart 28; Bernard Scholtz 3-15)
Netherlands won by four wickets
Wednesday is a practice day with no fixtures.
Thurs, 23 July - Qualifying Play-Off 3 (Papua New Guinea v Afghanistan, Malahide, Dublin (1000-1310); Qualifying Play-Off 4 (Oman v Namibia, Malahide, Dublin (1415-1725)