Bhutan won a tense, thrilling encounter with Thailand by 16 runs to qualify for the Final of the U-15 Challenge Cup.

Put into bat on a wicket damp with morning dew, Bhutan were made to struggle by Thailand's dependably excellent new-ball bowlers. "Our target was 150", said Bhutan's coach Damber Singh Gurung, "it was going to give our fast-bowlers and spinners something to work with."

The first wicket ground their way to 37 before Kinley Wangchuck was adjudged lbw in the 11 th over. All of the batsmen struggled apart from Thinley Jamtsho who hit 30 off 24 balls (4 fours, 1 six). He was bowled by one that kept low from medium-pacer Deepanshu Kalra.

Thinley Jamtsho heads back to the pavilion after scoring 30 against Thailand

Wanchana Uisuk and Vihar Shah were on the money as ever and once the new ball lost its shine, Kshitij Jhaveri with loop and dip, raced through his eight overs to finish with 2-10. Lakshmi Gajmer having hit a huge six over midwicket was out three balls later, swinging blindly at Ishan Kalra. Anand Chettri having made 10, woke up after 57 balls, hitting two consecutive fours off before he sliced Vihar Shah to cover where Shreyanshu Tewari held a good catch running back.

Bhutan's 120 off 38.3 was below par but still challenging enough to ask some searching questions of the Thai batsmen. Particularly when they were going to be up against a new-ball attack of the quality of Bhutan.

Thinley Jamtsho and Dilip Subba came in hard, and though wides spoilt their efforts, their contest against a watchful Wanchana Uisuk and a belligerent Arnab Chaudhuri was compelling viewing.

Uisuk edged Dilip Subba twice, evading first slip each time. Chaudhuri thumped a four at the start of the seventh over - the ball flying through Jamtsho's hands, the umpire taking evasive action and bouncing back from the sightscreen moments after it left the bat. After seven overs Thailand were 35 for no loss and on course for victory.

Bhutan had to take wickets. The fast bowlers had to strike and once Uisuk was pinned on the back foot by Subba, the pad blocking the ball's trajectory onto leg stump, Bhutan sensed an opening. 40-1.

Lakshmi Prasad, Bhutan's craftiest bowler (two Man of the Match awards in the tournament so far), replaced Jamthso from the Clubhouse End. Game on. Arnab Chaudhuri was bowled middle stump by Gajmer. 47-2. Thailand's hard-hitting captain Shreyanshu Tewari came in. A direct throw by Narbahadur from mid-on ran-out Tewari at the bowler's end. 47-3. Game very much on.

Subba appealed loud and hard for leg-before against Peerawat Duangthip, who's played for the senior team already but Umpire Khalilulallah after due consideration, shook his head.

With 28 overs to go, Thailand needed just 73. Bhutan needed 7 wickets. Jai Bhagwat ran himself out: Peerawat hit the ball to point, Bhagwat called and came all the way down the wicket. 56-4.

A pulled six over extra-cover next over, the shot of the day, by Duangthip off Gajmer oozed class and composure. Joined at the wicket by fellow Chiang Maian Thanathit Jeerapanthawong, their partnership was going to be critical.

Bhutan's captain, Jigme Singye brought himself on. Two wides a dot-ball and a perfectly pitched leg-break later, Duangthip was caught and bowled. 70-5. The ball was spinning a yard.

Prasad kept his end sown up. The lanky Singye switched to round-the-wicket. Plenty of flight, fast, fizzing dip. The batsmen survived close call after close call.

Such has been Thailand's progress in this tournament that the tail has never needed to bat. It had to, once Ishan Kalra who had never been out so far in the competition, edged Gajmer to Singye at first slip. 75 for 6.

Kalra falls

Thanathit having spanked a four through square leg was lbw to Singye's googly two balls later. 81 for 7.

Thailand in a slump

Deepanshu Kalra fell at 87, caught and bowled by Singye. Jhaveri was caught at point next ball. Prasad finished with 8-0-23-2, doing much with Singye to keep the pressure constantly on the batsmen.

Jigme Singye (without cap) having taken another Thai wicket

The last-wicket pair came together at the start of the 24 th over. Vihar Shah and Yotsakorn Chaiprom played soundly and kept the scoreboard moving. Singye kept threatening. Shah, bat and pad together, stretched forward and played late. Chaiprom hit anything he could to leg.

100 was passed in the in 26th over. With the score on 104, Yotsakorn played back to Jigme Singye's googly and was plumb.

Jigme Singye, with Bhutan's Coach Damber Singh Gurung behind him

It's a great game this, cricket. Thailand were likely winners for most of the match, only to slump at the last to a gutsy Bhutan. In spite of this loss, Thailand remain a talented team and if success is a process, they are on their way to greater competitive glory.

Bhutan, after years of dedication and being also-rans now play in their first competitive final, taking on Oman at the Polo grounds on Saturday. A tremendous achievement in itself, and they are looking to win.

Thailand v Bhutan at RBSC Polo Grounds
Thailand won the toss and elected to field
Bhutan : 120 off 38.3 overs (T. Jamtsho 30; W. Uisuk 3-27)
Thailand : 104 off 27.5 overs (J. Singye 5-11)

Man of the Match: Jigme Singye (Bhutan)

Filed December 21 2006