SEMI-FINAL 1: OMAN BATTLES THROUGH

Sultan Ahmed

Oman won what was an intensely contested battle for long stretches against Maldives at the Prem Oval to go through to the Final of the ACC Trophy Challenge. It was a good contest this, see-sawing between the two sides for much of the game until Oman stamped their authority on the match half-way through the Maldives run-chase to win by 102 runs.

The Prem wicket was not as lively as in other days, but it was a good toss to win and Maldives had no hesitation in asking Oman to bat.

Maqsood Hussain's intentions were clear from the first ball he faced, skewing his first an ambitious drive to third man. Maqsood, never uncomfortable playing a shot, sent the sixth ball he faced soaring 20 yards behind the sightscreen. Ismail Nihad was not as quick as 17-year old Hassan Ibrahim, wicket-keeper Abdulla Shafeeu standing up to him, and Maqsood absolutely loved Ismail sending a second six flying even straighter three balls later. Ismail finding Oman's batsmen not quite so accommodating as China's, against whom he took 6-10 two days earlier.

Maqsood showed he was more than comfortable against Hassan Ibrahim's pace as well -  446..4 in the bowler's second over, the last boundary a sublime drive through cover.  The shell-shocked Maldives bowlers responding by raising their pace with each successive boundary, which just made it easier for the batsmen. The 50 was passed after 4.1 overs, Hassan Ibrahim's flying celebration when he claimed Maqsood the next over outdid Shoaib Akhtar. Ibrahim bowled very well once he settled and reeled off 10 successive overs for just 29.

Oman's Maqsood Hussain, a 21-ball 44 before he was one of Hassan Ibrahim's four victims

Maldives's bowling took back some measure of control backed up by some pretty good fielding. Runs dried up after Maqsood's departure and for the 29 deliveries Nilesh Parmar and Hemal Mehta faced, they scored no runs between them, both falling to very good catches. Mehta out to a very good catch at mid-off, Ahmed Hassan diving to catch Mehta centimeters off the turf.

At 90 for 5 in the 17th over, Oman were in some trouble. But they bat deep and they have enough understanding of the game to know what to play and when to play it. Sultan Ahmed in partnership with Awal Khan, played patiently, steadily, positively. "That's all I said to myself when I went into bat, play positive and just focus on the ball, not what happened before," said Sultan. The Oman contingent quiet since Maqsood's departure came back to voice as overs 20-25 of the Oman innings passed at a run a ball.

Maldives's slow left-armer Mahafooz Mohammed got a couple of deliveries to bounce extremely sharply, the ball raising puffs after pitching but Sultan scotched the spin with big strides forward and back. One example of Sultan's canniness – the ball after surviving a very confident leg-before shout by Mahafooz he swept the next delivery from outside off to square leg for a boundary and then two balls later took full advantage of a marginally short delivery to hit to the rope between point and cover.

Sultan Ahmed takes on Abdullah Shahid

Sultan's 50 came up after 77 balls, (6 fours) his team rising to applaud. He survived a difficult chance low-down to cover's right later in the over but it was an immaculate innings, much like his wicket-keeping later. It takes two to make a partnership and Awal Khan played very well too at the other end. The 100-partnership came off off 135 balls, Awal Khan falling just after the landmark lbw to Mahafooz for 48 (72 balls, 6 fours)

Mahafooz Mohamed traps Awal Khan

"It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on," said ACC Development Officer Roger Binny, "these two made it look easy but it was turning, bouncing and stopping. Maldives were defensive in their field placings, which helped Oman build this partnership."

Husham Ibrahim provided the fielding highlight of the day, pouncing on a firm drive at mid-on to run-out a stranded Khalid Rasheed. A piece of work of the highest standard.

Ahmed all touch and grace up to now, added power towards the end of the Oman innings as he looked to get his team up to 250. He was left unbeaten on 95, Ismail Nihad catching last man Haider Ali in the 50th over, the Oman innings closing on 240.

"If we can just stop them getting partnerships," we can win this game said Oman's Manager Madhu Jesrani in the interval. Maldives's batsmen themselves are not short of confidence, as Ahmed Hussain's lofted cover-drive in Haider Ali's first over showed. He hit the next delivery back firmly too, only straighter this time which Haider Ali parried on to the stumps running out the non-striker Abdullah Shahid who'd just started backing up.

Farhan Khan struggled to find a rhythm iniitially bowling from the Garden End, but the first ball of his fourth over was on the money, knocking back Ahmed Hussain's leg-stump, Hussain beaten for pace.

In shades of Ishant Sharma against Ricky Ponting at Bangalore last October, Haider Ali from the Academy End was causing Shafraz Jaleel all sorts of problems. Ahmed Hassan lifted the shackles with a lofted straight drive off Farhan, only to be beaten comprehensively outside off, two balls later. It was that kind of day. Blow and counter-blow followed by thrust and counter-thrust. Applause for good deliveries were interspersed with acclaim for good strokes.

Maldives's 50 came up in the 11th over, for the loss of two wickets and it looked as if Maldives had weathered the initial Omani tempest. Ahmed Hassan played a poor shot, however, to be caught at point by Nilesh Parmar and that brought in the man upon whose Maldives's destinies rested, captain/titan Moosa Kaleem.

Maldives's young batsmen have impressed in the tournament so far, but Kaleem's still very much 'the man'. He announced himself with a spanking drive, bisecting the bowler and mid-off and at that stage, 63-3 in the 13th over, the game was in the balance. Kaleem wasn't without his struggles, though, the Oman bowlers made sure of that.

Moosa Kaleem watches Hemal Mehta come in

Kaleem's opposing number Hemal Mehta brought himself on from the Garden End. It was the end at which the Mahafooz Mohamed had gotten so much bounce in the Oman innings and Mehta, the greater spinner, would have expected as much success. His fifth ball was hit for a one-bounce four over cover by Kaleem, the next swung over square-leg.

It was tense, gripping stuff. Both teams' camps quiet, focused on the game to the max.

Jaleel was missed through first and second slip off Hemal right after the drinks break  and it looked as if Maldives were going to get very close to the Oman total. "Our fielding and fitness is our weakness, yes," says Hemal Mehta. After 20 overs Oman had been 91-5, Maldives were 86-4, the game interestingly poised. It was at this stage that Sultan Ahmed and Awal Khan had rescued their side, keeping their heads over the ball and themselves in the game.

Mehta bowled Afzal Faiz with a faster, flatter delivery and then next over Moosa Kaleem played just that little too early to Khalid Rasheed's medium pace and was caught at point. Maldives were suddenly 91-6. News came in at just that time that Thailand had lost their semi-final and the local fans – neutral connoisseurs of this game but pro-Thailand otherwise – were just as distraught as the Maldivians.

Oman's bowlers choked the life out of the Maldives batsmen from then on in and they closed out the game to win by 102.

Maldives will be a force to reckon with in the coming years but for now Oman move back up to the ACC Trophy Elite level. Bhutan's win against Thailand takes them up to the Elite level too. It wasn't long ago Bhutan were firmly in the bottom segment of Asia's developing cricketers. Now they're in the Elite.

Development happens, development works. It's a science and an art and depends on many things – on and off the field. Fact of the matter is, the teams that do well are the ones that just put their heads down and put in the hard yards. Much like Sultan Ahmed.

Sultan Ahmed gets his team home

ACC Trophy Challenge

Semi-Final 1
Maldives v Oman at Prem Oval
OMAN WON BY 102 RUNS
Maldives won the toss and elected to field
Oman: 240 off 49.4 overs (M.Hussain 44, S.Ahmed 95*, A.Khan 48; Hassan I. 4-29)
Maldives: 138 off 39.1 overs (A.Ali 3-4)
Man of the Match: Sultan Ahmed (Oman)

Scorecard

ACC Trophy Challenge 2009

Pictures by Danny Bowes

Filed January 19, 2009