THAILAND GAINS GROUND

A big game, practically a quarter-final, between Thailand and Iran saw Thailand emerge winners by 97 runs and proceed to the semi-finals of the ACC Trophy Challenge. "On paper we should have won easily but Thailand have a habit of just falling short on the big occasions and going into this game we couldn't take it easy," said Thailand's captain Zeeshan Khan afterwards.

It was actually less damp and cold than other recent mornings in Chiang Mai which, considering that north-east Thailand recorded temperatures of -5ºC overnight, was quite a relief to the players and groundsmen. Moisture there was on the ground, but considerably less than on other days this week. "It meant for an interesting wicket," said curator Eric Little afterwards, "there was enough in it for both batsmen and bowlers." Throughout the day in fact, batting on the bouncy, slow-paced wicket wasn't ever easy.

Young Abdolvahab Ebrahimpour, left-arm round the wicket, bowling big inswingers to the right-handers, troubled the batsmen - roaring out regular appeals for leg before but in between those were wides sprayed down the leg-side. Not even his coach knows why, with such inswingers, Ebrahimpour doesn't go over the wicket, aim at off-stump and make life even more difficult for the batsmen.

Nariman Bakhtiar takes the catch which dismisses Shyam Sideek

At the other end, Iran's captain Nariman Bakhtiar too often pitched short initially but he bowled a tight line and when he found a length beat the batsmen. Anil Tanwani struck Thailand's first boundary in the sixth over with a pull off Bakhtiar.

Bakhtiar brought himself back on after a solitary expensive over from debutant Shatrang and had success with the sixth ball of his comeback, bowling Hottinger through the gate. Bakhtiar was pretty much on the money the remainder of his spell, dropping his pace in comparison to previous outings and concentrating on line and length.

Four balls after Hottinger's dismissal Shirmohammad Baloochnezad dropped Tanwani off a peach from Atnan Zehi, Tanwani in the wars repeatedly with rapped fingers. The ursine Shyam Sideek was at the wicket now – whenever you see him you wonder where Goldilocks could be – and though he looked in good nick, he perished to a mis-timed pull.

Rego fished at his second ball, a wide one outside off and was dropped at wide second slip by Ebrahimpour, Bakhtiar punching the turf in frustration. Rego was pouched at square-leg soon after though and his captain Zeeshan Khan survived a big shout for lbw and then a possible run-out his first ball. Khan's experience shone through, coming well forward to every delivery to scotch the movement and bounce and playing straight as a die, eschewing all temptations initially to cut and pull. It wasn't that kind of wicket, he's not that kind of guy.

Anil Tanwani, 54 for Thailand

The wicket quietened down with Iran's spinners on and Tanwani and Khan were able to milk the bowling for singles. Had Iran been able to call upon one more pace-bowler Thailand would have been struggling. Tanwani soldiered on to a creditable 50 in the circumstances (88 balls, 3 fours) helping to set a platform for the later batsmen. "250 was our target," said Thailand Assistant Coach Ziaul Hoque, at this stage it looked like they were going to get close.

Zeeshan Khan reached his 50 soon after (56 balls, 6 fours) without playing any big shots, stroking the ball along the carpet. He fell before he could mount a serious charge however, bowled by a fizzer from off-spinner Badrouzehi which shot straight on after pitching.

Thailand's captain, bowled for 63

200 came up in the 45th over thanks to a firm off-drive from young Shreyanshu Tewari and the late order provided just enough momentum to keep the Thai supporters happy. Thailand finished on 230, all out at the start of the 50th over.

"I wanted our team to bat after winning the toss," said Iran's coach Armond Nahabedian, "as I think chasing is always more difficult in a pressure game but the captain went the other way." Captain Nariman Bakhtiar – more than twenty years of cricket in Pakistan behind him -  and his fellow senior batsmen Atnan Zehi, Shirmohammad Baloochnezad and Yousef Raeisi were going to have to prove the coach's fears unfounded.

Cross-bat shots remained risky in the afternoon too as Ebrahim Badrouzehi found, the ball still not coming on to the bat, and an attempted back-foot force looped up to mid-off and Iran lost their first wicket in the fifth over. Shirmohammed Baloochnezad remained in however, Iran's first international centurion, and his duel with Zeeshan Khan, coming in from the Nong Hoi End was a terrific contest. Blows were traded throughout, bowler beating the batsman one moment, and bested to the boundary the next.

Khan did get Zehi though, and at the end of the eighth over Ashish Dey trapped the danger man Baloochnezad plumb in front according to the umpire, though Baloochnezad begged to differ on height, tapping his box for quite some time at the crease. He was aghast and so was everyone else at his flagrant disregard for cricketing etiquette.

Iran's captain Bakhtiar held himself back in the tent entrusting the rebuilding of the innings to other batsmen. Young Ebrahimpour however, effectively ran out his partner Raeisi, Raeisi unable to beat Rego's throw from point.

Bakhtiar came in. Announced himself with a blistering off-drive second ball and did the same two balls later. Pretty much the whole innings rested on him and, provided he kept the ball on the ground and his partners supported him, he was going to get Iran very close. Thailand knew they had a fight on their hands. Iran at this stage needed around 5.5 runs an over in the remaining 35.

The required run-rate was just under six when Ebrahimpour lost his head and miscued to short-extra. Iran's 100 came up after 28.5 overs, the required run-rate creeping above six for the first time. (They originally went in needing 231 at 4.62.)  Thailand kept plugging away and brought the field in whenever Bakhtiar was off strike; the pressure built up.

Iran's Abdolvahab miscues to be caught by Zeeshan Khan

Partners fell, Bakhtiar bided his time, potent with runs, long-off, long-on, mid-wicket all on the boundary for him. The one time he played across the line, he was bowled. That's cricket.

Man of the Match Thailand's captain Zeeshan Khan

Iran's remaining batsmen had little in the way of aggression to offer and Thailand came home winners by 97 runs. "We've come to win the tournament, we're taking one game at a time. We're doing it for Thailand" said Zeeshan Khan with a twinkle in his eye.

Day 5
Thailand v Iran
at Chiang Mai Gymkhana
THAILAND WON BY 97 RUNS
Iran won the toss and elected to field
Thailand: 230 off 49.1 overs (A.Tanwani 54, Z.Khan 63)
Iran: 133 off 42.4 overs (N.Bakhtiar 40, A.Dey 3-18, S.Sideek 3-25)
Man of the Match: Zeeshan Khan (Thailand)

Scorecard

ACC Trophy Challenge 2009

Pictures by Eric Little

Filed January 16, 2009