A momentous day for China cricket. After two years of international youth team cricket this was their first senior team match. "It is an important day for cricket in China. History is being made," said ACC Development Officer for China Aminul Islam. Iran also came into the game with something to prove to the watching world: they have been an enigma wrapped around a riddle inside a mystery, to paraphrase Churchill, for much of their international cricket life since becoming members of the ACC and ICC.

Of the two countries coming out into the Chiang Mai sun today, it was Iran who shone most brightly.

Shirmohammad Baloochnezad celebrates scoring Iran's first century in international cricket

On a wicket spongier wicket than usual at the Gymkhana, due to the dewy conditions, Iran's openers Shirmohammad Baloochnezad and Ebrahim Badrouzehi started cautiously showing good technique against China's testing new ball attack.

There were big inswingers from Wang Ronggang from the Nong Hoi End. From the Clubhouse End Zhang Yufei bowled too a little short but when he pitched it up, he caused problems.

Baloochnezad starting playing freely once the ball started coming on to the bat. Driving and cutting powerfully, allied to forthright defensive strokes, he is said to be 'the best batsman in Iran' and on the evidence of today's innings, that's got to be true.

Baloochnezad pulls

The double change of seamers Li Jian and Wang Lei slowed the scoring for a while by bowling line and length but once Baloochnezad had their measure he scored pretty much at will. The outfield was wet all morning but one off-drive by Baloochnezad off Li Jian simply skimmed across the ground like the sleekest of hydrofoils on the smoothest of seas. It was the shot of the day. He reached 50 (off 57 balls) with his seventh four, and the 100-partnership came in the 19th over.

China chased manfully in the field, kept chasing and throwing hard and the bowlers stuck to their task. Off-spinner Dong Chao received his reward for wicket-to-wicket bowling by knocking back Ebrahim Badrouzehi's middle stump. Iran were 149 for 1 after 26 overs, Baloochnezad on 84*.

China's youngsters were up against Iran's semi-grizzled stalwarts.  "The boys have to realize that when they're playing at seniors no bad ball goes unpunished and all are hit hard," said China's coach Rashid Khan. Baloochnezad's 33, going on 43, he lives a hard life in southern Iran, playing on concrete with scrub for an outfield. "He's a farmer, broken by hard work, they age quickly in the south of Iran," said his coach afterwards. Baloochnezad may be a farmer, he plays like an aristocrat.

Baloochnezad reached his 100 with an aerial cover-drive off 102 balls (14 fours, 1 six). It was Iran's first 100 in international competition. The captain, Nariman Bakhtiar, 'the second best batsman in Iran', hit the biggest six of the day off the hapless Li Jian, soaring over the team tents behind the mid-wicket boundary; the next ball went straighter, not quite so far but was the better stroke.

A tiring Baloochnezad was dropped on 112 by Wang Lei at mid-on off Dong Chao and then two balls later was missed again, mid-on and square-leg both leaving the catch to the other.

Nariman Bakhtiar, on today's showing a hitter pure and simple, laid into the Chinese bowlers, reaching 50 with a flat-batted one-bounce four. Baloochnezad, fatigue impairing his judgement (he'd walked into a bouncer the over before) was run-out for 119, racing down the track for a non-existent single.

Bakhtiar is as Bakhtiar does

300 was passed in the 43rd over, Bakhtiar reaching his 100 off 58 balls (5 fours, 7 sixes). Iran's second century in their fifth year of international cricket, coming right on the heels of their first. Yousuf Raiesi, 'their third best batsmen', must be expecting his in this tournament too.

Zhong Wenyi catches Bakhtiar

Baloochnezad had softened China, Bakhtiar carved them up. Not every stroke was clinically precise but neither was the Chinese fielding. Ironically,  Bakhtiar fell to the most difficult chance offered, Zhong Wenyi holding on to a sharp chance at short third man.

The run-rate had been climbing steadily throughout the innings and Iran finished on 369 for 6 after 50 overs. China had bowled 44 wides.

It was felt China could bat out 50 overs to make a match of it, but a wicket fell in each of the first four overs, Wang Ronggang and Zhong Wenyi having their middle-stumps knocked back by pacy inswingers from left-armer Abdolvahab Ebrahimpour.

China's openers are rumbled

Zhang Xinliang offered some resistance, looking a well-composed batsman who not only plays straight but is also possessed of cricket sense.  Two balls after on-driving China's first four, however, he was leg-before to Atnan Zehi. Tall Dong Chao batted well too and had a 21–run, 43-ball eighth-wicket partnership with little Li Jian as Iran used their second-line bowlers. But once he fell, the end was swift.

ACC Trophy Challenge
China v Iran at Chiang Mai Gymkhana
Iran won the toss and chose to bat
Iran: 369 for 6 0ff 50 overs (E.Badrouzehi 38, S. Baloochnezad 119, N. Bakhtiar 120)
China: 62 off 23.5 overs
Man of the Match: Shirmohammad Baloochnezad


Pictures by Eric Little

Filed January 13, 2009