THAILAND OUTMANOUVRE MALDIVES

Report by Richard Lockwood, Cricket Association of Thailand

Thailand's men's cricket team gained one of the greatest victories in their history when they beat arch-rivals Maldives by six runs in their first match in the ACC Trophy Challenge 2009. "We've been trying for four years to beat them," said Assistant Coach Ziaul Hoque, "this is a sweet victory and shows how good we are getting."

Thailand captain Zeeshan Khan said before the tournament began that it was his burning ambition to pay back the Thai people for their wonderful support by putting the Thailand cricket team on the world map. This win over Maldives who had always been too strong for Thailand will greatly help to do this.

But in true Thai style their victory was extremely hard-fought as Oman's last-wicket pair took the score closer and closer to their target. Catches were dropped and possible run outs were missed as the excitement grew around Gymkhana Club as players and supporters of Thai cricket all knew how important the result could be.

Hearts were in mouths even before the start of the match as Thailand chose to bat first in difficult batting conditions against an impressive seam bowling attack. John Hottinger was almost dismissed lbw by the first ball of the match and his opening partner Anil Tanwani was hit on the arm first ball and was bowled by his second as Thailand lost their first wicket without a run on the board.

Nishadh Rego, a classy 62*

Shyam Sideek hit four lusty boundaries in his 19 but batting was still a precarious exercise for Thailand, especially when Hottinger hit Abdulla Shahid uppishly to cover and Shishir Turilay was dismissed lbw by the same bowler to make the score 39 for four in 13 overs.

In previous matches, Thailand have attempted to hit themselves out of trouble, but impressive captain Zeeshan Khan has instilled a more sensible approach into his side and he led by example by seeing off the four-pronged Maldives seam attack as the score slowly progressed to 58 for 4 after 25 overs.

Neesham Nasir takes a blinder to dismiss Thailand's captain Zeeshan Khan

Runs flowed more easily against the slower bowlers as the two left-handers Nishadh Rego and Zeeshan Khan took their fifth-wicket partnership to 48 before the captain was dismissed for 23 in 63 balls. Shaik Cader hit a bright and breezy 20 from 27 balls to support Rego in a sixth-wicket stand of 45 before he fell to a good catch by wicket-keeper Abdulla Shafeeu running towards square leg.

But all Thailand's hard work look to have been wasted when a position of 132 for five quickly became 139 for nine as three successive batsmen made ducks, Ashish Dey and Anshu Tewari both run out as panic looked to have set in.

But fear not, young ethnic Thai left-arm spinner, Noppon Senamontree, known as Pair, was batting number eleven and he came to the wicket with a confidence that shows Thailand can have a great future in international cricket.

He made 12 with two boundaries and helped his senior partner Nishadh Rego reach a marvellously determined 50, completed in heroic style with the first six of the match, as they added 27 crucial runs to take Thailand's total to a respectable 165 all out in 49 overs.

Rego finished unbeaten on 62 from 123 balls with three fours and a six, and no praise could be high enough for a man who batted for 43 overs to make sure his side still had a chance of a historic victory.

Maldives were still favourites when they started their run-chase and both openers started confidently with early boundaries, but Ashish Dey dismissed both of them and Zeeshan Khan had Sharfraz Jaleel caught by the wicket-keeper down the leg-side to reduce Maldives to 29 for three.

But Thailand's biggest obstacle still lay ahead of them as Moosa Kaleem, who has scored two hundreds against them in recent years was still at the crease. But players and supporters alike knew they could be watching a very special day for Thai cricket when young Pair, bowling beautifully controlled slow left-arm, had Moosa brilliantly caught at cover by Shyam Sideek for just 17.

Maldives were then 77 for four in the 24th over but the two spinners, Pair and the outstanding Nishadh Rego, put the lower-order under such pressure that Maldives subsided to 102 for eight. Rego claimed 3 for 38 in his 10 overs, while Pair could also be proud of his 2 for 24.

The home side looked to be on their way to a comfortable victory, but this is Thailand so no success would come easily. Mahfooz Mohamed hit a skier to Hottinger which he spilled and a number of run out opportunities were missed.

Ashish Dey took his third wicket to finish with figures of 3 for 34 but Maldives' last-wicket pair still looked like they could bring their side an unlikely victory. Last man Hassan Ibrahim had reached 15 and the partnership stood on 31 when Shyam Sideek took the last wicket.

Sweet victory for Thailand

Scenes of great excitement greeted Thailand's victory which could be a historic moment for Thai cricket. The home side now have a great chance of reaching the final of this tournament and qualifying for the ACC Elite Division. Nishadh Rego was deservedly man of the match for a remarkable all-round performance.

The Thai men's team could be on the way to putting their country firmly on the world cricket map.

ACC Trophy Challenge 2009
Thailand v Maldives at Chiang Mai Gymkhana
THAILAND WON BY 6 RUNS
Thailand won the toss and chose to bat
Thailand 165 (49 overs) (Nishadh Rego 62*; Abdulla Shahid 3-13)
Maldives 159 (47.5 overs) (Afzal Faiz 37; Ashish Dey 3-34, Nishadh Rego 3-38)
Man of the Match: Nishadh Rego (Thailand)

Pictures by Eric Little

Scorecard

ACC Trophy Challenge 2009
www.cricketthailand.com

Filed January 12, 2009