ACC U-19 Challenge Cup 2009 - Bahrain v Kuwait


A match awaited with keen anticipation, the first semi-final of this year's ACC U-19 Challenge between Bahrain and Kuwait lived up to its billing, producing a hard-fought contest between two evenly matched teams. There was much riding on the outcome. Not only a place in the Final, but elevation to the U-19 Elite for 2011. Bahrain won by 13 runs.

Kuwait lost a toss for the fourth consecutive time in this competition and were asked, as ever, to bowl. Bahrain's captain Numan Yousaf, after impressing so much in his team's opening match, has had a lean time of it, going for his shots too early on wickets which aren't as accomodating to batsmen as the concrete surfaces back home in Manama. There's always just a hint of swing in Chiang Mai with the new ball and today, Numan played every stroke elbow high, head over the ball. The very first ball he forsook his discipline, assaying a drive on the up, he was out.

Bahrain's other batsmen, tall left-handed Yaser Eftikhar and lissome Cyrus D'Souza aside, haven't impressed too much. Kuwait's bowlers have been rampant, needing only 55 overs to run through Myanmar, Brunei and China. Kuwait's pace bowlers kept the ball up to the bat, with the occasional bumper to intimidate.

Kuwait's pace-bowlers had been ripping through opposition so quickly, Kuwait's spinners have hardly had to bowl. Haroon Shahid's spin came on in the eight over, the fourth bowler used by Kuwait as they tested the best combination. The raw pace of Faisal Nadeem from the Clubhouse End proved the perfect foil for Shahid initially, and once he was bowling in tandem with tall leggie Imran Idress, Bahrain were befuddled. "We thought that like us, Bahrain would be most comfortable with pace especially on the bouncy Prem wicket, so we wanted to test them with spin mostly," said Saad Khalid, Kuwait's captain who took himself off two overs after opening the bowling.

"We're taking wickets but they're scoring runs", Kuwait deliberates

"A long way to go" was the call of Bahrain's coach Mohsin Kamal, as his new batsman Cyrus D'Souza went in at the fall of the second wicket in the twelfth over, the score on 52. Bahrain were scoring at a goodish rate, but Kuwait were very much on top. There were four around the bat at times to the Kuwait spinners. To have any chance of threatening Kuwait, Bahrain would have to bat as close to 50 overs as possible. As the top and middle order sat in the tent with their pads on, the Bahrain lower order knocked up in the nets. "Our target was 150, on this wicket, pressure-match, it would be a good score," said Mr. Kamal.

Kuwait's Haroon Shahid traps Bahrain's Sameer Yousaf

The pitch was sound, the outfield fast, the bowlers not necessarily as fit as they could be, and at this level there are not only extras and fielding lapses to help things along, there are regular 'four-balls' for any good batsmen. Thing is, whenever Bahrain's batsmen found the boundary they'd invariably fall next ball, or very soon after. Bahrain were 78 for 5 after 20 overs and passed 100 for the loss of six wickets, in the 25th over. D'Souza looked good, playing straight, positively and within his abilities, and with Sahil Yadav put on 43 for the seventh wicket. "We need a 50 from you," called out his team-mates to D'Souza. Bahrain's saving grace through all the wickets falling was their decent run-rate but it would have counted for nothing had they been bowled out well before the 50-over mark. So they really grafted.

Long time immovable: Bahrain's Cyrus D'Souza

D'Souza fell on 48, to a tired shot, but walked back to the tent to a rousing cheer. He had kept Bahrain in the game. The bearded Aqeel Malik (there's a case to be made for him batting even higher), added a pugnacious 18 as Bahrain finished on 191 in the 45th over.

"Our bowlers have been so dominant against the weaker teams our batsmen have been untested," said Kuwait's coach Sameer Desai, "but we had them bowl to our batsmen for a long time in practise." Proper practise turning into proper matchplay might be the goal of the coach, but no plan survives contact with the enemy unscathed. Bahrain's bowlers have thrice kept teams down below 175. Bahrain believed they could do it again.

They huffed and puffed a lot early on, did Bahrain, applauding every ball that went through to the wicket-keeper as if it had taken a wicket. Kuwait's batsmen took the fight to the bowlers. There was some edge out there. Having weathered the storm, Kuwait did 'a Kuwait' and gifted their opponents the first wicket with a run-out, where 1 became 2 off a misfield only to become 1 again through some appalling running. "We play like Pakistan too much," says Director-General of Kuwait Cricket Asad Baig, who was watching the match, "the good and the bad."

Haseeb ur Rehman - the first to fall

Kuwait limped to 51 for 3 after 10 overs and then lost elegant left-hander Ali Zaheer two balls later; he'd been looking good. In came Kuwait's captain Saad Khalid who looked even better. He scored ten off his first four deliveries, with strokes that oozed class. He played one of the most destructive innings of the ACC year in the ACC Twenty20 Cup earlier this year. If he could mix that destruction with some discretion, Kuwait would get home.

Thing is, not many, if any other than Saad Khalid, play spin well in the U-19 Kuwait team. And Bahrain have spinners, and in slow left-armer Sameer Minhas someone with a whole box of tricks. Flight, drift, loop, turn, change of pace and more. Two wickets fell in two balls to the leg-spin of Cyrus D'Souza and Kuwait were tottering on 71 for 6 in the 15th over. Bahrain had batted looking to play 50 overs, Kuwait were batting like it was a Twenty20 match.

Nawaz Khan and Saad Khalid took 19 off D'Souza's next over, passing 100 with a soarer over long-on. They were now 104 for 6 after 17, needing 88 with 33 overs in hand. Bahrain just needed four wickets. At stake not just a place in the Final, but some enhanced cricket credibility. "It's a pathway to the Elite for Seniors. Most of these boys will be playing in the ACC Trophy and it's a pathway to the ICC World Cricket League in the future," Says Cricket Association of Thailand Chief Executive Mohideen Kader. Being Elite matters.

Kuwait started getting the rub of the green, two consecutive edges from Saad off pace-bowler Sameer Yousaf (six wickets at 7.83 so far in the tournament) going high over, and through, along the ground, past slip. Two authentic strokes, one a lash through cover and another emphatic pull through square finished the over. Kuwait: 123 for 6 off 19 overs now, Saad Khalid 43 not out.

Two overs had created another big swing in the game. Bahrain were really quiet now, Kuwait's two young batsmen girding their loins. Then Nawaz Khan was bowled by Sameer Minhas two balls later, out for 20. His partnership with Khalid was worth 52 off 29 balls. New batsman Haroon Shahid fell for a duck two balls later. 69 wanted. Two wickets left.

The last Kuwaiti wicket: Imran Idress falls to Sameer Minhas

Faisal Nadeem and Kuwait have lost

Saad Khalid who'd watched that Minhas over from the other end, called for the Batting PowerPlay at the start of the 20th over. And survived a chance very next ball. Imran Idress swung a 4 and drove a straight 6 in the remaining balls of that over. It was a real dogfight and though things were favouring Bahrain, Kuwait were still, somehow, inspiring belief.

Bahrain ran through their bowlers trying a number of combinations to combat the Kuwaiti hitters, Saad Khalid reaching his 50 off just 35 balls. He fell on 61, caught at backward point going for this third consecutive four, off the battling D'Souza. Even Kuwait's No.11 Faisal Nadeem went for his shots. No 10. Imran Idress was finding the boundary.

The Powerplay finished, 43 coming off it, with the loss of three wickets. After 25 overs, Kuwait were 167 for 9. 25 wanted. 1 wicket left. They weren't going to do try and do it in singles, were they?

Sameer Yousaf cut his run-up going for military-medium and accuracy. Bahrain were playing cagey, percentage cricket expecting Kuwait to self-destruct one last time. They got as close as 13 runs to Bahrain before Sameer Minhas trapped the last man in front.

Bahrain's coach Mohsin Kamal said, "It's ironic, we lost two matches we should have won in the group stage and have now won a match we could have lost, but I'm proud of my boys. They played with a lot of heart and fought very hard." Kuwait's games are always exciting. Mr. Baig said: "That's cricket," and left it at that.

Bahrain will play Thailand in what should be a great Final back at Prem on Friday.

Bahrain's Cyrus D'Souza

ACC U-19 Challenge Cup 2009
Semi-Final 1: Bahrain v Kuwait at Prem Oval
Bahrain won the toss and chose to bat
Bahrain: 191 all out off 44.4 overs (C.D'Souza 48)
Kuwait: 178 all out off 28.5 overs (S.Khalid 61; S.Minhas 3-29, C.D'Souza 3-48)
Man of the Match: Cyrus D'Souza (Bahrain)

Photos by Robert Thaprom

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