Cricket: Italy prevail in heart-stopping clash to re-claim spot in Challenge League, keep alive hopes of 2027 World Cup

March 3, 2024
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Italy survived some heart-stopping moments as they snuck past Vanuatu by two wickets to claim the final place in the Cricket World Cup Challenge

Kuala Lumpur, March 3 (IANS) Italy survived some heart-stopping moments as they snuck past Vanuatu by two wickets to claim the final place in the Cricket World Cup Challenge League structure, also keeping hopes of a 2027 World Cup spot alive. Italy captain/coach Gareth Berg saw his country home, driving Patrick Matautaava to complete the chase alongside No.10 Jaspreet Singh at UKM Oval in the tense match played on the outskirts of the Malaysian capital.

Having taken 1-13 (6) earlier in the day, Berg made a destiny-changing unbeaten 14 from 13 balls in the chase of 103, not only keeping World Cup 2027 hopes alive but also securing important funding through the Challenge League pathway. Upon securing their Challenge League privileges, the relieved captain/coach credited his group’s discipline, and the support from the rest of the Italian player pool who had pushed the squad to be at their best in Malaysia.

“It’s a massive victory for us,” Berg said post-match. “I’m proud of our boys. We’ve stuck at it throughout the last three weeks. There’s been no injuries, no incidents on the field. I’m very excited about the squad that we have at the moment and there are boys still sitting at home part of the high-performance group,” he said. “We’ve got a great bunch of guys that we’ve looked after in terms of fitness, and that’s another box tick for us, which is what we came to this tournament to do,” he was quoted as saying in a report by ICC.

Well aware of the ramifications of a defeat, Vanuatu threw everything at the Azzurri, with captain Josh Rasu bringing himself and fellow spinner Tim Cutler on in the third and fourth overs. Rasu claimed 5-32 (10) to claim Player of the Match honours despite the defeat, with his bowling partner Tim Cutler, also the National Cricket Association’s CEO, taking 2-35 from his 10 overs.

Rain meanwhile added an extra factor to the proceedings. A tie or no result would have handed Italy the final spot, though DLS calculations came into play once the 20th over was completed. After Nicholas Maiolo bunted a ball back to Rasu for an easy caught and bowled on 23, it was Vanuatu who were in front on DLS. Gian-Piero Meade then fell lbw to Matautaava (1/9) with the score 91/8, the DLS par score at that moment.

Jaspreet walked out with Italy needing 12, and after pressure mounted, the lower order batter took Matautaava on, striking his advancing cover drive through the packed field for four. The shot brought up three figures, with a single two balls later bringing his captain on strike. Berg saw the next ball as the delivery to seal Italy’s spot, hitting the winning runs over the cover infielder. Sneaking home, Italy’s skipper applauded Vanuatu’s unrelenting press.

“The (Vanuatu) guys bowled fantastically, they applied pressure on all of us. And we certainly felt that pressure even with (their) low score on the board. It’s a funny game. (We were) trying to take it as deep as we can, and just trying to remain as calm as we can. A few of us have played some (high-pressure) cricket in our time.”

The other three Challenge League spots had been sewn before the final matchday, with Kuwait claiming top-spot bragging rights thanks to a 151-run win over Tanzania.

Mohammad Amin’s 73 was enough to claim Player of the Match honours, as Kuwait posted 296 from their 50 overs. Yasin Patel’s 4/51 curtailed any Tanzanian fightback, with Salum Jumbe Ally (51) the only player to reach the half-century mark. Over at Bayuemas, the already-eliminated Bermuda were unable to chase down a DLS target of 162 in 25 overs against Bahrain.

Prashant Kurup’s 79 (103) set up Bahrain’s 238, countered somewhat by the left-arm orthodox spin of Derrick Brangman, who claimed 4/48 (9) to finish an admirable tournament with the ball. Brangman went on to top-score with the bat (40* from 42 balls), with fellow left-arm spinner Abdul Majid Abbasi’s 3/13 (5) pick of Bahrain’s bowlers.

Kuwait, Tanzania, Bahrain and Italy will enter the Challenge League for the 2027 World Cup cycle, with the 12-team competition split into two groups of six.

The top two of each Challenge League group will move to the Cricket World Cup Qualifier Play-off, joining the bottom four teams at the end of League 2.

–IANS/bsk/

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