Nepal break semi-final hoodoo, Afghanistan knockout Hong Kong
There will be a new name on the ACC Trophy this year, and it will be one of the two teams that have some of the most passionate support in all of associate and affiliate cricket, not just in Asia.
One of the teams in the final will be Nepal, reaching this stage for the first time since 2002. That year was the last time they won a semi-final, with their record in the semi-final stages of tournaments becoming something of a running joke amongst aficionados of cricket at this level.
But they finally came good in a semi-final this year, but not before they got an almighty scare by Malaysia, one of the most improved teams in this tournament.
Nepal batted first, and Mahesh Chettri (43) and Shakti Gauchan (52) put on 87 for the second wicket. But they were scoring slowly, only passing 120 in the 30th over. At this point, captain Gyanendra Malla was joined by Sharad Vesawkar, and they began to accelerate the scoring.
The pair put on 115 for the fifth wicket in 16 overs before Malla was out for 49. Vesawkar stayed in for the remaining 21 balls, ending unbeaten on 97, from 66 balls, in Nepal's formidable total of 271-6.
Malaysia's reply got off to the worst possible start when Damith Warusavithana was bowled by Mahaboob Alam from the first delivery of the innings, and Ahmad Faiz was out 8 balls later, with the score still on just 2. Captain Suhan Kumar began to lead the recovery, putting on 43 for the third wicket with Rakesh Madhavan.
Once Madhavan was out, Kumar was joined at the crease by Suresh Navaratnam. This pair put on 82 for the fourth wicket, but once Kumar was out for 70, Malaysia had only scored 127-4 from 31 overs, well behind the required rate.
At this point Navaratnam started to dominate the innings. Scoring quickly when needing, and keeping the strike as wickets fell around him, he accelerated the innings, giving Malaysia a fighting chance. Shafiq Sharif stayed with him the longest, smashing 31 from 18 balls at the point Navaratnam was out.
Navaratnam was dismissed for 115, made from 103 balls, and when he was out, Malaysia had gone from needing 110 in 10 overs to needing 17 from 10 balls. With Sharif at the crease, Malaysia still had a chance despite only having two wickets in hand.
But Sharif was run out from the very next delivery, and Malaysia could only manage another nine runs and lost by eight runs. Navaratnam was given the compensation of the man of the match award, but his innings deserved more.
Malaysia still have the third place play-off on Friday against Hong Kong, but whatever happens in that match they can be proud of themselves in this tournament. They have beaten the four time champions, and ran the two finalists right down to the last over.
In the other semi-final, next door at the KOC Unity ground, Afghanistan took on defending champions Hong Kong.
Hong Kong won the toss and chose to bat first. With Mohammad Nabi back in the side after sorting out his visa problems, it was always going to be tough for Hong Kong. Hussain Butt was their top scorer with 63, but nobody else managed to get a start. Nabi and Hamid Hassan both took three wickets each.
In reply, Afghanistan lost early wickets, but they were scoring quickly, and the game was soon taken away from Hong Kong. Asghar Stankezai was the top scorer with an unbeaten 55, putting on 81 for the fifth wicket with Raees Ahmadzai. Nabi took Afghanistan over the line with 25 to secure the five wicket win.
The seventh place play-off also took place today, with hosts Kuwait easing to a 10 wicket win over Bhutan. Bhutan made their highest score of the tournament, scoring 132 with Sonam Tobgay scoring 48. Kuwait knocked off the required runs in just 11.5 overs, Khalid Hussain scoring 83.
Tomorrow sees the fifth place play-off between Oman and the UAE. The final and third place play-off is on Friday, with the final being covered live on CricketEurope.