A crucial 39-run partnership between Rizwan Mahmood and Aftab Ahmed led Denmark to a 6 wicket win in a tense, low-scoring final in the ICC European Division 1 Championship.
Chasing a lowly 83 in front of a sizeable crowd at FB Fields in Jersey, Mahmood (31*) and Ahmed (24*) came to the crease with Denmark at a precarious 45-4 in the 12th over and the game still in the balance. But the Danish pair showed cool heads and steely determination to steer their side out of trouble, getting their team over the line with 2 overs to spare and ensuring the trophy would be going back to Denmark.
Yet things hadn't looked so rosy for the Danes an hour earlier when their top-order was blown away by the Italian attack. The in-form Freddie Klokker (3) was the first to go, caught behind off Dilan Arsakulasuriya as he felt for one outside off-stump. The captain Michael Pedersen (1) and Shehzad Ahmed (11) then soon followed, the first rapped on the pads by Gayashan Munasinghe as he played forward and the second also caught behind off Arsakulasuriya, leaving Denmark 15-3 in the 5th over.
Hamid Shah (11) then added an important 29 with Mahmood for the fourth wicket before holing out to Damian Crowley at long-on, bringing Ahmed to the crease and leaving victory still far from certain. The pair batted watchfully at first and were happy to pick up the singles before Mahmood eased the pressure with a big 6 off Peter Petricola that soared over the hospitality tent in the 14th over.
Yet Italy brought it back impressively in the 16th with the score at 65-4 when Alauddin bowled a rare maiden to keep his side's hopes of victory alive. But Mahmood and Ahmed didn't lose their heads and eventually saw their side home with 12 balls to spare, the former dispatching an Andy Northcote delivery to the legside boundary to give Denmark the championship.
Earlier Denmark had looked polished in the field as they bowled Italy out for 83 in 17.2 overs. The Italians won the toss and elected to bat first, a decision they must have been rueing when they lost opener Hayden Patrizi clean bowled off the first ball of the innings, Sair Anjum nipping one back through the gate and sparking jubilant celebrations from the Danish fielders.
Northcote (38) and Crowley (15) then put on a steady 43 for the second wicket but they struggled to find the boundary, Denmark's spin attack bowling some tight lines and giving nothing away. The pressure told in the 8th over when Crowley departed, attempting to hit leg-spinner Bobby Chawla over the top but only succeeding in picking out Danish skipper Michael Pedersen at long-off.
Despite the slow start Italy were 56-2 after 10 overs and would've still fancied their chances of getting past 120, particularly with Northcote and the hard-hitting Petricola at the crease. Petricola (18) announced his arrival with an enormous six into the car-park at FB Fields but the key-man Northcote then fell in the same over with the score on 67, clean bowled by Chawla as he attempted an ugly heave into the leg-side.
This proved to be a turning point in the game as Italy proceeded to implode in quite spectacular fashion, losing their last 7 wickets for a mere 16 runs and collapsing to 83 all out. The Danish fielders held a succession of smart high catches in the outfield as the Italian lower order came and went, the most important being Pedersen's on the legside boundary to dismiss the dangerous Petricola.
Slow-left armer Bashir Shah (3-14) and leg-break bowler Chawla (3-26) were the stand-out performers for the Danes, demonstrating once again the importance of spin in Twenty20.
But it was Mahmood's knock under pressure that had been the key and he was deservedly named the man-of-the-match. Denmark, along with Italy, will now travel with high hopes to Dubai early next year as they seek to qualify for the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.