Croatia and Spain to contest Division 3 title

Fri, Aug 24, 2007 5:14 PM

The sun finally shone on the European Division 3 championships in Belgium on Friday, and the players responded with two semi-finals which in totally different ways provided plenty of action.

Few cricket matches can have produced as many twists and turns as the game between the Isle of Man and Spain in Gent.

After Spain had won the toss and chosen to bat, the aggressive batting of wicketkeeper-opener Shafique Ali again got them away to a rapid start as he belted 41 off 31 balls, including two fours and four sixes. Once he was dismissed by Scott Pearce, however, the tempo slowed somewhat, and the Manx bowlers chipped away at their opponents’ top order.

Garreth Roome bowled a particularly effective spell, taking three for 13 in ten overs, and despite a solid contribution from Faraz Afzal with 27 Spain were in some difficulty at 123 for seven with 11 overs left.

But then David Climent Yarwood and Phil Reid added 31 in a crucial eighth-wicket stand, and after Reid’s departure Climent and Manuel Fernandez put on a further 25 in an unbroken partnership which saw the Spanish through to 179 for eight, Climent finishing on 36 not out.

At 38 for four after 20 overs, the Isle of Man seemed to be doomed to defeat, Afzal taking two for 16 in his ten overs and Sam Lupson conceding just 20 from his spell. But then the Manx in their turn recovered, thanks to a 51-run stand for the fifth wicket between Nick Hawke and Graeme Garrett and the inability of the Spanish fielders to hold on to a succession of chances.

They were eventually both removed by Phil Beal, who took three for 31 in six overs, and at 121 for eight in the 39th over it once again appeared that Spain had the upper hand. Manx skipper Robert Webber wasn’t beaten yet, though, and together with Pearce he added 42 for the ninth wicket, bringing his side to within 17 runs of victory before he was bowled by Climent.

Roome now joined Pearce with 27 balls left, and by pushing the singles they got the total up to 172 by the end of the 47th over. Eight were needed off eighteen balls, and now it was the Isle of Man who were in the driving seat.

A six from Pearce made the scores level, but off the final ball of the over Roome set off for an impossible single and was run out as bowler Climent gathered the ball and threw the wicket down.

The match was tied, but under the championship rules it was the side losing the fewer wickets who went through to Saturday’s final, and that was Spain.

If nothing at Mechelen could compete with the excitement of the match in Gent, Croatia’s clinical dismissal of Malta’s hopes of reaching the final was equally outstanding.

Having won the toss and elected to bat, Malta immediately found themselves struggling against the lively and at times hostile seam bowling of Phil Siljeg and Chris Pivac, only 9 runs coming off the first six overs before Pivac had John Callus caught at slip by Paul Vujnovich and then trapped Frankie Spiteri leg-before with his next ball.

He missed his hat-trick, bowling a couple of wides instead, but the pressure was maintained as John Vujnovich’s steady medium pace and brother Paul’s accurate spin took over the attack. John took three for 17 in his ten-over spell, while Paul collected one for 11 in five, ending a dogged innings by Maltese opener Mike Smith.

When John captured his third wicket Malta were 40 for six, and an early finish seemed a certainty. Siljeg replaced Paul Vujnovich in the attack, and in his first over dismissed Andrew Naudi, who had been the most resistant of the Maltese batsmen.

Siljeg then picked up two more, finishing with three for 14 as Malta subsided to 61 for nine. Ronnie Sacco had held out for 65 balls in making five, but a mix-up in mid-pitch resulted in the running out of Mark Sacco and the end of the innings with the total on 66.

The rest of the match turned out to be a formality, as John and Paul Vujnovich put on 59 for the first wicket in eighteen overs. Both batted with great assurance, but with the end in sight John holed out to Andrew Naudi off Smith’s bowling to give Malta their first and only wicket.

Pivac joined Paul Vujnovich, and they finished the job in the 21st over, Vujnovich finishing on 28 not out.

So Croatia will meet Spain in the final in Brussels on Saturday, while Malta and the Isle of Man will play off for third place in Mechelen.

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