Starting the second round of fixtures, we posted a decent total of 149-3 at home to Chittagong. It was great to see Phillipio (63*) rack up his first half-century in a while as the Brazilian combined with Mexican gloveman Javier Jiminez (26*) for a combo of 67. The visiting side could only muster 138-4 and though a winning margin of eleven runs might sound close, fast bowler Ambroise Anguissa (0-24) and off-spinner Wu Xu (1-26) kept it tight in the last couple of overs to make it a relatively comfortable victory. Roberto Biabini (1-23) backed up his hat-trick and four-wicket haul in the previous match with some tight bowling too. The win elevated us to third in the table.
In the following game (And what a game!) we rested captain Norshahrul Rashid. Opening batsman Mario Kuntz (With a W1 L1 record) stepped into the role. Having lost the toss, the German endured a torrid time with the willow, being dismissed for just 5 from 14 deliveries. Fellow opener Jamal Peters (54) didn’t panic however and finally clocked up a half-century. It was an important chip off the American’s shoulder.
Nigerian Moses Okocha then came out with the right attitude, striking 31 from 21 deliveries before Phillipio (43*), backing up his fifty in the last match and Jiminez (8*) walked off at the conclusion of our 20 overs. We had lost only three wickets for the second game in a row as our top order continued their progression. We finished on 147-3… then for the bowling!
The opposition opener struck 28 from just 14 deliveries but El The Pharaoh Mohamedy (1-20) trapped him LBW with his slow-left-arm bowling. Part time slow-left-armer Okocha (1-19) then struck in the powerplay as young Kuntz displayed his brave captaincy.
Never out of the action Peters (1-2) effected a crucial and sensational direct hit run out then dismissed the other opening batsman for his first ever wicket as the match of his life continued!
Cameroon speedster Anguissa (1-23) and Chinese off-spinner Xu (1-5) both struck and kept things incredibly tight when under huge pressure. At one point, Dhaka had required 55 runs from 55 balls and plenty of wickets in hand. There was also a dropped catch from Kuntz off Anguissa which seemed to have handed the game to the team from the capital.
When it looked like it might really slip away from us as we missed a run out opportunity, we struck twice via run outs in the penultimate over bowled by the expensive Andryushkin (0-37). Roberto Biabini (0-14) kept it tidy enough in the final over though and when Xu, who earlier took an excellent catch at slip, kept his eye on the ball as it hurtled to the boundary then returned it to gloveman Jiminez, we’d won once again, by a margin of just two runs!
I’ve never been so proud of a performance as that one. Everybody contributed. Stand-in captain Kuntz led the side superbly despite having a poor match with the bat and in the field. And as for Jamal Peters, it’s been a long time coming but a first fifty, a first wicket and a direct hit run out made for an all action performance!
Moving on… another game, another win! We made 84-2 (Kuntz 36*/Okocha 32*) from 11.3 overs at home to Dhaka’s other team, before rain curtailed our innings, so another match with no batting for our lower order!
Dhaka were set 71 from 7 overs though peculiarly our bowlers could only deliver one over each. Anguissa (2-6) struck from consecutive balls in his as we eased home by 13 runs. That made it four wins on the bounce however it was a shame that the likes of Vito Vaga and Shon Solomon had so little opportunity when provided a rare outing.
Looking to make it five consecutive wins, we posted 141-3 at Khuna Park. Opening duo Peters and Kuntz broke their own record for the team’s highest 1st wicket partnership. After taking so long to get one, Peters brought up his second fifty in three matches before launching a vicious assault on Khulna’s Hannan. The American slapped the medium-pacer for back-to-back sixes before Hannan got revenge as Peters (65) threw the kitchen sink at finishing the over with a third, only to nick behind.
Kuntz (59) fell off the penultimate ball of the innings whilst Jiminez (2*) continued his healthy obsession of walking off undefeated. By only totalling 141 though, we hadn’t quite put the game out of reach, which was slightly disappointing given the opening stand had accelerated throughout after we’d been put into bat. Peters’ failure to execute a third six meant that still no batsmen in a Global shirt had ever reached 70!
El Mohamedy (1-19) and Xu (1-33) both struck in the powerplay before Anguissa (2-29) struck twice in two balls for the second consecutive match. Firstly, captain Rashid (0-16) made great judgement to appeal an LBW decision before Anguissa welcomed the new batsman by immediately bowling him around around his legs. It was a stunning delivery!
Khulna did fightback from 58-4 to 106-4 at which point Xu produced an outstanding piece of fielding to send opener and top score Handal (55) packing. Somehow, the Chinese all-rounder prevented a boundary before returning the ball to the bowler’s end. Then cue a couple more run outs, something we’ve developed a good habit of effecting and so the hosts fell 8 runs short on 133-8.
The win was our fifth in a row and fourth consecutive match where we’d batted first and won by thirteen runs or less. The start of the run was a 23-run win. It’s worth pointing out that we’d often been put into bat as oppose to luckily winning the toss in favourable conditions. We’ve got nerve and bottle!
Come the next game at home to table topping Rajashani, we were finally made to field first. The visitors compiled 141-6 despite a good all round bowling effort. Roberto Biabini (2-34) was struck for four off each of the final three deliveries of his third over but displayed great character to claim two wickets in his fourth.
Sadly, we were bowled out for a disheartening 99 in our chase. It’s important to be clear that Rajashani were deserved victors with the contrast of their change express pace and dibbly dobbly bowlers ripping through our undercooked batting unit. Remember that nobody lower than five had batted in our last four matches. However, the game hinged on a couple of decisions that didn’t go our way and it’s hard to fathom why. Having made 10 from 8 balls, Phillipio was adjudged LBW on review when replays confirmed that the ball had hit his bat. Then, the final wicket, the run out of Biabini (3) after Xu (5*) changed his mind about a single, was also a dismissal that compromised the integrity of the result. The Italian had clearly grounded his bat. Of course we’d still have required 42 runs from 24 deliveries with only one wicket left but those errors were frustrating for our team and cricket fans in general. For the record, in-form opener Jamal Peters (48) by far and away top scored but his dismissal began a terrifying collapse as we lost 6 wickets for a paltry 14 runs.
The termination of our hot streak and victory for Rajashani left them top of the pile with ourselves and Khulna two wins behind. We both remained two wins ahead of the next three teams but a lot could happen in the last four rounds (One a bye for us) as the race for semi-final places hotted up!
Following the humbling defeat, we made a few changes to the XI for the next game. French batsman Xavier Robert and Icelandic gloveman Ogmundar Sigthorsson came into the side. The pair couldn’t make much of an impression though… both being caught behind first ball!
South Korean Kim Lee-Soo also fell for a duck whilst four batsmen were dismissed between 12 and 18. Those dismissals left us 42-5 then staring down the barrel at 71-7. Wu Xu (38*) and Ambroise Anguissa (28) both made career bests however in a hugely mature eighth-wicket partnership of 56. We’re well aware that both players are capable batsmen and it was great to see them seize the opportunity to rescue the team. We finished on 137-8 which was a respectable total given that three figures seemed out of reach at one stage.
Despite having been under the cosh early in our innings, it turned out to be a case of back to batting first, back to winning!
Israeli medium-pacer Shon Solomon (2-30), who had only bowled one over in the competition before this match, dismissed both openers. He should’ve had a third wicket but, not for the first time recently, vice-captain Mario Kuntz dropped a catch. To be fair to the young German, he later held one and effected a run out.
The unheralded Kim (2-13) also claimed two wickets whilst renaissance man Biabini (1-21) and a run out accounted for the other. Robert (0-17) responded to his golden duck by holding a catch under the lights and bowling tightly. Rangpur closed on 119-6, a match deciding deficit of 18 runs.
The win elevated us to joint second in the table, three wins clear of four tied teams and almost certainly secure of a place in the semi-final.
Results then went our way so we made wholesale changes for our next match at home to Sylhet. Abdulfattah Al-Owaishir (3-27) claimed his first ever wickets, each one courtesy of the gloves of Ogmundar Sigthorsson. At one stage, the Saudi-Arabian was actually on a hat-trick. We’ve lost count of how many times that’s happened during this competition! The visitors could only compile 109-9 with all our bowlers keeping things tight.
Jamal Peters and Shoya Soma then showed the way in an undefeated 110-run partnership to record our second ever ten-wicket win. Peters (42*) was a little scratchy early on but has the experience now to keep his head. Soma (62*), who had a previous highest score of just 21, led the way as we ran out victorious with more than a couple of overs to spare.
The players that came in did exactly what we asked, which is to breed competition and make selection decisions extremely difficult.
In our final league match, we posted our highest ever score of 161-7. This was after hosts Barisal surprised everybody by choosing to field first. Ahead of the semi-finals, it turned out to be really useful batting practice as lots of batsmen made twenties and thirties at a decent rate. Kuntz (36), Okocha (31) and Phillipio (28) laid the platform before captain Rashid smoked 24 not out from just ten balls!
We then limited Barisal to 132-6. To be fair, they responded well having slipped to 13-3. Four of their batsmen were run out and their top scorer retired hurt. Wu Xu (1-26) dismissed their opener for a golden duck, caught the other and effected three direct hit run outs! It would’ve been nice to have bowled them out but we couldn’t complain about a 29-run win!
That victory, our eleventh of the campaign and eighth in our last nine matches, propelled us to a second place finish in the table. It meant that we would entertain third placed Khulna in the semi-finals.
In the first semi-final, table topping Rajashahi chased down a whopping 182 with one ball to spare in a thrilling encounter at home to Rangpur. A 51-ball 82 from their opener proved vital.
And so… onto our semi-final!