RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s national cricket team defeated Bahrain by 10 wickets to win the ACC Men’s Challenger Cup 2023 at the Asian Institute of Technology Ground in Bangkok on Sunday.
The men in green were dominant throughout the 50-over match. Bahrain were first bowled out for only 26 runs from 21.1 overs, before Saudi Arabia comfortably posted a total of 30 for no loss in 4.1 overs.
“Saudi Arabia clinches the #ACCChallengerCup with a dominant performance, defeating Bahrain by 10 wickets,” tweeted the Asian Cricket Council.
“A truly fantastic win, as they chase down the target of 27 in just 4 overs. Congratulations to the Saudi Arabia team!”
Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation Chairman Prince Saud bin Mishal told Arab News from Thailand: “I’d like to congratulate our leadership for the endless support we’ve always received, and the board of directors, the managerial team and especially the players. They’ve played excellent cricket, resulting in winning the cup.”
He said it is “a proud moment for us all. Their success will inspire several upcoming generations of cricketers in Saudi Arabia. And it’s just the start of more success in the future.”
Saudi Arabia’s star bowler Atif Ur Rehman was named Man of the Match for his dominant bowling spell of four wickets in eight overs, conceding just 10 runs.
“I was advised by the coach to stick to bowl in the right areas,” he said following the victory. “Thankfully, I was successful in maintaining my line and length that helped in restricting Bahrain’s batsmen from not only scoring but also helped in taking wickets. Wind in the morning was also helpful.”
Ishtiaq Ahmed, a star performer for Saudi Arabia throughout the competition, claimed the Player of the Tournament award and was handed the trophy by Prince Saud.
The stage had been perfectly set in the morning for the two teams that had topped their groups before.
On Friday, Saudi Arabia beat Bhutan in the first semifinal and Bahrain overcame hosts Thailand in the second.
Saudi Arabia won the toss and decided to bowl first, setting the scene for a devastating display from the start.
Invited to bat first, no Bahraini player could manage to stay on the crease long enough to build a strong partnership required in an inning in the final.
All 10 wickets fell in 21.1 overs for a meager total of just 26 runs, with no player managing top hit double figures.
Abdul Majid Abbasi was the highest scorer for Bahrain, scoring seven runs from 42 balls. Ali Dawood, who scored three runs from 19 balls, and Haider Ali, who scored two runs from two balls, were the other top scorers for their collapsing side.
Besides Rehman, who took four wickets, Ahmed took three wickets in eight for only nine runs, while Abdul Wahid’s two-wicket haul in three overs cost just three runs.
Chasing the very small total of 26 runs on board, Saudi Arabia’s openers Waqar Ul Hassan and Abdul Waheed were in no mood to spare Bahrain’s bowlers, and finished the game in just four overs.
Hassan scored 16 runs from 12 balls, including the winning boundary, and Waheed scored six runs in 13 balls.
The win meant Saudi Arabia maintained a perfect record of five wins from five outings, scoring a tournament-high total for one match with 424 runs against Myanmar.
The Saudi players received their medals from Prince Saud before celebrating with the trophy.
In the post-match presentation Mohammed Hisham Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s captain, said: “We played according to our plan, in the final as well as throughout the tournament. When we scored a record total of 424, we checked our batting strength and everybody proved their point.”
He added: “I have to be honest, I’m a learning captain being guided by coach Kabir Khan. He has been guiding us to victory.”
Sheikh also praised the SACF, the team management, the fitness staff, and the batting and bowling coach.
“The boys are showing great spirit, and it’s all the hard work of combined efforts from us which resulted in us emerging champions,” said the captain.
“Our federation is working really well behind the scenes, they’re setting up our domestic circuit, and a talent pool is emerging.”
He also praised the organizers of the competition, saying: “I thank the ACC for this wonderful tournament. We never had something like this before. This is a good circuit to showcase our talent. This was the test to showcase our skills.”
Saudi Arabia will now enter the ACC Premier Cup, to be played in Nepal next month, full of confidence as bigger challenges loom on the horizon.
Ali, Bahrain’s captain, said: “It was a bad day for us. Saudi Arabia’s bowlers really bowled well, in the right areas, giving us no room to play shots.”
But as finalists, Bahrain also qualified to the ACC Premier Cup in Nepal which, Ali said, is “a big opportunity” for his team.
Further consolation for Bahrain came with spin wizard Abbasi being named the tournament’s best bowler after taking 12 wickets during the competition.
The ACC Men’s Challenger Cup 2023, the first tournament of the council’s new pathway structure, was played in a round-robin format with eight teams split into two groups of four.
The top two from each group qualified to the semifinals in the knockout stages played on Friday.
The tournament acts as a pathway to September’s 2023 Asia Cup in Pakistan, which itself is a preparatory competition for the 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup in India starting in October.