KATHMANDU: Saudi Arabia’s national cricket team beat Qatar by seven wickets on Saturday, making a mark at the ongoing Asian Cricket Council’s Premier Cup 2023 in Nepal.
The ACC tournament started on April 18 in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu. The final will be played on May 1.
In its first appearance on Thursday, Saudi Arabia lost to Malaysia, but in the second match at the TU International Cricket Ground, opener Abdul Waheed scored a century against Qatar, to make sure they open the winning account in style, after which they outplayed the Gulf neighbor in all departments.
With matches against ODI nations Nepal and Oman to follow, Saudis still have a chance to book a spot in the semifinals of the tournament, as 10 teams will battle out for a spot in the 2023 Asia Cup in Pakistan.
In their remaining group-stage matches the Saudis will face Nepal on April 24 and Oman on April 26. The teams in Group B are the UAE, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Singapore and Bahrain.
“We have a lot of talent and we have the skillset. We will go match by match and then based on that situation, we will look into the scenario later on in the tournament,” Saudi captain Hisham Sheikh told Arab News before the match with Qatar.
“We don’t take any team easily.”
Saudi Arabia’s emergence in the Asian cricket circuit is quite new and the team’s rise has been a significant one. Associate nations rose their eyebrows when Saudis outplayed all the opponents on the course to win the ACC Men’s Challenger Cup held in Thailand in late February, by which they qualified for the ACC Men's Premier Cup in Nepal, which is the second tier of the qualifier pathway for the Asia Cup.
As the team will take on the host, Nepal, on Monday, Sheikh expects a huge turnout and say the team is already looking forwards the game.
“That is one experience our boys are always waiting for because we haven’t seen such atmosphere and spectators before this,” he said.
“I’ve already told my boys to enjoy the game and take it with their chins up.”
Experts and cricket fans are thrilled. Irish commentator Andrew Leonard told Arab News he was excited about the talent and plans in place in the Saudi cricket scenario.
“I had a big, long chat to head coach Kabir Khan before the start of the tournament and I think the word ‘sleeping giant’ would be a good way to describe them,” he said. “A number of other sports have seen heavy investment and there’s lots of talk that that is going to be the the case for cricket going forward.”
Saudis are ranked 33rd in the World T20I rankings. The International Cricket Council’s move to award T20I status to all member nations has seen an increase in cricketing activity among associate members. This and the Saudi government’s positive approach in developing the game, is helping its cricket raise forward.
“They’ve got a long-term plan in place. They’re bringing cricket into the schools and they want to develop it over,” Leonard said. “It’s generational. You build up a good generation of cricketers and then you reap the rewards in 10 to 15 years.”
Mausam Mandal, grounsdmen working at the TU Cricket Stadium, was happy to see Saudis play cricket in Nepal for the first time.
“Saudi is giving great performance on the field, so it is good for their exposure,” he said.
“They have come here and are using the chance to play ACC Premier Cup well. It is good for Nepal that new teams are playing.”
Deepkiran Subedi, a Nepali cricket fan who witnessed the team’s win over Qatar, said he was sure Saudis would outplay the opponent as they showed really good performance.
“As a cricket fan, to see new countries trying to make their name feels good,” Subedi said.
“We have heard name of Saudi in football. Now we are looking at them playing cricket.”