KATHMANDU: Saudi Arabia and Nepal split competition points on Monday after their ACC Premier Cup 2023 group stage game was abandoned because of rain, setting the Saudis up for a virtual quarterfinal in their upcoming match against Oman.
After the national cricket team defeated Qatar on Saturday, Monday’s shared points leaves Saudi Arabia in third place in the group standings with three points after three rounds of matches. Host Nepal leads the table with five points, with Oman in second and Malaysia in fourth, with four and two points, respectively. Qatar remains in last spot with no points.
When the Saudis face Oman on Wednesday, the match may define Saudi Arabia’s place in the Asian cricket landscape.
“Few years ago teams wouldn’t think much about fixture against Saudi, this time the story is different,” senior cricket journalist Binod Pandey told Arab News.
“On Wednesday, there is a place in the semifinal at stake and the result will be more significant for Saudi Arabia. Upsetting ODI nation (Oman) to overtake them may prove to be the turning point in (the) Gulf country’s history.”
Though Saudi Arabia lost to Malaysia in its first fixture of the tournament last Thursday, the Kingdom outplayed Qatar in the second match at the TU International Cricket Ground, with opener Abdul Waheed scoring a century against the Gulf neighbor.
“The last time Saudi Arabia won against Qatar, they were excellent in all departments,” Pandey said. “Oman struggled against Nepal at the TU ground and Saudi can make the most of this. Their pace attack and top order batters looked in good touch and if they can keep it up, we may witness history in the making.”
Saudi Arabia’s emergence on the Asian cricket circuit is quite new and the team’s rise has been a significant one. Associate nations raised their eyebrows when the Saudis outplayed all their opponents on their course to win the ACC Men’s Challenger Cup in Thailand in late February, through 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.
The win against Qatar last week had brought the team more confidence, Waheed said.
“We knew our mistakes in the first match and came back stronger now. We came here to win the tournament and want to qualify for the next stage,” Waheed, who was Saudi’s star of the second match for his century, had said after the game.
The 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 go forward.
Gyanendra Malla, former captain of Nepal’s national cricket team who played against Saudi Arabia in the ACC Elite Trophy 2012, said the Saudi team has transformed significantly in the years since.
“Saudi looks to be a changed team since we last faced them. Back then, the team was not as competitive but now they play quality cricket. Maybe development of facilities over time has helped the team to change their quality,” Malla, who is still part of the Nepalese team, told Arab News.
“We have heard about development of facilities in the country and there are talks of bigger tournaments too. This will be a huge boost to the country’s cricketing environment. We have seen Gulf countries like Oman and the UAE progress and Saudi can come along the same line.”
The ACC Premier Cup started on April 18 in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, and the final will be played on May 1. Ten teams are battling out for a spot in the 2023 Asia Cup in Pakistan, which is a preparatory competition for the 2023 Cricket World Cup in India.
The teams in ACC Premier Cup’s Group B are the UAE, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Singapore and Bahrain.
The 16th edition of the Asia Cup in September will be contested by six teams, with the five full members of the ACC — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — being joined by the winners of the ACC Premier Cup.