The final day of the group stages in the ICC U19 Cricket World Cup Division Two – Asia Qualifier was a dramatic one as the last three semi-final places were decided.
Oman had already claimed their place in the last four earlier in the week and finished top of Group A after they defeated Thailand by six wickets. They were joined by Qatar who defeated Bhutan by seven wickets after bowling them out for 58.
Kuwait finished top of Group B by virtue of their 81-run win against Bahrain who would have qualified themselves if they had won. Hong Kong became the final semi-finalists as they beat Maldives by 10 wickets in a match reduced to 28 overs.
Qatar became the second team to qualify for the semi-finals as they beat Bhutan by seven wickets at AIT. Bhutan had found run-scoring hard work during this tournament but would have been pleased with the start they made to their last match as they reached 37/2 after seven overs.
Qatar's leg-spinner Shubh Agarwal had other ideas as he returned the best figures of the tournament, 6-3-6-6. Bhutan were bowled out for 58 in 22 overs and Qatar looked to be racing to victory as their openers scored 41 in the first five overs. Bhutan claimed three quick wickets to make Qatar wait but Syed Tameem's boundary took his side to victory as they reached 62/3 in 11.4 overs. Qatar won a place in the semi-finals from Group A alongside Oman who were playing Thailand at TCG.
Oman were well on the way to finishing at the top of Group A ahead of Qatar when they bowled out Thailand for just 70 in 38.1 overs. Oman's spinners have bowled impressively throughout the tournament and it was the same again as Sanjaya Ravindra took 4/11 after Kevin Kattokaran had bowled six maidens in his seven-over spell. Thailand's spinners helped the hosts to defend a total of 60 against Bhutan but it would be much tougher to do so against Oman who had won their first three matches.
Oman won by six wickets to finish in first place in Group A after winning all four of their matches. Thailand had scored only 70 in their innings but at least Sarawut Maliwan had the chance to show off his quality left-arm spin once again. He took 3/24 in 7.3 overs to give him combined figures of 10/72 in his four matches but he could not stop Oman reaching their target as they scored 74/4 in 23.3 overs.
The final table in Group B played in Chiang Mai took much longer to decide. There had been unseasonal rain in Chiang Mai over the last two days but overhead conditions were good for the last round of matches in the group stage. The pitch at Gymkhana looked hard and dry and appeared ideal for batting, so Kuwait had no hesitation on batting first when they won the toss in their crucial match against Bahrain in which the winners would gain a semi-final place.
Kuwait's batsmen would still have to be watchful against the new ball with the left-arm pace of Sajjad Khan likely to be a threat. Meet Bhavsar had scored a century in his last innings but it was not to be his day as he got a leading edge that was easily caught by the wicket-keeper off the bowling of Jasim Minat. Captain Nomaan Sidique joined Gopal Kumar at the crease and Kuwait progressed to 24/1 after 10 overs.
Kuwait’s second-wicket pair were batting very calmly given the importance of their match against Bahrain. Gokul Kumar and Nomaan Sidique saw off the threat of the new ball and were looking more comfortable against the Bahrain spinners as they brought up the fifty partnership. At 66/1 after 20 overs, the young batsmen were showing great maturity to build the foundations for a good total that would calm the nerves in the Kuwait camp.
Kuwait's second-wicket partnership came to an end with the score on 75 in the 22nd over as Gopal Kumar played across the line to be lbw to leg-spinner Prasanna Venkatesh for 29 from 63 balls. Venkatesh immediately followed with the wicket of Abdul Sadiq who tried to pull and skied an easy catch to the keeper. Nerves will have been mounting for Kuwait particularly when Nomaan Sidique was fourth out for 27 from 63 balls as he was lbw to Thirumal Vaman. Bahrain had come back strongly as they claimed three wickets for 13 and Kuwait were 88/4 after 25 overs.
Bahrain's spinners, Venkatesh and Varnan had bowled well, with off-spinner Thirumal Varnan taking the fifth wicket as he ran back to take a caught and bowled. Kuwait still had five wickets in hand for the last 10 overs of their innings as they had reached 139/5 after 40 overs.
Venkatesh finished with 2/26 and Varnan 3/30 but Kuwait looked to break free in the later stages of their innings as they tried to reach 200. The sixth wicket fell with the score on 140 as Sajeev Nair was caught at long on by Sajjad Khan but Hamza Qureshi made a useful 22 from 21 balls with three fours before he was bowled by Risabh Ramesh in the 48th over.
Govind Kumar was still there after coming to the wicket at 88/4 after 25 overs and he had done a good job in ensuring his side batted out the full 50 overs. Kumar top scored on 35 from 68 balls only to be out in the last over but Kuwait would have been happy with a total of 184/8 in such a crucial encounter.
There was a dramatic start to Bahrain's innings as they faced a target of 185 in 50 overs. Hamza Qureshi bowled the opening over and charged in against Umair Khalid who was trapped lbw by a pacey in-swinger and number three Rishabh Ramesh was almost caught behind as Meet Bhasvar couldn't quite hold the catch as he dived full length to his right. Bahrain were 19/1 after 10 overs.
Bahrain looked in danger of falling behind the required run-rate even though Jagan Vijaykumar and Risabh Ramesh were able to see their side through to a score of 45/1 at the 20-over mark. The second-wicket pair had been content to wait for the bad ball and Jagan was able to hit three boundaries but he may have felt he needed to do more as he was caught and bowled by opposing captain Nomaan Sidique.
Worse was to follow for Bahrain as Sajjad Khan was caught behind from the next ball. Two wickets had fallen with the score on 47 and Kuwait finally seemed to be taking control of this match. This was certainly true after George Axtell was caught at short leg by Govind Kumar who has taken a number of excellent catches in this tournament. 47/1 had suddenly become 49/4 as Nomaan had taken three wickets in an over to put his side firmly in control.
Bahrain had been rocked by the loss of three wickets in an over but Rishabh Ramesh continued to bat with great composure and was able to hit a four and a six to keep the scoreboard moving. Bahrain lost their fifth wicket with the score on 70 and Nomaan Sidique claimed his fourth wicket when he had Thirumal Varnan lbw as Bahrain faltered to 87/6.
Bahrain still had faint hopes of victory while Ramesh was at the crease but he was finally dismissed caught and bowled by Abdul Sadiq for 39 from 87 balls. He had played well but it looked as if Kuwait would be heading to the semi-finals as winners of Group B.
Kuwait’s place in the semi-finals places was finally decided as they won by 81 runs as Bahrain lost their last three wickets for two runs, Abdul Sadiq finishing with 3 for 11. Kuwait finished top of Group B and will face Qatar in the semi-finals, while Hong Kong claimed second place in Group B as they beat Maldives by 10 wickets after bowling them out for 48 in a match reduced to 28 overs. Hong Kong will face Oman winners of Group A in the other semi-final.