European Championship Division Two, day three: Israel took a big step towards the tournament semi-finals on Wednesday morning when they beat one of their main rivals, Portugal, in a match reduced to 14 overs a side, while at the other end of the Group A table Estonia registered their first win at the expense of Luxembourg.
In Group B, there was a third win for the Isle of Man and Sweden, at the expense of Croatia and Finland respectively, with Sweden retaining their unbeaten record and inflicting a first defeat upon the Finns.
The teams arrived at the Messonghi ground to find that a soaked outfield would make it impossible for play to begin on time, and when the match was finally able to get under way six overs had been sliced off each innings.
Portugal did well to contain the Israeli batsmen early on, but a 29-ball innings of 40 by Eshkol Solomon enabled Israel to seize the initiative, and then Yaniv Razporker cracked 25 from 10 deliveries to get his side up to 118 for five.
Tariq Aziz and Bilal Safdar put on 68 for the second wicket for Portugal and their side was strongly placed at 78 for one, but once Bilal was out for 19, the first of three victims for Josh Evans, the wickets started to tumble. The Israelis held onto their catches, and excellent fielding enabled them to increase the pressure on the Portuguese batsmen, who steadily fell behind the required rate.
Tariq Aziz’s 30-ball 45 was the only really substantial innings for Portugal the chase ended 17 runs short.
At the Marina Estonia came back well from Tuesday’s crushing defeat at the hands of Spain, posting a substantial total of 167 for five against Luxembourg, opener Nand Lal Riar making a run-a-ball 30, Tim Filer contributing 49 from 31 deliveries, and captain Tim Heath belting an unbeaten 52 from 33 balls. Taral Desai was the most successful of the Luxembourgeois bowlers with three for 20.
Luxembourg’s reply got off to a terrible start when Murali Obili removed Tim Barker and Desai in the first over, and despite a fighting 37 from Richard Neale they could only manage 108 for nine.
Obili finished with three for 16, while Heath ran through the middle order for figures of three for 12.
In the Group B battle of the Baltic nations at Ropa Valley No. 2, Sweden cruised to a comfortable 6-wicket victory after dismissing Finland for 136.
Ekhwelpak Kuchey was the hero of the Finnish effort, his 73 (out of 98 scored while he was at the crease) coming from 46 deliveries and including five fours and six sixes. Swedish new-ball bowler Khalid Ahmad did most of the damage with five for 21, while Azam Khalil claimed three for 28.
Tariq Sarfraz then gave Finland hope by claiming two wickets by the time 26 runs were on the board for Sweden, but Shahid Mustafa and Azam Khalil effectively settled the issue with a third-wicket stand of 94 before Sarfraz returned to have Azam caught behind by Tatu Vehvilainen for a 27-ball 38.
Shahid remained to the end, however, finishing on 66 not out, made from 57 deliveries with two fours and seven sixes.
On the next-door No. 1 ground Croatia found scoring difficult against the Isle of Man, only two batsmen reaching double figures as they battled their way to 86 for seven. Opener Michael Grzini? was again amongst the runs with a 46-ball 34 before he was run out by Alex Stokoe, while elder brother Jeffrey contributed an unbeaten 21 in the closing stages. Arne van den Berg was the leading wicket-taker for the Manxmen with three for 13.
Michael Grzini? also picked up two early wickets when the Isle of Man replied, but a fine innings from Philip Littlejohns, who made 43 from 44 balls, saw his side home with six wickets and three overs in hand.
Cyprus threw the battle in Group B wide open on Wednesday afternoon by beating the previously undefeated Swedes by seven wickets at Ropa Valley No. 1. The result leaves the Isle of Man and Sweden level on three wins and a loss with one match to play.
In Group A, meanwhile, Israel retained their unbeaten record with a convincing six-wicket victory over their nearest rivals, Spain, guaranteeing their place in the semi-finals.
After Cypriot skipper Michalis Kyriacou secured an early breakthrough Nimal Duralayage put the Swedes firmly on the back foot by ripping through the top order, finishing with three for 26, and at 42 for four Sweden were in real difficulty.
Chris Tebbutt responded with a 33-ball knock of 31, but then Niroshan Pelawattha finished off the tail as Sweden were dismissed for 125 in 18.2 overs. Pelawattha ‘s three for 22 from just 14 deliveries.
A stand of 87 between Muhammad Tahir Mohsin (49 from 39 deliveries with three fours and three sixes) and Gurbhej Singh took the game away from Sweden, and although Mohsin was eventually caught behind off Khalid Ahmad, by that time only two runs were needed for victory.
Gurbhej Singh finished not out on 41, made from 36 deliveries with five fours and a six.
Also in Group B, Hellas bounced back from a disappointing start to their competition with a crushing 10-wicket victory over Croatia at Ropa Valley No. 2 ground.
The hosts restricted their opponents to 129 for five, despite a steady 59-ball 50 from Croatian captain John Vujnovich and a much more aggressive 47, made from 28 deliveries with six fours and two sixes, by Nikola Davidovi?. The new-ball pairing of Zois Ntemsias and Dimitrios Triantafillidis was especially effective, conceding just 17 and 15 runs respectively.
The Greek openers, Aslam Mohammad and Anastasios Manousis, were untroubled in knocking off the runs, and their unbroken stand of 130 was the second highest of the tournament so far. Aslam reaching 46 from 51 deliveries with five boundaries, while Manousis struck three fours and four sixes in his 55-ball 71.