And then there were three . . .
The battle for promotion to the World Cricket League Division 3 effectively resolved itself into a three-horse race on Thursday with the United States’ 55-run victory over Nepal and further wins for hosts Italy and Tanzania.
With those three teams now level at the top, the winner of Friday’s clash between Tanzania and Italy at Navile is guaranteed promotion and a place in the final on Saturday, where they will play the USA unless the Americans suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of Argentina, who are without a win so far, in their last round-robin game.
The Nepalis’ last remaining hope must be that they not only beat the Cayman Islands on Friday and the Americans lose, but that these two games produce a sufficient swing in net run rate to overturn their current deficit of 1.15 – which does not seem probable.
Once again the Nepalese attack started well in their match against the USA, which like all Thursday’s games was postponed from the opening day when persistent rain washed out the programme.
After Amrit Bhattarai had Orlando Baker caught behind off the second ball of the match the American batsmen proceeded cautiously, Steve Massiah making a patient 29 and Lennox Cush a more aggressive 32, but it was Sushil Nadkarni who was again the star of the show.
Dropping down the order from the opening slot he has occupied so far, Nadkarni added solidity to the later batting, and his undefeated 64, a very different sort of innings from those he played earlier in the week, pushed the total up to 203 for eight. Nadkarni’s personal tally is now 216 runs in five innings, and he has only been dismissed once.
The Nepalese bowlers stuck to their task well, Basant Regmi, Sharad Verawkar and Bhattarai climing two wickets each, but it was the batsmen who again struggled. American paceman Usman Shuja grabbed three early wickets for 17 runs in a devastating eight-over spell as Nepal slumped to 31 for four, and from there the Americans never really looked like relinquishing their grip on the match.
Paras Khadka (44) and Gyanendra Malla (34) fought back with a fifth-wicket stand of 69, but once Khadka was stumped off the bowling of Muhammad Ghous the writing was on the wall, and with Ghous claiming three for 31 Nepal were finally dismissed for 148.
Italy posted the highest total of the day, their 233 for eight being set up by a second-wicket stand of 77 between brothers Andy and Nick Northcote. Andy hit a 57-ball 54 and like Nadkarni now has three half-centuries in the tournament, and after he departed Nick anchored the rest of the innings, finally departing for 70, made from 120 deliveries without a single boundary.
The Caymans again began disastrously, Gayashan Munasinghe removing both openers by the time five runs were on the board, but Pearson Best responded with a defiant, hard-hitting 85 and sharing a partnership of 70 for the third wicket with Shaheed Mohamed.
But when the Northcote brothers combined again to run Best out with the total on 135 the Caymans’ challenge was effectively over, and with Munasinghe returning to claim two more wickets and finish with four for 20 they were all out for 186, giving the hosts a 47-run victory.
At Navile, Tanzania ran out winners by three wickets against Argentina, but they had to battle to achieve their victory as the South Americans produced their most convincing performance so far.
After winning the toss and electing to bat Argentina reached 197 before they were all out off the final ball of their scheduled fifty overs. Opener Matias Paterlini contributed 37, while Grant Dugmore, who had to retire early in his innings with a leg injury, returned with a runner later and hit a defiant 44.
The innings was, however, a personal triumph for Tanzanian spinner Kassim Nassoro, who recorded the best figures of the tournament so far with six for 42.
Tanzania quickly found themselves on 1 for two when they replied, but Seif Khalifa decided to hit his way out of trouble, smashing a remarkable 41-ball 72, with nine fours and three sixes. The innings faltered after he departed, and with Diego Lord claiming three wickets and the Tanzanians again contributing to their own misfortunes with two more run-outs, they seemed to be heading for defeat at 126 for seven.
At this point, however, Benson Mwita joined Khalil Rehmtullah at the crease, and with plenty of overs left the two new-ball bowlers set about knocking off the 72 runs still needed for victory. Rehmtullah batted cautiously while his partner went onto the attack, and with Mwita hitting 46 off 40 deliveries with five fours and two sixes the Tanzanians made it home without further loss and with nine overs to spare.