Belgium’s victory in the World Cricket League Division 8 qualifier may have been decisive, in the sense that they won all three of their matches, but the competition was a good deal closer than this outcome suggests, and the manner of their win said a great deal about the side’s strengths and weaknesses.
Having opened commandingly by bowling France out for 135, Charles Wright producing the bowling performance of the tournament with five for 24, the Belgians found themselves in some trouble against France’s spinners when they replied, and it took some uninhibited hitting from Abdul Rehman to see them over the line.
This was only a hint, however, of what Rehman could do, for the following day he demolished a tired Austrian attack with a magnificent 48-ball 102 not out, enabling his side to recover from a shaky 136 for six.
And although the bowlers again did well against Gibraltar in the final game, Amir Iqbal claiming four for 12 with his left-arm spin, Belgium had to fight all the way to preserve their unbeaten record, a fine 62 from Jamie Farmiloe proving the decisive factor as they won by a single wicket.
One extremely positive aspect of the Belgian success is the presence in the squad of six players who have come through their youth system, three of whom – Farmiloe, Nirvam Shah and Shaival Mehta – having been in the squad which won the 2009 European Under-19 Division 2 title.
In contrast with the winners, who relied strongly on a powerful seam attack, runners-up France had a useful array of spinners, but they, too, could point to several players who had made the transition from their youth ranks to the senior side.
One of them was skipper Arun Ayyavooraju, whose 95 against Gibraltar was one of the finest individual performances of the tournament. On balance, though, the French attack was probably stronger than the batting, and with only three rounds in the tournament they were never able to overcome the effects of that opening-day collapse against Belgium.
With just one win in three games Gibraltar could be forgiven for seeing this tournament as another disappointment, especially since their win against Austria on the first day relied heavily upon a remarkable 27-ball 52 from Kayron Stagno.
They fought hard to defend a modest total of 135 against Belgium, almost pulling off what would have been a memorable victory, and in Ross Harkins they had one of the outstanding seamers of the competition. But the batting struggled to make enough runs, and although Ian Farrell made an accomplished half-century in his one opportunity, the fact that no-one in the side could manage more than 59 runs in three innings spoke for itself.
In their first outing at this level of 50-over cricket Austria could be reasonably satisfied with their performance, despite the fact that they could not manage a win.
They certainly had their opportunities, but their catching let them down at crucial moments – dropping Rehman early in his devastating innings was undoubtedly the most painful – and they clearly demonstrated the difficulty of stepping up from Twenty20 cricket to the longer form of the game.
They had Gibraltar on 85 for six after 30 overs, only to see them reach 210 for nine; Belgium were 98 for four at the same point and made 265 for seven; and France, admittedly having thrown everything into a quick run chase, were on 122 for seven before Usman Khan and Tom Liddiard saw them home.
The batsmen, too, were able to compile the 30s and 40s which can turn a T20 match, but no-one was able to go on to play a really decisive innings, and they managed only two half-century partnerships in the tournament, both of them between Babar Nadeem and Imran Asif.
This, then, was a competition which confirmed the value of a sustained youth policy for the growth of Associate and Affiliate cricket, but which also indicated the importance of attending to the particular demands of the one-day form of the game.