Bertus de Jong
The Netherlands held their nerve to seal a narrow win over a resurgent UAE and claim pole position in the World Cricket League Championship. Despite a much-improved performance from their hosts, the Dutch recovered from a top order collapse to post a competitive if not awe-inspiring 216 courtesy of a determined display from the middle order, and held their nerve even as a century partnership for the 4th wicket between Shaiman Anwar and Mohammad Usman threatened to take the game away from them, eventually sealing a final-over victory by a margin of six runs.
Manjula Guruge was principally responsible for the initial Emirati success, striking early to remove Stephan Myburgh for 6, and finding Michael Swart's outside edge four overs later. Ben Cooper followed in like fashion the following over, caught behind off Amjad Javed, and the mounting pressure took its toll, Peter Borren falling victim to a direct hit from Guruge afetr adding just one run to the total.
After ten overs the visitors were floundering on 34-4 and in dire need of a stabilizing partnership. Welsley Barresi and Roelof van der Merwe duly provided it, adding 74 for the 5th wicket to take the Dutch into triple figures by the half-way stage.
Van der Merwe would depart in the 27th over however, holing out off Fahran Ahmed for 31, and Barresi didn't last much longer, trapped LBW by Rohan Mustafa three overs later for a crucial 41.
The double breakthrough stymied the Dutch attempts to accelerate, but Pieter Seelaar and Michael Rippon put on another steady 76 as the Dutch approached 200. Ahmed Raza picked up the timely wicket of Rippon as the run rate began to tick up, clean bowling him for 34, but Seelaar pressed on with the lower order.
Emirati discipline ensured that the looked-for acceleration remained elusive however, with the last three wickets falling in the final two overs, including that for Seelaar, bowled by Mustafa just one run short of a well-deserved half-century, as the Netherlands were bowled out with two balls to spare for 216.
For much of the UAE innings, it didn't look like it would be enough. Mudassar Bukhari again struck in his first over and a wicket each for van der Merwe and Timm van der Gugten kept a lid on the scoring in the first third of the innings, and when Anwar and Usman came together in the 18th over with the score on 56-3 the game looked reasonably balanced.
But for the next 20 overs the pair would frustrate the Dutch in an accelerating century partnership that threatened to see out the game. When van der Gugten finally found the breakthrough in his penultimate over, prying out Anwar for 71 with the score on 159 it looked rather too little, too late. Even when he struck again three balls later to dismiss Saqlain Haider it seemed as if Usman could see the hosts home alone.
Bukhari returned to even the odds however, striking with the first ball of his second spell to bowl Usman for a hard-earned 52. With just 39 runs required from 53 balls though, the odds still favoured the UAE. Ahsan Malik and Michael Rippon would wrest that advantage back over the ensuing oves, rising pressure eventually yielding a flurry of wickets as Javed, Raza and Ahmed fell in consecutive overs.
Rohan Mustafa was left with last-man Guruge to finish the chase, with the calculus now at 21 needed from the last three overs. Two good overs from Malik and Bukhari reduced that to 13 needed of the 50th. With Mailk to bowl it, seasoned observers would already put the Dutch all but home. A heavy-batted six over long-on off the second ball gave the home fans hope, but it was over the next ball as Mustafa looked to repeat the shot, Bukhari claiming the catch in the deep to seal the win for the Netherlands.