Disciplined Luxembourg take home Continental Cup
The tents have been collapsed, packed and taken away. The hammering of the woodpeckers in the forest bordering Moara Vlasiei may be heard more clearly, and the hawks that hover above and the storks that wend their way gracefully over the playing surface, and the dipping and diving wagtails may wonder where the men in white have gone. The players from Hungary, Luxembourg and the hosts, Romania, the support staff and spectators have dispersed. The Continental Cricket Cup for 2015 is done and dusted and holder Romania has had the trophy wrenched from its grasp by Luxembourg.
Not much separated the three teams in terms of cricketing skills. Each had their hitters, their destroyers, their fast men and their spinners, the latter proving more successful in the trying conditions. There were individual highlights - Zeeshan Kukikhel scored three half-centuries from Hungary's five games (78 and 56 v Luxembourg, and 61 v Romania), Richard Neale scored two half-centuries for Luxembourg (51 and 54, both against Romania), while batting at nr 9, Asif Bevinje (77*) almost singlehandedly won the first game for Romania against Hungary (note from Mick: this was against Luxembourg, in fact, after we had reduced Romania to 41 for 9), and Saad Mohsin (71, v Hungary) and Marc Ahuja (67, v Romania) also had half centuries for Romania and Hungary respectively. There were no five wicket hauls, but two four wicket hauls from Sudeep Thakur (4-14 for Romania v Luxembourg), and Stan Ahuja (4-27, for Hungary v Luxembourg).
Fielding and catching, on the whole, was pretty good though each of the teams had their fumbles, dropped catches and missed run outs. Running between the wickets was what you would expect. But while each of the teams had a plan, only one was able to execute it, and that side was Luxembourg. Their vanquished competitors will benefit richly from the experience.
Neither Romania nor Hungary could baulk at the spectacle of an opposition team whose members backed each other to construct an innings. Indeed, Luxembourg's players went about their innings like builders on a construction site: the openers who established a platform, a sturdy foundation safe and free of risk and once in place, exited, replaced by the engineers, the nuts and bolts guys, who consolidated, then lifted the run rate and set the scene for a final charge at the end by the finishers. All overseen by the architects who had put serious consideration into the well conceived blueprint.
And what of the weather? Only Sunday's final had unfolded beneath a summery sky. Earlier, despite the overcast and damp conditions it was a credit to the experience of umpires Thomas Kentorp and Ben Lougheed and match referee Rangam Mitra that three games were completed on the first day, which ended with the teams equal on two points, each having won once. Friday's successfully completed schedule avoided a potential logjam after the first Saturday match was decided by Duckworth/Lewis and the second abandoned without a ball bowled. And equally impressive that the Moara Vlasiei groundsmen were able to prepare a pitch worthy of a final, after heavy overnight rain had meant the earlier game had to be played on the synthetic pitch. As luck would have it, the three days since Sunday have been hot and sunny in Bucharest.
Saturday's compromised schedule played into the home side's hands, delivering Romania with an opportunity to qualify for the final, but it was an opportunity the hosts failed to exploit. In a match abridged to 15 overs a side, Hungary's innings of 165, started and finished like a steam train with a lull in the middle overs, was a bridge too far for Romania whose hopes of an unlikely victory were snuffed out when, playing a lone hand, captain Saad Mohsin (71, from 34 balls) was dismissed. Romania had beaten its old rival in their first match on Friday by 5 runs, but this time a 24-run win broke a losing streak between the two and sealed Hungary's passage to the final.
The pitch dried and ready, after winning the toss and batting, Hungary began in much the same fashion of its earlier game, with Zeeshan Kukikhel (56, from 25) playing aggressively from the outset, and thenceforward accumulating steadily while wickets fell regularly, to finish on a total of a defendable 141, with Abhishek Khetapal (29, from 30) also making a meaningful contribution. The significant loss of Richard Neale, with two half-centuries in earlier games, had prompted a change in Luxembourg's batting order but no change in the plan, and wicketkeeper-batsman William Heath (23, off 25) and regular opener Joost Mees (28, off 38) began the response carefully, finding the gaps in the field and hitting ones and twos and dispatching the poor ball whenever an opportunity rose. The pattern continued after the loss of the first wicket with William Cope (27, off 23) sharing a 56-run partnership with Mees but, when in the space of two overs Luxembourg lost three wickets for two runs, with the score on 100 after 15 overs, Hungary's bowlers would have thought they were in with a sniff. Those hopes grew progressively dimmer as captain Tony Whiteman (26, from 16) and Saransh Kulshresta (17, from 14) waited a while, but then lifted a gear to ramp up the scoring rate and take Luxembourg over the line with three balls to spare, winning by six wickets.
At the awards ceremony, Cricket Romania president Gabriel Marin thanked both visiting teams for their presence at the tournament, the umpires Thomas Kentorp and Ben Lougheed, scorers, referees and the tournament organizers from Cricket Romania, particularly Rangam Mitra and Bianca Igas. Accepting the Continental Cup, Tony Whiteman awarded Bianca Igas with a cap for her organizational skills, Romania's Saad Mohsin for his good sportsmanship, and Hungary's Zeeshan Kukikhel and Romania's Asif Bevinje for their excellent batting in the games against Luxembourg.