Over the past few days, final positions have been fought for in the round-robin stage of the UAE’s DP World ILT20 Cricket League.
Although Abu Dhabi Knight Riders had failed to secure a win so far in nine matches, they finished on a winning note by defeating the Sharjah Warriors to put a dent in the latter’s hopes of finishing in the top four.
Those four teams will contest play-off matches. The first-placed team will play the second-placed team, providing the winner with a direct route to the final. Third and fourth-placed teams will face off, the winner playing the loser of first versus second. The Gulf Giants and the Desert Vipers will finish first and second. On Saturday, they met in the round robin, Vipers sitting top of the league. Bragging rights were at stake.
The Giants batted first and, at 129 for four after 14.2 overs, looked to be running short of a competitive total. However, Shimron Hetmyer accelerated the rate and the Giants closed on 180 for six, a very gettable target for the Vipers. They started with the intent of finishing as quickly as possible. Rohan Mustafa struck three fours in the first over, all hammered through the offside. However, the bowlers changed their lengths, preventing him from advancing, and he stopped laying bat on ball before nicking one through to the wicketkeeper. Alex Hales started more slowly before getting into his stride, greeting Chris Jordan’s first ball with a huge straight six.
At 57 for 1, compared with 55 for 1 for the Giants at the same stage of their respective innings, Hales holed out to a ball turning away outside the off-stump by trying to hit it over mid-wicket but did not get enough power on it, being caught on the boundary. The bowler was local Aayan Afzal Khan. Whether this was a deliberate ploy is not clear but it seemed that Hales knew as soon as he hit the ball that it was not the right decision. He remains the top run-scorer in the League but is being chased closely. Shortly afterwards, the captain, Colin Munro, gave a wicket away needlessly, hitting straight down the ground to be safely caught by David Wiess. Two wickets were thrown away. This is difficult to understand from the sidelines. Certainly, Munro’s twirling of the bat into the air as he departed gave comfort to those lesser cricketers of us who have felt the same way after playing a rash stroke.
The Giants were now in the ascendancy after being on the back foot. A change of pace, bowler and length had been decided upon very quickly on the field and the bowlers effected this well. Further innovation came when Erasmus bowled from 23 yards, inducing a faint edge from Sam Billings, who was trying to resurrect the innings. He had no option but to review the decision, which went against him.
The Giants bowlers, especially Chris Jordan, were putting the ball in the right areas, causing an implosion of the Viper’s innings. Tom Curran, who ended undefeated on 42 was left with too much to do on his own and the innings petered out disappointingly, 25 runs short on 155 for six. After an early misfire with their bowling, the Giants recovered with an astute performance in the field. England’s James Vince has captained their matches in the League, although Carlos Braithwaite was nominated for this match. Whoever was pulling the strings should be thankful for Jordan’s experienced input.
Another captaincy conundrum arose in Sunday’s match between the MI Emirates and the Dubai Capitals, who had been led by Rovman Powell. Although Powell was in the line-up, Yusuf Pathan was named as captain, performing the role energetically, having won the toss and elected to field. In the second half of MIE’s innings, Powell was fielding at long off and long on at both ends, necessitating a long walk/run from one end of the ground to the other.
Dubai Capitals needed to win this match in order to stand a chance of making the last four. Jake Ball embodied their determination, making an early breakthrough in his first over with two wickets. Mohammad Waseem and Lorcan Tucker steadied the innings before Waseem tried to slog a straight ball from Adam Zampa. Tucker also departed to leave MIE on 76 for four after nine overs. Captain Nicholas Pooran rebuilt the innings, pulling anything possible. Dan Mousley gamely supported him but struggled for rhythm. In the 17th over, Zampa had three men short on the offside within the field restriction markers. In response, Pooran pulled Zampa for six.
However, he then drove to cover on the boundary and was caught low down for 43. The last over was entrusted to Jake Ball, who had Jordan Thompson caught by Powell at long off. Ball would have had another wicket caught in the deep but for overstepping the crease to concede a no-ball on the fifth ball of the over and then saw the batter dropped of the next ball, before the innings closed with a run-out on 164 for seven.
Dubai Capitals started slowly against a very mean Craig Overton. Robin Uthappa stepped up the pace before falling to Overton for 29. George Munsey was out reverse sweeping against Zahir Khan and two balls later Powell slogged to deep mid-wicket and was caught low down by Mousley. The very next ball, Pooran dropped Sikander Raza at slip, possibly a match-turning moment. Raza and Dasun Shanakar then carefully rebuilt an innings, which seemed to be at the point of derailment. In a very well-timed run chase, Shanaka, in particular, gradually asserted authority in conditions where evening dew began to affect the bowler’s grip, wides and no-balls creeping into their delivery.
In the 15th over, Shanaka powered Thompson for six, with two fours to follow, placing his side at 128 for 3, compared with MIE’s 116 for 4 at same stage. Raza then accelerated and the target was reached with 11 balls remaining to secure an impressive comeback, both batters reaching fifty.
Dubai Capitals lie in fourth place, a mere 0.013 ahead on net run rate. Their fate will be determined by the result of the final round-robin match between the Gulf Giants and the Sharjah Warriors, who must win to claim fourth spot and a place in the finals.