Namibia claim WCL2 title in historic first home ODI

The final was the first the USA and Namibia had played in well over a decade. © ICC

The final day of the final World Cricket League Division 2, much like the final days of most of 31 such tournaments that had preceded it over the 12-year history of the competition, was something of an anti-climax. With the decisive group phase done and dusted, there was only pride on the line as the third-fourth play-off at Affies Park between the USA and Papua New Guinea and the final across the road at Wanderers, where Oman and hosts Namibia vied to become the final WCL Division 2 Champions took place. Over at United, Canada and Hong Kong faced off for the wooden spoon in the only match that would decide anything, namely which group each would land in for the coming CWC Challenge League.

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There was one distinction, however, between this Division 2 and the ones that preceded it. The final and third place play-off were full ODIs, the first to be played in Namibia, the first the USA and Namibia had played in well over a decade, and for Oman the first in the Sultanate’s history. Namibia’s last ODI had come at the 2003 World Cup, where they went winless in their six matches, finishing with a 64-run defeat to the Netherlands. They broke that streak in emphatic style on Saturday (April 27) in front of a home crowd as they trounced Oman by 145 runs to claim the Division 2 title in the 5th attempt, a prize they will hold in perpetuity, this being the concluding tournament in the final WCL cycle.

It was a slightly re-jigged Namibian batting order that lined up after skipper Gerhard Erasmus had won the toss and elected to bat first. Karl Birkenstock was returning to the side and promoted to open alongside Stephen Baard, with the early going tough for the hosts as Fayyaz Butt remove Baard after a 37-run opening partnership and the hosts struggled for fluency. The run-rate hovered around 3 an over for much of the Namibian innings, as the left-right spin combo of Zeeshan Maqsood and Aaqib Ilyas kept a lid on the scoring, and regular wickets kept the scoring in check as Erasmus and Craig Williams fell cheaply.

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It wasn’t until Zane Green and eventual player of the tournament JJ Smit came together in the 36th over at 126-5 that the scoring began to accelerate. The pair added 57 for the 6th wicket at around a run a ball, before a run-out did for Green and Smit was caught in the deep off Butt. Christi Viljoen and Jan Frylinck provided some late fireworks to lift the score to 226 at the break, and on a track that had slowed considerably in the past days it was always likely to prove a challenge. In the event it was more than enough, as the Omani batting line-up again subsided in the face of a rampant Namibian seam attack. Jan Frylinck was the stand-out with figures of 5-13, comfortably the best ODI bowling figures for a Namibian and a record likely to stand for a good while Christi Viljoen also finally found his first wickets of the tournament with the help of some athletic action behind the stumps from Zane Green, and Smit fittingly wrapping things up in the 29th over, bagging two wickets in four balls to seal Namibia’s maiden ODI victory.

The USA’s return to ODIs was less illustrious, Timil Patel top-scoring with an unbeaten 50 from number 7 – the USA’s first ODI half-century – as they struggled to a total of 164 on a pitch that looked unrecognisable from the track that Namibia had racked up nearly 400 runs on the day before. The total proved woefully insufficient, PNG needing just 33 overs to see the USA to deny the USA their first ODI win, Lega Siaka starring as they romped home with five wickets in hand.

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Opener Monak Patel had equalled the USA’s previous best-ever score in ODIs after the Americans had been invited to bat first, matching Clayton Lambert’s 39 against New Zealand in the 2004 Champions Trophy, but he had precious little support from the rest of the top order. Nosaina Pokana and Norman Vanua bagged two wickets each in their opening spells as the USA slumped to 78 for 5, Patel himself eventually trapped LBW by Charles Amini’s legspin to leave the States in a hole at 97 for 6. Patel’s half-century was enough to get the US to respectability, and even with just 164 on the board the Americans might have felt they had a chance on a pitch that offered little for the batsmen.

When openers Tony Ura and Assad Vala fell in quick succession early in the PNG reply it seemed as though a grinding, low-scoring thriller might be on the cards, but Lega Siaka’s counter-attacking 62 off 51 swung the momentum back behind the Papuans, and his dismissal in the 30th over with 34 still needed, despite delivering Timil Patel the record for best ever USA ODI bowling figures at 2-34, did little to arrest the momentum. Norman Vanua came out swinging, hitting three sixes in an innings of 28 off 12 to put the game to bed with 17 overs to spare.

Across town at United rumour had it that the teams were less than enthusiastic about even playing the match, despite the advantage of a somewhat preferable draw in the Challenge League up for grabs. Hong Kong played the game in the end of course, but it’s hard to say they really turned up, posting their lowest score of the tournament as they were rolled for 118 in 36 overs. Tournament top-scorer Anshuman Rath lost his leg stump to Cecil Pervez in the 4th over, Hong Kong’s next most productive bat, Kinchit Shah, fell LBW to the same bowler two overs later, and Hong Kong’s innings went rapidly south. Babar Hayat and Scott McKechnie mustered some resistance for the 5th wicket, but Saad bin Zafar’s introduction precipitated a rapid collapse, the left-arm spinner bagging four wickets as Hong Kong capitulated 14 overs before lunch.

Hiral Patel, promoted to open, looked like he planned to get it done before the break, coming out guns blazing as the Canadians briefly looked like booking themselves a full afternoon off, but Tanwir Afzal struck twice to remove Ravi Gunasekera and Bhavindu Adhihetty and the scoring slowed somewhat. Patel brought up his fifty off 43 balls before falling to Mohammad Ghazanfar, and Ehasan Khan picked up two wickets before the end, but Ravindrapal Singh was unperturbed by the wickets falling at the other end, continuing where Patel had left off, his 23-ball 41 seeing Canada home inside of 17 overs.

The result means Hong Kong will be facing arguably the tougher group in the Challenge League come August, drawn with Kenya, Uganda, Jersey, Bemuda and Italy whilst Canada will meet Singapore, Malaysia, Denmark, Vanuatu and Qatar.