Another round of cancellations bit into what little cricket remained this week, as both Namibia and Hong Kong announced their domestic seasons were being put on ice. This comes as a steady stream of boards mothballed their seasons, including Bermuda, Argentina, Brazil, and Ireland’s planned series against Bangladesh in England. For a full list of COVID-19 cancellations, check this regularly-updated list.
What little cricket that was played last week came from Namibia, where the Richelieu-sponsored T20 league played its first round of group fixtures. After getting off to a good start on the first day, BA Blasting kept their lead at the top of the table by winning both their matches on the second day’s play – first, young star Jan Balt linked up with the ever-reliable Gerhard Erasmus as the pair put on a solid partnership for the second wicket against M&M Signs Strikers. Wickets fell regularly thereafter but the rest of the side were able to contribute enough to carry Blasting to a middling total of 139/8. Nicolaas Scholtz, former national-team legspinner and brother of Blasting left-armer Bernard, was the pick of the Strikers bowlers with a miserly 1/17 from his 4, while Tangeni Lungameni (who had impressed in the recent development series against the Ireland Wolves) chipped in with 2/23. It was all in vain though. The Strikers’ batting lineup folded cheaply, with U19s prospect Divan la Cock (42) the only resistance in 88 all out, as Bernard Scholtz outdid (and dismissed LBW) his brother on the way to 4/14.
In their next game, BA Blasting again triumphed, but the King Price Kings pushed them to their closest margin of the competition. Another middling total (138/6), and another Erasmus knock (31 off 21) propelled the middle order, before Matthew de Gouveia (44 off 36) steered the back end of the innings. Danie van Schoor (2/17) and Mauritius Ngupita (1/9) were the pick of the bowlers for KPK. After finishing second on the tournament run tally, Erasmus was just as crucial to his side’s defence, claiming two wickets with his surprisingly effective offspin, as well as a runout to round off an excellent all-round match. His national team colleague Pikky Ya France (40 off 33) seemed to be guiding the chase for the Kings, but when Scholtz castled him in the 17th over the chase was derailed.
The other two matches saw MR24/7 Emergency Services continue their winless streak, first against the Kings. Led by national team star, and top runscorer for the event, JP Kotze (47 off 34), KPK posted their highest total of the competition in 148/6 – though it would have been a lot more without the efforts of Services and Namibia bowler Ben Shikongo. Of the six wickets to fall, he had a hand in 5 of them, claiming 4/22 and effecting a runout in his final over for good measure. Unfortunately, his batting colleagues were unable to support him. Services skipper Zane Green (59 off 40) battled gamely, but a rather sluggish support act from Malan Kruger (42 off 45), followed by a double-strike by the Kings just as the chase needed to pick up steam, meant that the KPK bowlers were able to choke off any momentum and leave Services 6 runs short at 142/4 off their 20. Pikky Ya France showed his versatility, claiming 1/18 with a smothering spell of offspin.
Finally, Services capped the last day of topflight cricket in Namibia (and possibly the world) for the foreseeable future with an abject display of batting as they limped to 80/9 from a full 20 overs against the Strikers. This came after MMS ran into a dream spell from allrounder Ramon Wilmot, whose legspin snared 5/28 as the Strikers crumbled for just 95, with Shaun Fouche’s 34 (28) the only resistance. He was ably supported by Ben Shikongo (1/8), Christiaan Schumacher (1/12), and John-Eric Thierauch (1/2) but, as with the performance against the Kings, Services bowling unit were let down by the batsmen. MMS put the squeeze on from the outset, with Nicolaas Scholtz (2/10) and Tangeni Lungameni (2/9) again impossible to get away, while Steven Delport’s seamers scalped 3/15. Malan Kruger’s patient 29 (36) showed more application than anyone else in the Services lineup, but without support he was unable to guide the team close enough to the target as the chase simply fizzled out. It was a disappointing end to a tournament that was shaping up for an exciting finals series before COVID-19 forced the hand of organisers.
In a strange quirk of fate, one of the last matches of cricket to be played before the escalating coronavirus-related cancellations was actually a women’s match in Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom Sports Complex in Jeddah in fact saw the first match of women’s cricket ever played in the country as part of the Abeer Medical Group’s 20-year celebrations, with two multinational teams comprising citizens of 8 countries: Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan and Egypt. Also related to the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 project, the match was another example of the once-closed Kingdom’s efforts to present a more open and Western-friendly face to the world as they look to diversify their economy away from oil. The question of course is how much it is a PR exercise and how much it represents genuine change (especially for women). At Emerging Cricket, we certainly hope for the latter.
Finally, in some surprising news, Cambodia has announced a tour of Singapore by a Board XI. As a non-ICC member, it is rare for them to play international cricket, so the series in mid-April is also planned as an opportunity to assess their on-field skills and readiness to apply for ICC membership. Administrators have been given assurances by the Singapore Cricket Association that stringent health measures will be in place, and the Singpaorean government has also received plaudits for its management of the situation so far, with extensive testing and tracking programmes in place. However, with the tour almost 3 weeks away, and unpredictable developments in the pandemic always a possibility, the tour remains provisional at this stage.