Belgium continued a good run of form with the 2-1 triumph over the Austrians in a quickfire T20I series in Brussels.
Belgium this weekend overcame continental rivals Austria in a quickfire T20I series in Brussels. Coming on the heels of their successful five-match tour to Malta, the hosts continued a good run of form with the 2-1 triumph over the Austrians on Saturday and Sunday.
Played at the historic Royal Belgian Cricket Club in Waterloo, Belgium fielded with a new-look side with five debutants in the series. The first match was a run-fest, with Austria posting 195/7 in their quota after being asked to bat by Belgium at the toss.
They were led by a dominant display from skipper Razmal Shigiwal (60 off 33) and a late blast from wicketkeeper Abrar Bilal (30 off 11). Belgium’s new captain Sheraz Sheikh rotated through seven bowlers, but left-arm orthodox Murid Ekrami (0/30 off 4) was the only one to keep the scoring rate below 8 as the tourists ran riot.
Belgium’s top order hit back though, with openers Muhammad Muneeb (70* off 53) and Aziz Mohammad (67 off 29) blasting a 109-run partnership within the first 10 overs. Another left-arm orthodox in Shahil Momin was the pick of the Austrian bowlers (1/27 off 4), but he lacked support, and Belgium rollicked along to the target of 196 just 3 wickets down in 18 overs exactly.
The Saturday afternoon game was a see-sawing affair, and a lot more bowler-friendly, as Austria elected to bowl and made significant inroads early. Shahil Momin (2/13 off 4) was again effective early as he grabbed the first wicket, but the star of the show was seamer Aqib Iqbal.
Iqbal gutted the Belgian top and middle order with an astonishing 5/5 off his allotment, with the entire top seven gone for single figures. Belgium were staring down the barrel at 14/8 after just six overs, but big-hitting all-rounder Saber Zakhil counterattacked in remarkable fashion as he thumped eight sixes on his way to 100* off just 47 deliveries.
The hosts lost no more wickets as Zakhil received stout support from Saqlain Ali (26* off 39) on the way to 146/8 off their full complement of overs. The stunning knock was the first century from a batter at No.8 or below in T20Is, and the 132-run partnership between Zakhil and Ali set the T20I record for the ninth wicket.
In their chase, the Austrians seemed unable to quite believe what had happened, and Murid Ekrami (2/18 off 3) again picked up early wickets. The sluggish response ultimately cost them as the rain clouds gathered above Waterloo, and when the heavens opened at 37/3 in 6.1 overs, they ended 12 runs behind on the DLS calculations.
Sunday saw Austria come back for a consolation win, though one lacking the eye-catching drama of the previous day. Opting to bat first, Belgium were once more in trouble early as Momin (2/26 off four) and Iqbal (3/25 off four) again did the damage, but this time there was no miracle - Zakhil, promoted to No.6, scored just 4 off 9 before he was foxed by offspinner Amit Nathwani (2/16 off his 4 to keep the pressure on the middle order) and departed with the hosts in the hole at 39/6.
Wicket-keeper Ali Raza (31* off 23) shepherded the tail as they limped to 103/9 off their 20, but it was not enough. After an early wobble at 12/2 in 3 overs, the Austrians went into cruise control with skipper Razmal Shigiwal, Arsalan Arish and Abrar Bilal all passing 20 on the way to the victory mark of 104/4 with 16 deliveries to spare.
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