5th/6th Playoff: IRAN CRACKS CHINA

They've had some memorable matches in the past, and today's was the closest of them all. The Iran players themselves said afterwards, "China have improved a lot". In this battle between the two strong bowling teams it was Iran who just got home, by 1 wicket in the playoff for 5th place at the new Royal Chiang Mai Golf Club Cricket Ground.

Iran have brought a young team to Thailand, the first step of their rebuilding phase, a few veterans remain but it is a team with several teenagers, the youngest, off-spinner Afshin Tirehdast who's 14. China by comparison, are seasoned veterans in their early 20s, playing with far greater confidence and competence than before. As much as their game has developed in the past two years, one weakness remains. An inability to play spin. Iran's captain Abdolvahab Ebrahimpour brought his spinners on early after winning the toss, and on a true wicket, offering a little bit of purchase, they got to work like Thai reflexologists on China's Achilles heel.

Iran's teenage match-winners Tirehdast and Lashari

China's batters let the ball come to them when playing spin as opposed to coming out to meet it, as they do to the faster men and were simply rendered strokeless against Tirehdast and left-arm spinner Hossein Lashari. Only Song Yangyang reached double-figures, and most of his runs came against the seamers. Iran dropped catches too, and could have had China out for far less than 79 though they on balance will admit that they had the rub of the green at the end of the day. For the Iranian boys who havent seen this quality of turf let alone this amount of it ever before, playing in this tournament has been a privilege and they didn't want to leave the ground today as losers.

China though have added considerable fighting heart to their developing skills. Cries of Jaiyo (literally 'more fuel') don't ring out anymore, the on-field encouragement is in 'cricket English', 'bowling, bowling, keep the pressure on' and with the new ball in their hands, China's opening bowlers are a real handful. Zhang Yufei is the fastest bowler in China, varying his length and bowling an off-stump line at some pace and in his captain Wang Lei at the other end, forms a potent partnership. They took 5 wickets between them, always threatening more, and with Wang Jing the little leg-spinner chipping in with three wickets, Iran were having to fight hard for their runs.

A 30-run partnership for the fifth wicket between Iran's captain Ebrahimpour ("He does nothing else but play cricket," says the team manager Saeed Behrozi) and the veteran ShirMohammed Balouchnezad steadied Iran after they had been reduced to 26 for 4 after nine overs. It was a spell of sustained quality cricket, Zhang Yufei And Wang Lei kept the ball on and around off-stump, the two right-handers left as many as they could, dropping wrists and on balls that climbed, as three slips lay waiting, playing with terrific discipline and scoring only off anything pitched up.

Ebrahimpour fell to a leg-break, caught by a juggling slip and then Balouchnezad, playing his last-innings for Iran, after playing with considerable discretion went after a delivery tossed up higher and mistimed it completely, the ball caught head-high by mid-off. It looked like the game was going to be China's but "we weren't worried, we have batsmen all the way down", said Loghman Sheikhi. Nevertheless, the worries were written deep on the forehead of their coach, and going into lunch, with 21 wanted by Iran, and four wickets for China, it was anybody's game. (If Iran hadn't bowled 18 wides, many the result of slipping in their delivery strides, they'd have already won, but spiked shoes are a luxury their Federation cannot yet afford given that they play so much of their cricket at home on concrete and sand.)

China's Zhang Yufei

Three more wickets fell, Zhang Yufei bowling himself out and knocking over Tirehdast's off-stump after he'd defended 22 balls for no score. Lashari was run out going for a second after some hesitation, with eight runs still wanted. 72 for 8 became 77 for 9 two overs later, as Sajed Raeisi miscued to mid-off. It became the proverbial one-ball game. And so it proved, Wang Jing firing one down leg with the scores tied.

The disappointment was written large on the Chinese cricketers' faces, a second win in the tournament would not at all have been undeserved.

Cricket Association of Thailand's Parn Poshyanonda hands over the Man of the Match award to Iran's Afshin Tirehdast

Both teams look like they're ready to make further strides in what is developing into a fine rivalry.

Pictures by Suphanan Khamyuong

ACC Trophy Challenge 2012, Day 6
5th/6th Playoff: Iran v China at Royal Chiang Mai Golf Club
Iran won the toss and elected to field
China: 79 all out off 30.2 overs (A.Tirehdast 4-8, H.Lashari 3-11)
Iran: 80 for 9 off 33 overs (Z.Yufei 3-25, W. Jing 3-12)
Man of the Match: Afshin Tirehdast (Iran)

Tournament Page

Filed December 12th, 2012