Bhutan unbeaten in 5 matches, Hong Kong with just one loss, on the opening day, against Nepal. “We don’t want to win the group and lose the knock-out,” said Bhutan’s coach Damber Singh. Hong Kong’s coach Charlie Burke was trying especially hard to relax his team before the match but the normally exclamatory Hong Kong were quietened by tension. It turned out to be a very good match between two closely matched teams. It went to the last over.

Bhutan struck first, Reenu Gill playing on to the bustling Sonam Choden. Mariko Hill, standing head and shoulders above her team-mates, has matured into a fine player, practically the Inzamam-ul-Haq of her team such is the broadness of bat and unhurried manner in which she plays.

Hong Kong’s Mariko Hill takes on Bhutan at Ceylon Sports Club, Singapore

On skill levels the teams were closely matched, on fitness levels, with six matches in eight days, Hong Kong just had the edge. “Running between the wickets, fitness, fielding are what we work on the most, and the players get fitness-tested every two weeks,” says Charlie Burke. With just four matches up to today, and two consecutive days of rest between two of them, Hong Kong were undoubtedly fresher. It was clear that Bhutan’s bowlers were really only effective in 2-over bursts and their fielders, so sharp up to now, were just a little slower to the ball than usual today.

If Mariko Hill has a weakness, it’s that she lets her mind wander at times and she was run out for 7 not paying attention while backing up. Inzamam-like indeed. Yasmin Daswani took on Choening Tenzin at cover for what would at best, have been the tightest of singles, and for all her gazelling was inches short.

Yasmin Daswani: inches out

Hong Kong passed 50 at the start of the 16th over, Dominique McCusker in from the start on 22*. Had Pema Lhaden held her chances at mid-off, Hong Kong would have been under serious pressure to pass 100. Dominique punished most things short and her jigs of delight on scoring boundaries were good to see. She is a run-out waiting to happen though, and a terrible call had Godiva Li stranded yards short. After 20 overs Hong Kong were 77 for 4. Bhutan’s Devika Darjee had stifled the runs just when Hong Kong would have wanted to accelerate and Bhutan’s bowlers were all aiming to bowl an off-stump line and did so more often than not.

Pema Lhaden attempts a catch

Dominique, bruised yet unbowed following a couple of hits to the body, fell five balls short of carrying her bat, for a feisty 44 (73 balls, 2 fours). Hong Kong finished on 99 for 7. Bhutan needed exactly 4 an over to win.

They started slowly, Godiva Li and Ishitaa Gidwani giving the openers Ugyen Dema and Yeshey Choden nothing loose, attacking the stumps with every delivery. Bhutan’s captain, Ugyen Dema is an elegant left-hander with a fine head on her shoulders. She kept out the good deliveries and clipped away anything marginally loose.

Ugyen’s contest with Godiva and Ishitaa was quality cricket. “They have been playing too conservative, today I told them to express themselves more,” said Bhutan’s coach Damber Singh. Ugyen fell, playing on, to the impressive Annie Ho, for 18 off 27 with the score on 29, in the seventh over. Bhutan were up with the rate but really only bat to No. 5. It was going to be a close one.

A crowd had built up, some young Singaporeans who had been practicing in the Ceylon Sports Club nets, a few of their parents and the combined Thailand, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar squads who were going to be playing the afternoon matches at this ground and the adjoining Indian Association.

Thailand were in tears after their loss to UAE yesterday and for every winner there has been real anguish evident too. The teams really want to do well at this level. A place in the U-19 ACC Women’s Championship beckoned.

Hong Kong have been in three ACC women’s semi-finals and lost two. Bhutan were at their first.

Mariko Hill bowled beautifully but found her straight deliveries defended and her best ones too good to be touched, and when an edge off the doughty Dechen Wangmo was found it was spilled. Bhutan kept getting closer and closer. The score was 41-1 after ten overs. Hong Kong needed some tidy overs.

Dechen Wangmo, resolute

Two overs later, an attempted yorker by Mariko Hill beat the batter, the off-stump by inches, the wicket-keeper and fine leg by a couple of feet. Nothing seemed to be going Hong Kong’s way.

Bhutan’s Ugyen Dema scrambles home

Hong Kong’s captain Ishitaa Gidwani rang the bowling changes. With ten overs to go, Bhutan needed 41 with nine wickets in hand. Coming back on at the Balestiere Road End Godiva Li finally broke the second-wicket partnership with the score on 71, in the 19th over. Yeshey Choden beaten by a low full-toss.

Ishitaa Gidwani in full flow

Hong Kong were getting back in it. With six overs to go, Bhutan needed 29. Choening Tenzin tried to hit her way to victory but skewed a catch to Godiva at point and Hong Kong were tightening their hitherto slippery grip on the game. Bhutan had scored just 15 runs between overs 16 to 20 for the loss of two wickets.

Bhutan went the tip-and-run route. The last ball of the 22nd over was floated up by Ishitaa Gidwani from round the wicket – Dechen Wangmo (30*) drove, edged – it went for 4. Bhutan now needed 11 off three overs and then they wanted 6 from the last twelve balls.

Dechen Wangmo edged Ishitaa Gidwaani, the chance going begging again. Three wanted now, nine balls left. Ishitaa ran through her repertoire, a yorker was jammed out. Two runs were wanted off the last over.

Mariko Hill to bowl the last over for Hong Kong; Bhutan’s women on the brink of their most significant victory. Dot ball outside off. Dechen pushed to mid-on, set off for the single, misfield, came back for 2. Bhutan had done it.

“I am very proud of my team. They played like experienced players. Dechen held it together very well. It means a lot to us. This is a good day for Bhutan because Hong Kong are a tough team,” said Damber Singh Gurung after the match, minutes before he took a congratulatory phone call from his Prime Minister.

Player of the Match Dechen Wangmo of Bhutan and Sarika Prasad of the Singapore Cricket Association

Bhutan play Nepal (who beat UAE in the other semi-) in the Final on Tuesday September 12.

ACC Women’s Championship 2010

SF2: Bhutan v Hong Kong at Ceylon Sports Club, Singapore
Hong Kong won the toss and chose to bat
Hong Kong: 99 for 7 off 25 overs (D.McCusker 44, Y.Choden 2-4)
Bhutan: 100 for 3 off 24.2 overs (D.Wangmo 39*; A. Ho 2-21)
Player of the Match: Dechen Wangmo (Bhutan)

Tournament page

Pictures by Iftekhar Haider

Filed October 11th, 2010