Big wins by Scotland and Ireland against nearest rivals Italy and Jersey, respectively, have set the two pre-tournament favorites clear at the top of the table in the ongoing European T20 World Cup Regional Qualifier Final at Edinburgh.
Scotland vs. Italy
Oliver Hairs’ maiden T20I century propelled Scotland to a massive 245-2 victory over an Italy side that many had regarded as a dark horse in the tournament. The Italians were skittled out for 90 in response, as the hosts won their third game in a row. In the afternoon, Ireland surpassed them for first place with their fourth consecutive victory, limiting Jersey to 78-9 and scoring the runs in 10.2 overs to take the lead with two games remaining.
Though Oli Hairs had been in good form since his return to Scotland a week ago, few expected the thrashing he was about to inflict on a team regarded as the third-best in the field. While George Munsey battled against the new ball, finally falling to Grant Stewart for a scratchy 12 off 14, Hairs was already off to a flier, bringing up a far-from-chanceless but brutally demoralizing fifty off only 22 balls.
He found a more fluent partner in Brandon McMullen, but Hairs would still outrun his partner, breaking his personal best of 73 (hit only four days previously against Germany) with a slog-swept six over backward square off Ben Manenti in the 12th over. He quickly raced into the nineties with two more over long off and cover, and then brought up his century by sweeping Jaspreet Singh fine for four in the fifteenth after facing only 40 balls, breaking Munsey’s record for the fastest ever for Scotland by one ball.
McMullen had also reached fifty by that point, doing so in 32 deliveries, and seemed destined to join Hairs in the century club as the Scots smashed past the 200-run mark in the 17th over. McMullen scored 96 in 49 balls but was caught at deep midwicket off Harry Manenti on the final ball of the penultimate over to end the partnership at 183. Hairs remained unbeaten, equaling Munsey’s record of 127, as Scotland won 245-2.
Brad Currie struck with his first delivery, swinging one back in to take Manenti’s off stump, and that didn’t bode well for the Italians; it was an unavoidable foreshadowing of things to come.
Safyaan Sharif hit two in the next over, teaming twice with Gavin Main to catch Marcus Campopiano and Wayne Madsen at midfield in the space of four balls. Currie captured Justin Mosca at extra cover in the next over, and Harry Manenti was run out two balls later, courtesy of McMullen’s direct shot from short midwicket.
Gavin Main also removed Mosca in his first over, then twice in his second when Gian-Piero Meade skied a top edge up for the keeper and Gareth Berg was castled on the first ball. Main removed number ten Jaspreet Singh with the first ball of the 11th over and completed his maiden T20I five-wicket haul in his next as Stewart holed out in the deep for an entertaining but futile and far-inadequate 21-ball 41.
Denmark vs. Austria
Meanwhile, Denmark had won their first match of the competition emphatically, with Nikolaj Laegsgaard and Saud Munir shining with the ball as the Danes defeated Austria 97-9. Saif Ahmad hit his third T20I fifty to help them win by eight wickets and 48 balls.
Austria’s innings had begun promisingly enough, with Iqbal Hossain racing to 20 off just eight deliveries, but Laegsgaard quickly halted the momentum, striking with his first ball to take Navin Wijersekera’s off stump and then pinning Hossein in front with an armball three balls later.
In his next over, skipper and leading scorer Razmal Shigiwal spooned a return catch back to Laegsgaard, and despite Armaan Randhawa digging in for a stubborn 28 off 45, the Austrians never regained the initiative. Laegsgaard would take another return catch to dismiss Mehar Cheema, finishing with 4-19, while Munir would finish with 3-17, including the wicket of Randhawa, Austria falling three short of triple figures and far short of anything defendable.
Two early wickets provided some hope, with Laegsgaard being pressed in front by Nathwani and missing a reverse sweep three balls into the chase and Taranjit Singh slicing a wide full toss from Umair Tariq onto his stumps in the next over, but they were the last to fall. Abdul Hashmi and Saif Ahmed stabilized the batting before ramping up the scoring tempo, with the latter reaching fifty by lifting Akbarjam above his head for four as the pair’s unbroken 84-run stand saw Denmark home comfortably.
Jersey vs. Ireland
Those anticipating a more competitive afternoon encounter were disappointed, as Jersey’s gifted but inexperienced batting lineup collapsed after being called to bat by Ireland. Asa Tribe was the only batter to reach double figures as they battled to 79-9 in 20 overs, a score that was insufficient for Ireland.
Josh Little yorked Julius Sumerauer on the third ball, Josh Greenwood chopped the next low to backward point, where Campher held a wonderful catch, and things didn’t get much better for the Islanders from there. As wickets continued to fall at the other end, Tribe played his shots with vigor, with Barry McCarthy creating particular grief on his way to figures of 3-7. When Tribe was caught off Ben White in the 13th over, the lower order went into survival mode, scoring only 22 runs in the final 40 balls.
In pursuit, Paul Stirling and Andy Balbirnie were quick out of the blocks, putting up a half-century stand in just 31 balls. Despite the fact that Balbirnie was bowled behind the legs for 25 while attempting to sweep Ben Ward with the score on 55, the wicket did little to improve Jersey’s spirits. Stirling pressed on with Lorcan Tucker, and twenty balls later, Ward hit a full toss over square into the trees to secure a nine-wicket triumph and put one foot firmly on the plane to the World Cup.
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