Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions
Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - AL-AMARAT: On the evening of the second day of the ACC Premier Cup, my taxi driver rubbed the tips of his fingers together, not in anticipation of money but to indicate that something was in the air.

If he meant rain, he was correct. People woke early in Muscat on day three, Sunday, to the sound and sight of medium to heavy rain. Forecasts indicated that it would die away by 11 a.m. This turned out to be the case. The ground staff got to work on turf two at Al-Amarat, clearing the covers, rolling the wicket and preparing the outfield, which had dried very quickly.

Fortunately, only two matches were scheduled for day three, both on turf two. The first was Oman v Cambodia; the second, Hong Kong v Saudi Arabia. Play commenced at noon on turf two with Oman batting in a match reduced to 11 overs per side.

Prior to that, at 11:45, the covers came off turf one, the roller went to work, along with associated preparations. Perhaps turf one would be used for the second game of the day, thus allowing a full quota of overs for the first match. However, it seemed that, despite those preparations, turf one would be rested. The day’s second match was to be played to the 20 overs per team. It would have been interesting to see how the matches would have been balanced in terms of overs had four games been scheduled for day three.

Oman were asked to bat first, and lost a wicket in the first over. Undeterred, the batters sought to score quickly, given the reduced number of overs. Seventeen came off the third over, 18 off the fifth, largely off the bat of Naseem Khushi, who finally perished with 69 in the eighth over. Further hitting in the final two overs propelled the total to 154 for five.

Cambodia made a steady start in the first five overs, scoring 44 runs, but their innings unraveled in dramatic fashion in the sixth over, bowled by Aqib Ilyas. The first ball was scooped to deep square, where the fielder could not get his hands to the ball. However, off the next ball, Viraj was caught at deep midwicket, Beukes came in and was bowled first ball, followed by Godara, who misread the delivery, cutting it onto his stumps, to give Ilyas a hat-trick.

After that, wickets continued to fall, only captain Luqman Butt displaying resistance in a lone fight, ending undefeated on 41 out of 91 for seven.

There had been little danger of an upset after the first five overs of the game, but the scene was set for Saudi Arabia to achieve the first one of the tournament, after a disappointing defeat in the first match. The team elected to bat and a different intent was visible from the outset. Although S. Khan was dismissed in the fourth over, Abdul Waheed, who could easily have been run out in the same over, stroked his way to 77 in partnership, first with F. Khan, 30, and then with Manan Ali, 44, whose straight hitting was instrumental in Saudi reaching an imposing 202 for eight.

It was the team’s second highest T20I total after the 221 for three against Bhutan on Feb. 15, 2024. Indeed, the team’s top five T20I totals have all been scored in 2024. Signs, perhaps, of a team on the rise.

In Saudi’s first match on day two, the bowlers had impressed. If a defense of 202 was to be achieved, they needed to impress again. Despite an early success for Ishtiaq Ahmad, who pinned Y. Murtaza lbw, the opening bowlers were not at their best, conceding 57 runs in five overs. The introduction of captain Hisham Shaikh turned out to be inspirational. Out of nowhere, for no reason, A. Rath skied a catch, and two balls later B. Hayat pulled a shortish ball into the deep but straight to a fielder who took a fine catch above his head.

In the first match Saudi had reduced Malaysia to 53 for five after 10 overs, but failed to make that advantage count. In this match, the introduction of slow left armer Zain Ul Abidin was responsible for restricting the progress of Hong Kong. He bowled four overs and claimed three wickets for only 16 runs. When his spell ended, Hong Kong were 106 for six after 13 overs, requiring another 97 runs in seven overs at 14 per over. This was beyond the capabilities of Nizakat Khan, who made a defiant 73 in a lost cause as the innings closed on 147 all out, 55 runs adrift.

This is likely to represent a landmark victory; a sign of a team adapting to the demands of a higher level of competition, especially after the day two defeat.

Perhaps that has galvanized the team. It does mean that in Group A Nepal lead the way with four points from two matches, followed by three teams, each with two points — Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong — with Qatar bottom with no points. The stage is set for a probable three-way battle for second place.

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