From the beautiful island of Malta, European Cricket Network had the pleasure of live broadcasting to a global audience the thrilling five-match T20i Series between Belgium and Malta between 8-10 July.
The five-match T20I series between Malta and Belgium came to an end with Belgium winning the series 3-2 in the fifth and final match on Saturday. Ranked 43 - 15 places ahead of Malta, Belgium were clearly the better team, finding ways to extract themselves fromprecarious situations and stamp their authority on all five games.
The first four games of the series were all low scoring and won by the chasing team. Hosts Malta started off on a positive note winning the opener as they chased down a below par total of 100 with six wickets and 22 balls to spare. Bowlers Bilal Muhammad and Ashok Bishnoi both enjoyed outstanding debuts, picking up four wickets between them for just 34 runs in their seven overs.
In Match 2, Belgium bounced back strongly to restrict Malta to a paltry 50. Burhan Niaz, on international debut, wreaked havoc running through the Malta batting lineup with man of the match figures of 4-8 in his four overs. The openers did the job for BEL winning the game inside six overs to share the spoils on the opening day.
Day 2 saw Belgium take the lead in a thrilling third T20I of the series. Put into bat, Malta could only manage 114 runs in their 20 overs. Belgium started the chase poorly, losing four wickets inside the powerplay. It was Burhan Niaz who provided stability during the run chase. The all-rounder toughed it out with an unbeaten 20 off 53 balls. His gritty innings allowed Saber Zakhil and Sheraz Sheikh to play freely at the other end, helping Belgium cross the line with nine balls to spare.
With two games scheduled on the final day, Belgium was 2-1 ahead and the series was theirs to lose. In a surprise decision to bat first, Belgium were all out for 128. Malta didn’t start well either, losing wickets at regular intervals. With 24 runs required in two overs, Bilal Muhammad smashed 19 runs off Khalid Ahmadi in the penultimate over to bring the equation down to five off six deliveries. Play was halted due to a breach of the Code of Conduct by a Belgium player. Although the match resumed and Belgium won by three runs, a five-run penalty was imposed on Belgium which meant Malta squared the series at 2-2 setting up a mouthwatering decider.
Winning their fourth toss of the series, Belgium elected to bat again and were successful in posting a big total this time. Opener Hadisullah Tarakhel and all-rounder Saber Zakhil scored fifties in quick time to take the score to 172. Unlike on previous occasions, Malta enjoyed a good start and were right in the game at the halfway mark, just one down with 83 runs on the board. Heinrich Gericke scored a magnificent 55 off 33 balls, but other batsmen failed to deliver after his dismissal. Ultimately, MAL were bundled out for 133 handing BEL the series victory.
Belgium opener Hadisullah Tarakhel finished as leading run scorer with 142 runs and was clearly the best batsman in the tournament. Waseem Abbas of Malta was awarded the best bowler award for picking up the joint most seven wickets in the tournament. Debutant Burhan Niaz bagged the Most Valuable Player award for his all-round performance in the series. He picked up seven wickets at an economy of just 4.50 and scored an unbeaten 20 runs in the third match to take his side home in a crunch chase.