Portugal was privileged to play host to the fourth European Cricket Council's (E.C.C.) Indoor Cricket Championship. The tournament took place over the weekend of 10-11 February and was held in the Mafra municipal area and played in two venues - the indoor sports stadium at Malveira and Venda do Pinheiro.
Twelve countries participated in this year's tournament, the largest yet - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland.
The round robin section of the tournament was played in two groups of six teams, played at the two venues.
With a squad of eight players, all of whom play in the Lisbon section of the Portuguese Indoor Cricket League, Portugal became the first team to have won the trophy on three out of four occasions.
Portugal were drawn to play in the Malveira group with Belgium, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece and Switzerland.
Germany were drawn to play Portugal in the opening game, won the toss and decided to bat. Carlo Buccimazza sent out Portugal's message of intent when he opened the bowling by clean bowling German opener Phillip Bachstadt with his first delivery of the tournament. Four balls later he had the number three batsman Colin Godbold caught behind by Torben Rankine without scoring, leaving the Germans reeling with two wickets down for only one run. Two overs later, he accounted for the other opener, Jakob Bumke, also clean bowling him.
Middle order batsman, Alex Boreham (18*) was the only batsman to offer some resistance with Nelson Ferreira and Harish Ramgi mopping up the tail - Germany all out for 35 runs in 6.5 overs. Portugal s response was Rankine and Ferreira taking 22 runs off the first over, reaching the target in 3.4 overs, with the loss of only one wicket.
In their second game Portugal faced Belgium, an unknown quantity whom they had never played before. Belgium won the toss and put Portugal in to bat.
Rankine and Ferreira set about attacking the bowling from the start only to loose Rankine (9) in the second over, caught Kurt Osaer from the bowling of Sheraz Rafi.
Paulo Buccimazza joined Ferreira and the two kept piling on the runs until Ferreira (25*) was forced to retire. Malesh Racicchandra then joined Paulo in the scoring spree until Paulo (29*) was forced to retire, only to be replaced by brother Carlo, who took off from where his brother had left off, scoring at close to 15 runs an over.
Malesh (17) trying to drive over the top was caught and bowled in the 9th over, leaving Rajendra and Carlo to push the total to 137 runs for the loss of three wickets at the end.
Belgium responded cautiously initially with openers Shafiek Rafi and Stijn Vanbossenghem scoring at only seven runs an over. They managed to push the run rate up until Sheraz Rafi was forced to retire.
His brother Faisal, who replaced him, trying to push for runs was well run out by Ferreira three balls later. His replacement Chirag Kothari faced only two balls - hit one six and was clean bowled next delivery by Paulo Buccimazza.
With the score unchanged Ferreira had Vanbossenghem (18) run out and with his next delivery he clean bowled replacement Yves Plancke, leaving Belgium all out for 69 runs, and Portugal victorious by 68 runs.
Their third game was against old rivals Greece. Greece won the toss and elected to bat.
Openers George Stogianos and Spiros Nikokavouras although cautious initially, tried to set about attacking the bowling, only to find the going tough with Portugal producing some excellent fielding and some tight bowling. The third over saw Stogianos retire with the score on 36 runs. Stamatis Giorugas who replaced him was well stumped by Rankine off the second delivery he faced from Ferreira.
This sparked a middle order collapse with both Alexis Souvlakis bowled and Tasos Gialourakos run out by Paulo Buccimazza, both without scoring. This however, brought Stogianos (42) back to the wicket and he helped add another 39 runs in the last 3 overs before he was run out by Rankine on the last delivery, leaving Portugal to chase a total of 95 runs.
Rankine and Ferreira again laid the foundation of the innings, scoring at 10 runs an over from the outset. Both retired with the score in the 60's, leaving Paulo and Malesh to continue the attack. Malesh (8) was narrowly run out, bringing Carlo to join his brother and see Portugal to victory with two and-a-half overs to spare.
The last game of the day was against an injury depleted Swiss team. Switzerland won the toss and elected to bat only to be dismissed for a total of 18 runs in 4,2 overs. Portugal took 1.3 overs to make the required target and the teams set off for Ericeira and a well-earned rest.
Sunday saw the sun shining and most players still looking a bit jaded after the long day of cricket they had had the day before.
In the 2nd game of the day Portugal faced Gibraltar, playing in the tournament for the first time. Gibraltar won the toss and they elected to bat. Gareth Balban and Ian Farrell opened for Gibraltar and attacked the bowling from the opening over, both retiring unbeaten. The only wickets to fall came in the 8th and 10th over, two stumpings by Rankine off the bowling of Paulo, and the tailender Ryan Gonzalez roofed out to Rajendra Pancha off the second to last ball, leaving Gibraltar on 110 runs for the loss of three wickets.
Rankine and Paulo Buccimazza opened for Portugal and attacked the bowling from the opening delivery. Pushing for runs Rankine (16) was run out with the score on 57, bringing Miguel Menezes to the crease. Six runs later Paulo (26*) retired and Rajendra joined Menezes. Rajendra (8) didn't last long before being bowled by John Gordon. Carlo Buccimazza joined Menezes and the pair added 19 runs before Carlo was caught trying to force the pace off the last ball of the penultimate over. Harish (9*) and Menezes (21*) then managed to take 16 runs off the final over, giving Portugal victory by two wickets.
This left Portugal the clear winner of the Malveira group with Greece the runner-up.
In the Venda do Pinheiro group Holland were the clear winners, having won all their group matches, with Austria, Denmark and Spain tied for the runner up spot. Using net run rates to decide 2nd, 3rd and 4th places, Spain and Austria remained tied, with Denmark only 0.03 behind them. Spain eventually went through by virtue of their win against Austria. Portugal then had to move venue to play Spain in the one semi-final, and Holland moved venue to play Greece in the other semi-final.
This was Spain's second appearance in the Indoor Championships, having first played in the 2000 tournament at home. The Spaniards won the toss and elected to field.
Rankine and Ferreira opened confidently and were scoring well until Ferreira (10) was trapped leg before in the third over by Climent Yarwod. Paulo Buccimazza then joined Rankine and they continued to keep the runs flowing getting the run rate up to 12 runs per over.
In the 8th over Paulo (18) was dismissed caught and bowled by Gonzalez Molina. Menezes then joined Rankine briefly, until Rankine retired. This left Malesh and Menezes to bat out the 10 overs, the score finishing on 106 runs for two wickets.
In reply, Spain opened with Pedro Venus and Climent Yarwood and both batted confidently and were well on target with regards to run rate until Venus was forced to retire, bringing Rodriguez Martinez to the crease.
The turning point came in the 5th over when Climent Yarwood (18) was well run out by Menezes. This brought Gonzalez Molina in to bat and the run rate slowed. Two overs later Gonzalez (9) found himself trapped leg before to Carlo Buccimazza and the target looked a little further away for Spain.
Bowling the 8th over, Ferreira conceded only 8 runs putting more pressure on the batsmen. Malesh bowling the 3rd ball of the 9th over tempted Rodriguez (14) to play up and Paulo took the catch. Next delivery saw replacement Cortez Kleiman bowled, bringing Venus back to the crease. Next delivery was a dot ball, spoiling Malesh's chance of a hat trick. However, the next delivery saw Venus (25) roof out to Malesh and Portugal had won by 26 runs and were through to their third final in four years.
In the other semi-final Greece lost a nail-biter to the trophy holders Holland by 7 runs. This set the stage for a Holland - Portugal final. The teams had previously met in the semi-final of the 2000 competition in Spain and Portugal, the then trophy holders, lost by 6 runs.
It was Portugal's first home appearance in the final of the European Indoor Championships, in front of a partisan home crowd and with national television coverage (although delayed).
Portugal won the toss and elected to field. Reinder Lubbers and Geert Mol opened for Holland. From the second over the runs started flowing, mainly thanks to Mol. At one stage they were scoring at 15 runs an over but this slowed when Mol retired. His replacement Moishin Ghaznavi was well run out by Carlo at the non-strikers end without facing a ball off the next delivery. Thomas Osborne then came to the crease and 3 runs later Nils Lenstra replaced the retiring Lubbers.
With a new pair at the wicket the run rate slowed for a while but picked up in pace, despite some determined fielding from the Portuguese squad. Lenstra and Osborne retired in the 9th and 10th overs, respectively, having helped set up the final score of 125 runs for 1 wicket.
Portugal's response was emphatic. Openers Rankine and Ferreira set about the runs from the first over and by the time Rankine retired in the 4th over the run rate was at 12 runs per over. Paulo Buccimazza joined Ferreira and the pair added another 13 runs before Ferreira retired.
Paulo was then joined by Menezes and runs kept coming and in the sixth over were scoring at 14 runs an over. In the process Paulo (15) lofted a ball to Lubbers on the boundary wall off the bowling of Osborne, bringing Malesh to the wicket. Two overs Lenstra had Menezes (14) trapped leg before, but despite the loss of wickets the run rate was on target.
Malesh and Carlo Buccimazza kept Portugal's hopes alive with some determined batting and running between the wickets. Trying for runs off every delivery, saw Carlo (11) caught behind off Ghaznavi on the last delivery of the penultimate over, with Portugal 13 runs short of victory.
This brought Rankine back to the crease at the non-strikers end. Lubbers' first delivery of the final over to Malesh was a dot ball. The next delivery Malesh dispatched for six runs and the partisan crowd erupted.
With four deliveries remaining and seven runs required the crowd sensed victory, only to be brought back to earth when Malesh was run out taking a risky run off the next delivery.
This brought Ferreira back in to join Rankine, with three balls remaining and seven runs required. The next next deliveries yielded three runs each, leaving the scores tied with one delivery remaining. There was a hushed silence in the Malveira stadium as Rankine faced the young Lubbers for the final delivery.
Unbeknown to Rankine the delivery was adjudged wide by Swiss umpire Gooda, and not making contact with the ball set off for a run with the keeper holding the ball in his gloves. Realising the run was not on, he turned to see the bails being lifted by the keeper and Portugal were all out.
Confusion reigned for a few minutes when both teams thought that they had won - Holland because Portugal was all out and if the wide did not count the scores were tied and they had only lost one wicket and Portugal because if the wide counted they were one run ahead despite the loss of the fifth wicket.
The umpires and match referee conferred and according to the new laws (2000) the wide counted as it had occurred before the run out/stumping and Portugal had regained the European Cricket Council Indoor Championship.
The crowd erupted and the scenes of jubilation were unsurpassed at any other cricket event ever held in Portugal. It was sad that there had to be a winner and a loser, but in the end cricket was the winner.
At the gala dinner on Sunday night both Ian Stuart (ECC Development Manager) and Roger Knight (MCC Chief Executive) commented on the level of cricket played in the final and the intrigue and excitement that the final delivery had produced. Test umpire, John Holder, who had acted as principal umpire during the tournament, presented Mohsin Ghaznavi of Holland with the Player of the Tournament award.
Favourable comments were received from all the participating teams and officials about the tournament and overall it was a tremendous success. Portugal can be proud, not only of their national team and the cricket they played, but of the hospitality shown to the visiting teams and the level of organisation of the event by Peter Eckersley, F tima Buccimazza, Jayesh Popat and the Hindu community of Lisbon and the Municipality of Mafra.