Bangladesh, the favourites, sealed their place in the final with a 59-run victory against Hong Kong at Johor Bahru. The result owed much to the guile of little 16-year old left-arm spinner Champa Chakma who took 3 for 16 with a variety of top-spinners, in-cutters and googlies that had all who faced her floundering.
Bangladesh's batting remains, by and large, bright and breezy and there's always the feeling that a wicket could fall the moment they play an attacking shot. Singles aren't fancied in case, thus the false economy of a hard hit is chosen. To generate power the players swing the bat hard; inevitably, more shots than not go in the air.
Salma Khatun and Panna Ghosh are alone in being able to drive on the off on the front foot along the ground and look a class apart from their team-mates. Their partnership of 37 in a little over 10 overs for the fourth wicket did much to steady Bangladesh after they'd lost two wickets in two balls in the eighth over.
When Khatun was out, flat-batting firmly to a terrific diving catch at cover by Samantha McIlwraith, Bangladesh were just about getting their noses in front. Three more wickets fell for 10 however, and Hong Kong were back in the game.
Had Panna Ghosh been held at long-on when on 28 (one of three chances she offered) and two run-out chances taken, Bangladesh would have been struggling. Her partnership with the bustling Tithi Rani Sarker at the end of the innings ran Hong Kong ragged. Twenty runs were put on in the last four overs and Bangladesh managed to reach their pre-match target of 100.
They thought it would be enough. One obstacle remained however, Hong Kong's captain Neisha Pratt. Until she was out, Bangladesh couldn't rest. Pratt came in at 4 so as to better negotiate the perceived spin-treat of Bangladesh and when she took guard with her team at 14 for 2, the innings rested on her shoulders. Ghosh's pace was negotiated safely and one could sense that Pratt was just playing herself in, looking to build a platform for her side's victory.
Chakma's second delivery fizzed past the edge, Pratt was out of her crease and the bails were whipped off. Even Bangladesh's manager screamed with joy.
If Chakma was too good for Pratt, she was way too good for the rest. Barely nudging four foot and from a part of Bangladesh (the Chittagong Hills) that didn't know of cricket until the 21st century, Chakma possesses a repertoire of which Monty Panesar would be proud.
The ball that did for Renee Montgomery would have foxed anyone and had even the umpire from her end, S. Chandrasekaran admiring it. He said after the match's conclusion, "Through the air it looked like it was going to the off, and the batsman shaped to drive, on pitching it just darts in and takes leg-stump. She has one that bounces, one that moves away and one that moves in, there's one that gets quicker off the pitch....." Spinners took six of the Hong Kong wickets to fall.
Chakma is pretty good and so is Hong Kong's left-arm prodigy thirteen year-old Chan Sau Har. She gets prodigious bat-beating turn herself and has major star-quality. It wasn't her or Hong Kong's day today. Bangladesh were just too good.
"It's a learning curve for both teams," said Hong Kong's coach Lal Jayasinghe. "The gap between Bangladesh and the other Test-playing countries of Asia is like the gap between us and them, but take the best young players from both teams and give them every chance to improve, within a few years they'll be a match for the rest."
Hong Kong captain Neisha Pratt said: "There are many positives we can draw from this tournament. Our young players really got stuck in and showed a lot of character especially in the bowling department.
"Clearly our batting has been disappointing and we'll be working hard on this area. We've now seen the level of competition in Asian women's cricket and, with a lot of hard work from the squad and continuing provision of resources Hong Kong can be confident of competing successfully at this and higher levels moving forward."
Bangladesh will meet Nepal in the final on July 18 after they defeated China in the other semi final.