In probably the most nail biting afternoon of cricket seen yet at the Maccabiah Games, five of the six teams struggled it out for places in the medal matches on the final day of league action. In Lod, India knew they needed a big win over the whipping boys from Canada to boost their net run rate, and did about all they could scoring 414 and then dismissing their opponents for 35. At Hadar Yosef, Israel held on for the tightest of wins, edging out South Africa by three runs, whilst in Ashdod, Great Britain scored a fantastic win over Australia in the highly anticipated Maccabiah Ashes clash, needing 37 overs to chase down 133.
The results left five of the six teams equal on three wins, bringing net run rate into the equation to decide on final placements. South Africa, despite their defeat, finished top of the table, Israel, for whom defeat would have meant a fifth place finish, ended up finishing second, whilst among the other teams, Australia, for whom a win would have guaranteed them a finals spot, ended with the most inferior run rate, narrowly behind Great Britain who play India in the bronze medal match.
Israel's win over South Africa is their first in Maccabiah history, whilst reaching the final will be Israel's best Maccabiah achievement, having previously only managed bronze medals in 1981, 1997 and 2009. The game itself was a Hadar Yosef classic. The flicx pitch making scoring difficult, the athletics track around the outfield responsible for halting a couple of certain boundaries, and a good spirited crowd filtering in as the day wore on eventually treated to a dramatic finish.
Hero of the moment was Matan Razpurker, bowling the last over with South Africa in the ascendancy. The last wicket pair had already added 51. Eight runs had come off the previous over. Israel was three runs away from tournament failure, a fifth place finish. And Razpurker delivered an almost-yorker, the wickets were shaken, Razpurker wrote himself a story he can tell his grandchildren.
At 117 for 8 chasing 203 South Africa were in serious trouble. Leg spinner had done what he had done all tournament; put the ball on an agura and become almost impossible to play. His figures of two for nine in 10 overs, five of them maidens, paint the picture. But short of bowlers with Herschel Gutman injured on the sidelines, captain Raymond Aston tried almost the whole team. Nine bowlers were used in total, none of them particularly successfully, and South Africa patiently and skillfully played themselves back into the game. First with a 33-run ninth wicket stand between Wayne Josselsohn (36) and Josh Lazarus, and then the last wicket partnership between Lazarus (29*) and Ryan Levy (26) that came so close to winning the game.
Eshkol Solomon thrives on the big moments. He enjoyed his headline name King Solomon after his heroics against Great Britain, and wanted to stay on his throne. Coming out to bat at 58 for five in the 25th moment, he played perhaps his best innings yet for Israel, and there have been plenty of good ones. On a pitch which the talented Evans (25) took over 30 balls to get off the mark on, Solomon plundered 93. His 61-run eight wicket stand off less than 8 overs with Gabi Schachat (12), and then 28-run partnership with Razpurker (1) for the ninth wicket gave his team something to defend, which they did (by the narrowest of margins).
The good news for the fans is after all the tension and excitement of today, the two teams will be at it again tomorrow.