Defeats for top-seeded sides Spain and Belgium, at the hands of Croatia and the Isle of Man respectively, threw the European Division 3 championship wide open on its opening day on Sunday.
Finland’s victory over Portugal also went against the form book, with Malta producing the day’s most comfortable win – and the only one by a side batting second – by defeating Cyprus by seven wickets.
In Antwerp, Croatia made the top score of the day after winning the toss, largely due to an opening partnership of 95 between brothers Paul and John Vujnovich. Skipper John was the more cautious of the pair, contributing just 19 of the stand, but after he was out Paul went on to make 71.
Once he was stumped, the first of two wickets for Spain’s Wasim ur Rehman, the Croatian innings lost some of its momentum, but with Jeffrey Grzinich holding up one end Phillip Siljeg made a rapid 19 not out in the final overs to see the side through to 198 for six.
Spain reached 100 for two by the 31st over in response, but when Siljeg removed opener Chris Harris for 31 and Wasim ur Rehman was forced to retire five overs later, the game started to turn Croatia’s way. Spanish captain Graham Howe made 32, but when he was LBW to Chris Pivac the score was 142 for five.
Zahid Abbas Syed contributed 21 off 23 balls as the Spanish total came ever closer to the target, but Siljeg again broke through to take the ninth wicket with 22 still needed. Ur Rehman now returned, but the final pair could manage only 5 before Philip Beal was run out to give the Croatians victory.
Siljeg finished with three for 36, while John Vujnovich and Grzinich took two wickets each.
In the other Group A match, at Royal Brussels CC, newly-promoted Finland reached 171 for nine after winning the toss and electing to bat. Captain Timo Ilva top-scored with 32, while for Portugal Syed Bukhari, Nadeem Butt and Babar Khan took two wickets each.
The Portuguese openers, skipper Akbar Saiyad and Muhammad Asif, put on 58, but after Saiyad was bowled by Amrik Bhatia and the players were off the field for more than an hour because of rain, wickets began to fall steadily. Rizwan Khaliq and Intesab Mehdi added 33 for the fifth wicket, but Bhatia took three for 31 and Petteri Moilanen five for 17 as the last five Portuguese wickets added just 31 runs and the side was all out for 139 to give Finland a 36-run victory.
In Group B runs were even more at a premium. At Antwerp CC's ground in Rumst, Belgium reduced the Isle of Man to 41 for five after winning the toss and putting the opposition in, but the Manx were rescued by a 77-run stand for the sixth wicket between Gareth Morris and former Minor Counties player Graeme Garrett.
Morris was eventually out for 38, but Garrett's was the last wicket to fall, and only after he had made 60 from 81 balls, with two fours and three sixes. Shar Khan was the most successful of the Belgian bowlers, taking two of the first three wickets and then coming back to take two more, finishing with four for 28.
The Belgian innings followed a similar pattern, Scott Pearce collecting four for 17 as the hosts collapsed to 45 for four. Wicketkeeper Shaheryar Butt then decided to take the bowling on, smashing seven sixes in a run-a-ball innings of 58, but his resistance could only last so long, and he was eventually caught by Oliver Webster off the bowling of Morris, one of several fine catches taken by the Manx fielders.
The Belgians battled their way to within 11 runs of the Manx total, but with Morris taking four for 36 they were unable to complete the job and the Manxmen snatched a notable victory.
Cyprus were also put in to bat in their match against Malta in Gent and were dismissed for 160, opener Sampath Tsangarides making 35 and Anil Nair 30. Michael Smith took two for 25 early on, but Ronnie Sacco was the most successful of the Maltese bowlers with four for 24.
The issue was never in doubt once Maltese openers Prasad Dhandapani and John Callus had put on 83 together in fifteen overs, and after they were dismissed, for 36 and 41 respectively, Frankie Spiteri contributed 32 to take the Maltese total to within 16 of the target.
Andrew Naudi and Javeed Shah finished the job to give Malta their seven-wicket victory. Mike Kyriacou was the best of the Cypriot bowlers with two for 24.
P W T NR L Pts Croatia 1 1 0 0 0 2 Finland 1 1 0 0 0 2 Portugal 1 0 0 0 1 0 Spain 1 0 0 0 1 0
P W T NR L Pts Isle of Man 1 1 0 0 0 2 Malta 1 1 0 0 0 2 Belgium 1 0 0 0 1 0 Cyprus 1 0 0 0 1 0
The winner will play-off with Division 2 6th place in Aug-Oct 2007 away, while 7th & 8th will be relegated to Division 4 for 2009 (no play-off).