SILVER MEDALISTS SPAIN
After all the frustrations of a week of bad weather, the European Division 3 championship got the final it deserved on Saturday, as Croatia held their nerve to beat Spain in the final over by a margin of just four runs.
It was a heart-breaking outcome for the Spanish, who had appeared to be cruising to victory with ten overs to go, and the astonishment and relief with which the Croatian players and their handful of supporters greeted the fall of the final wicket was evidence of how close they had come to letting the prize slip from their grasp.
On a dank and misty morning at the Royal Brussels CC ground near Waterloo, Croatian captain John Vujnovich won the toss and elected to bat. It was a brave decision given the dampness of the outfield, which undoubtedly restricted the flow of runs, but in the end the difficulty experienced throughout the week by sides chasing significant totals again came into play, as Spain collapsed from 164 for three to 216 all out in the space of fifteen dramatic overs.
Vujnovich and his brother Paul had again given Croatia a great start with an 80-run opening partnership, before Paul on 40 was adjudged to have given a sharp leg-side catch to Spanish keeper Shafique Ali off the bowling of Pedro Venus Valiente.
John then continued in company with Chris Pivac, and they added another 89 in twenty overs. The Spanish attack was hampered by the condition of the ball, but the two Vujnoviches and Pivac gave a fine display of disciplined batting to take their side through to 169 for two with eight overs left.
John Vujnovich continued almost to the end, finally holing out to mid-off in the penultimate over of the innings. His 88 came off 148 balls, containing six fours and one six. The Spaniards managed to prevent a wholesale slaughter in the final overs, but even so 51 came off the last eight as Croatia reached 220 for five.
Spain began their reply purposefully, evidently determined to chase down this relatively imposing total, and opener Ali played a characteristically belligerent innings, hitting 67 in 96 balls as the Spanish reached 118 for one by the 27th over.
The Croatian seamers were unable to reproduce the consistency they had displayed in demolishing Malta on Friday, and the fielding began to show signs of panic as they were unable to stem the flow of runs. Venus Valiente made a valuable 39 for Spain, and it was not until Pivac came back into the attack that they began to fight back.
He had Spanish captain Graeme Howe well caught by Mate Jukic in the deep, and 29 runs later accounted for Venus Valiente as well. David Climent Yarwood gave him his third wicket, trying an over-ambitious drive, and Spain were 175 for five.
Faran Afzal, however, continued to score freely, and with four overs left the Spanish needed 15 to win with four wickets in hand. It took a piece of individual brilliance from John Vujnovich to turn the game as, fielding at extra cover, he held onto a full-blooded drive from Afzal off Phil Siljeg’s bowling. Afzal had made 42 at a run a ball, and with his departure the Croatians clearly believed that they could still win a game which a few minutes earlier had seemed to be lost.
Siljeg struck again three balls later, and Spain were 208 for eight with three overs left. Jeff Grzinich dismissed Phil Beal with the total on 211, and two balls into the final over, with five still needed, last man Sam Lupson skied a Paul Vujnovich delivery. Craig Sinovich was under it, completed the catch, and the Croatian celebrations began.
Meanwhile, at Mechelen, the Isle of Man completed a six-wicket victory over Malta to take third place. The Maltese batsmen did much better than they had against Croatia, reaching 164 thanks to a solid 63 from Frank Spiteri. Manx seamer Scott Pearce claimed four for 35.
Peter Richards (39) and Jon Norrington (27) put on 80 for the first wicket when the Isle of Man replied, and a 53-ball 48 from Oliver Webster took them to the brink of victory. They made it in the 46th over, to recover well from the disappointment of their semi-final defeat by Spain in a match in which the scores were tied.
Hosts Belgium claimed fifth place by beating Portugal by 38 runs at Rumst, Shaheryar Butt playing another fine innings with 81, including two fours and seven sixes. With Javed Iqbal contributing 38 the Belgians reached 196, Muhammad Mirza taking five for 30 for Portugal.
The Portuguese never really looked likely to make this target, and despite a determined 59 from Tariq Aziz they were all out for 158 with ten balls left.
In the battle of the relegated sides in Gent, Pelawatha Janaka took five for 24 as Cyprus dismissed Finland for 135. The Cypriots gradually overhauled this target, opener Anil Nair making 45 as they completed a two-wicket win.
Cyprus were awarded the MCC Spirit of Cricket award, while John Vujnovich, unsurprisingly, was declared the Player of the Tournament.
By taking the title, Croatia have earned the right to play off against Israel for a place in Division 2 next season. This match is scheduled to take place within the next couple of months.