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Cricket news - Canada and Singapore make the early running in CWC Challenge League A

Current Standings & Qualification Structure [Infographic: Bertus de Jong]

Canada and Singapore shared the honours at the inaugural Cricket World Cup Challenge League series in Kuala Lumpur, which concluded today (September 26). Singapore snatched a narrow upset victory over the early favourites in the competition's final match to spoil Canada's hopes of a perfect run in the first of three such round robin series that will make up one half of the Challenge League - the third tier of international fifty-over competition that comprise the ICC's revised World Cup qualification structure. Division 5 graduates Qatar sit one win behind them in third place, whilst Denmark left Kuala Lumpur trailing the frontrunners by two wins, with hosts Malaysia and Vanuatu finishing the first iteration of the league with just one win apiece.

Canada's early dominance in the six-team tournament would be enough to keep them on top of the table on net run rate ahead of Singapore, having won their first four matches by wide margins. They had begun by skittling underdogs Vanuatu for 161 at the Selangor Turf Club and chasing comfortably, with new skipper Navneet Dhaliwal's unbeaten 72 anchoring the chase. The Canadians went on to rack up an astonishing 408 against hosts Malaysia at the Kinrara Oval in their second match, Dhaliwal again the star with a blistering 140 off just 92 balls which included 13 sixes, contributing to Canada's full tally of 28 maximums in the innings - a new List A record. Malaysia never looked like getting near the mountainous total, eventually bowled out 207 runs shy of the target.

Dhaliwal's predecessor-but-one in the captaincy, off-spinning all-rounder Nitish Kumar, would star in their next game against Qatar, contributing 129 off 80 balls to Canada's total of 379-4 before bagging a five-for in the Qatari reply to see Canada to another three-figure victory. Kumar would reclaim the armband for Cnanada's final two games, with Dhaliwal sidelined by injury, and his side would again pass 300 as Srimantha Wijeyeratne's 84 off 80 helped them to 302-8 against Denmark, the Danes falling 48 runs short in a rain-abbreviated reply. Singapore would spoil the Canadians flawless record in the final match however, despite a fine all-round effort from young seam all-rounder Abraash Khan, who took five wickets at the tail end of the Singapore innings including that of top-scorer Arjun Mutreja for 72 to see Singapore slip from 214-5 to 245 all out, as well as striking 33 from the top of the order in the reply. It would not prove enough however, as Perth Scorchers' Singapore-born all-rounder Tim David, playing only his second tournament for the country of his birth, made up for failing to pass fifty with the bat for the first time all week with by claiming 2-27 with the ball in the rain-affected chase, as Canada wound up 5 short of their revised target of 196.

David's contributions had been crucial for Singapore throughout the campaign. He finished top-scorer at the tournament with 369 runs at an average just over 92. His 75 off 82 against Qatar in their first match did not prove enough to stave off an opening defeat however, as left-armer Gayan Munaweera claimed 5-39 to ensure Qatar defended their total of 232 by 19 runs. David's next innings, 97 off 75 against Denmark, with support from Surendran Chandramohan who struck a more measured 80 off 124, would prove more

than sufficient however. That was in thanks in large part to Aryaman Sunil's right arm pace delivering a return of 6-46 to wreck Denmark's chase, the Danes bowled out on the last ball for 213 - 36 short of the target of 250. Sunil and David would be the principal architects of their 42-run win over Vanuatu in their next match too, David top-scoring with 63 as the Singaporeans posted 213 and Sunil again pick of the bowlers in the Vanutau reply with 4-45. Navin Param would play foil to David in their next win, the pair putting on a century partnership for the third wicket to set up a comfortable win over hosts Malaysia, David again missing out on a century though as he struck an unbeaten 97* in the chase of 202, seeing his side over the line with five overs to spare. Chandramohan would step up in the decisive final game against Canada when David fell for 39, hitting a run-a-ball 67 after David fell LBW to Nikil Dutta for 39 to set up a crucial win that ensured Singapore would finish the week level with Canada on points.

Having just scraped into the competition off the back of a third-place finish at the final World Cricket League Division 5 back in 2017, Qatar will be reasonably pleased to find themselves trailing the top two teams by just one win at the end of the first round, especially given the unavailability of several senior players. In their absence, skipper Iqbal Hussain and deputy Mohammad Rizlan led from the front throughout, the latter Qatar's lead run-getter with 209 runs at an average over fifty and the former their joint lead wicket- taker alongside Munaweera. It was Rizlan's unbeaten 44 that saw them go two from two early, seeing them home in a nervy chase in a low-scoring match against the hosts, and the keeper-bat was top-scorer again against Denmark, albeit in a losing cause as Danish skipper Hamid Shah put in a match-winning performance, scoring 93 with the bat and taking 3-37 to deliver his side a convincing 60-run win. They looked less than competitive against Canada, however, and their final win against Vanuatu was a close-run thing, Hussain's 39 the best effort with the bat as they were bowled out for 185 before Vanuatu's player-CEO Shane Dietz - once of West Australia - threatened to stage an upset with a half-century in a rain-affected chase. Four more wickets for Munaweera would ensure the islanders fell just short, but its fair to say that after Qataris' initial Challenge League outing they remain a long-shot for title, and the shot at WC qualification that goes with it.

Likewise Denmark's mixed week suggests that avoiding relegation from the Challenge League may be their first priority, though like Qatar they were somewhat under-strength in Malaysia, with players such a Bashir Shah, Anders Bulow, Saif Ahmed and Mads Henriksen cheering them on from home. As with the Qatari's it was skipper Hamid Shah and the experienced Freddie Klokker that had the best of the tournament, Shah winning their match against Qatar almost single-handed and the evergreen Klokker setting up the win over Vanuatu with a brisk 74* and finishing the tour averaging close to 50. Zameer Khan and Jino Jojo also had solid outings with bat and ball respectively, whilst lanky left arm spinner Nikolaj Laegsgaard was the most economical bowler through the competition, going at barely three an over.

Nonetheless an opening loss to hosts Malaysia set the tone for a disappointing tour, and the Danes will be facing an uphill battle to fight their way back into contention when the second edition rolls around next year.

For hosts Malaysia, the series continued a trend of disappointing performances at home, their opening win against the Danes proving the high point of an underwhelming first outing in the Challenge League. That said there were some positives to take; young Virandeep Singh showed some promise at the top of the order, most notably a well-constructed 73 against Singapore, whilst off-spinning all-rounder Suharril Fetri also had a fine tournament with bat and ball, and Pavandeep Singh's left arm spin was almost as miserly as that of Laegsgaard and picked up seven wickets to boot.

Yet it remained a forgettable tournament both for Malaysia and for current wooden-spooners Vanuatu, bar the remarkable match they played against one another. In what would be Vanuatu's sole win of the tour, the islanders set a new List A record by defending a total of just 65. Singh's left arm spin and and the right arm seam of Nazril Rahman were principally responsible for Vanuatu finding themselves faced with that task, each taking four wickets as Vanuatu were rolled in barely over half their allotted overs, but on a testing track that was offering plenty of seam movement Patrick Matautaava took full advantage, moving the Dukes ball both through the air and off the pitch to wreck the hosts' top order, claiming a wicket with the first ball of the match and threatening to do so with almost every ball thereafter on his way to 5-19 from his ten overs. His new-ball partner Apolinaire Stephen would bag 3-30 for his part, whilst offie Jelany Chilia tied down one end before bagging the last wicket having conceded just 3 runs from 22 balls.

The improbable win delivered Vanuatu 2 valuable points as the teams regroup ahead of round two, to be held at an as-yet-unconfirmed venue next year. With two more such round robin events to be held before the next stage of qualifying, there's still time enough for any of the sides to stage a comeback, though Canada and Singapore are certainly early favourites to claim the sole berth on offer for the 2022 CWC Qualifier Playoff alongside the winners of the parallel Challenge League Group B (who are slated to play their first round at Hong Kong in November) and with it a shot at a (re)claiming ODI status and securing a place at the World Cup Qualifier itself.

That remains a distant prospect, and a long hard slog away of course. With the T20 WC Qualifier looming in Dubai next month, Canada and Singapore - the only two of the six to have won through T20 qualifying) will be turning their attention to the shorter format. Singapore will be welcoming Zimbabwe and Nepal for a preparatory T20I series that kicks off tomorrow, the first time a full member will be touring the city-state. Despite having fallen short in qualification for the 2020 T20 WC, Qatar, Denmark, Malaysia and Vanuatu will likewise be shifting into T20-mode with Sub-Regional Qualifiers for the 2021 T20 WC in India likely to commence even before the 2020 edition gets underway.

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