With Bulgaria being declared a safe passage of travel, on September 22, the Malta national cricket team, selected after another successful summer league season, set off to participate in the Bulgaria inaugural T20i Cup which was to be the first-ever T20i series hosted in Bulgaria.
The tour was to consist of four ICC recognised T20i matches, also, both nations agreed to pay tribute to the late Maltese cricket legend, Ronnie Sacco, by playing four additional matches that will now become an annual event between both countries.
Despite the hosts ranking 52 on the ICC T20i world rankings, to Malta ranking of 89, this was promising to be an exciting tour for the national team, that now boasted no fewer than 6 new caps.
Heading in the first match, played at the National Sports Academy in Sofia, debuts were awarded to Heinrich Gericke, Noshair Akhtar, Salu Thomas and Samuel Sunesh.
After winning the toss, stand-in captain Samuel Aquilina (in the absence of national team captain Bikram Arora), elected to bat first.
Despite a positive start, which saw both openers dismissed after reaching a 50 partnership, it was the lower and middle order that powered their way towards a score of 216 runs for the loss of 8 wickets.
Despite Bulgaria’s efforts with the ball, Prakash Mishra (28/2 off 4 overs) and Sulaiman Ali (27/2 off 2.1 overs), could not restrict Malta from recording their highest ever recorded score in a T20i international match.
Standout performers with the bat where Haroon Mughal 33 of 13 balls (4*6’s), Ravinder Singh 34 of 18 balls (3*4’s,2*6’s).
With the hosts getting off to a flyer, seeing the first wicket fall with 59 runs on the board, it came down to some tight bowling from debutant, Salu Thomas 31/4 off 4 overs, and the regular loss of wickets that saw Malta through to a comfortable win, as Bulgaria only managed to score 159 runs for the loss of 8 wickets from 20 overs.
Malta won by 57 runs.
In the second match of the day, after winning the toss it was the hosts that decided they wanted to bat first.
Having lost the first match there was a definite effort at redemption as Bulgaria managed to put on a competitive score of 184/6 from 20 overs. Had it not been for the efforts of debutant Noshair Akhtar (35/3 off 4 overs) with the ball for Malta, Bulgaria looked destined to pass the 200 mark.
Kiran Dasan 47 of 39 balls (2*4’s, 2*6’s) and Ishan De Silva 42 off 21 balls (2*4’s, 3*6’s) were the standout performances for Bulgaria.
Next up was Malta’s turn to bat and the start to the Heinrich Gericke show.
Gericke, another debutant, set the innings alight, blasting his way to a score of 91 runs off just 54 balls (8*4’s, 3*6’s), falling just short of his maiden T20i century.
This is the highest score by a Malta international player in T20i cricket and set the tone for the remainder of series.
Malta’s batting line-up again proved too strong for the Bulgarian bowling attack, as they chased the score down with an over to spare.
Malta won by 8 wickets.
Regrettably, the final 2 games were rained off, however, the 2 wins where enough to secure a series victory for Malta and propel them up the ICC world rankings to a very respectable position of 68.
Onto the next challenge and this was the one the team was really looking forward to.
Ronnie Sacco, was and will always be remembered as a hero to Malta cricket. His determination to win and his ability to keep his teammates fighting, even in the direst of circumstances, was how he played out his life till the end.
It was a fitting tribute to a fallen legend, that the appropriate name Ronnie Sacco Memorial Trophy, was going to be the games the team most looked forward to.
As the games were not played as ICC T20i matches, it gave the chance for both countries to give opportunities to players who will be qualifying to represent Malta soon.
Basil George, Navdeep Singh Gill, Zeeshan Khan, Deon Vosloo and Aaftab Khan were all given opportunities to show the national selectors what they are capable of at the highest level.
In the first game, Malta batted first, reaching another impressive score of 162/8off 20 overs.
The standout performance for Malta was debutant Zeeshan Khan, blasting his way to 53 runs off 46 balls (5*4’s, 1*6).
It was the Bulgarian’s chance to chase.
Through some tight bowling by vice-captain Amar Sharma 13/2 of 3 overs and regular wickets by Sujesh Appu 21/4 off 4 overs, Malta managed to dismiss the hosts for just 108 runs in 18.5 overs.
The only notable performance for the Bulgarians was from the bat of Gagandeep Singh, who scored 52 of 42 balls (7*4’s, 1*6).
Malta won by 54 runs.
Regrettably, the second match was abandoned due to bad weather, but not before Malta again impressed with the bat.
This time it was the time of another debutant, Navdeep Singh Gill, who smashed the Bulgarian bowlers all over before he was bowled out with his score on 71 runs off just 41 balls (6*4’s, 6*6’s)
Malta’s score was on 138/3 off 12.5 overs before the match was called off.
On the final days’ play, in the first match, Bulgaria batted first and put on a respectable score of 143 for the loss of 8 wickets.
Saim Hussein 48 runs of 40 balls (6*4’s, 1*6) and Prakash Mishra 40 runs off 26 balls (2*4’s, 4*6’s) were the notable contributions with the bat for Bulgaria.
Malta bowlers, Noshair Akhter, Amar Sharma and Suhrid Roy all picking up 2 wickets each.
Next up it was again time for the Heinrich Gericke show, as the debutant batman again put the Bulgarian pace attack to the sword as he muscled his way to another impressive score of 70 runs from 35 balls (6*4’s, 5*6’s)
Ably assisted by Haroon Mughal’s 28 runs from 11 balls (3*4’s, 2*6’s), the two steered Malta over the finish line despite both losing their wickets.
Malta won by 6 wickets.
With the trophy secured and guaranteed journey to its rightful home, it was into the last and final game.
Malta won the toss and decided to bat first, given the licence to go out and swing at everything, it was again the time for fireworks as unbelievably Malta once again set the record books alight by smashing their way to a score of 245 of their allotted 20 overs.
Heinrich Gericke, again was the pick of the batsman, punishing the Bulgarian’s to all corners of the field with a score of 52 runs off 25 balls (6*4’s, 2*6’s).
Basil George 23 runs off 17 balls (2*4’s, 1*6), Zeeshan Khan 41 runs off 25 balls (7*4’s), Navdeep Singh Gill 39 runs off 26 balls (4*4’s, 2*6’s) and Aaftab Khan 45 of 26 balls (4*4’s, 2*6’s) all contributed towards this mammoth score.
In the end, it was too much for the Bulgarian’s to chase as they were eventually all out for a score 183/10 of 18.5 overs.
Notable scores for Bulgaria, Prakash Mishra 59 runs of 31 balls (6*4’s, 5*6’s) and Saim Hussein 52 runs off 26 balls (3*4’s, 5*6’s).
Basil George being the pick of the Malta bowlers with 26/3 off his 4 overs.
Heinrich Gericke and Salu Thomas each picking up 2 wickets.
Malta won by 62 runs.
Standout performances throughout both series
Malta National Cricket Team – 245/5
Malta National Cricket Team – 216/8
Heinrich Gericke – 236 runs (Player of both series)
Navdeep Singh Gill – 133 runs
Amar Sharma – 8 wickets
Sujesh Appu – 6 wickets
Noshair Akhtar – 6 wickets
Despite a comfortable double series win, it was down to the pre-tournament efforts from the squad, coupled with new dynamic leadership and opportunities afforded to deserving players that ensured Malta cricket is on the correct path to finally be a national cricket team that we can be proud of.
The Malta Cricket Association would like to thank its players for their efforts in ensuring series victories in both competitions.