A Belgium (“Red”) international U13 team featuring four RBCC colts travelled to Luxembourg to play in the Roger Barker Cup on 8-9 June. The tournament also included teams from Luxembourg and Switzerland and a second Belgium team (“Gold”). Played under warm sunny skies, such a pleasant change from most of the first half of this rain-affected season, our Colts played superbly and enjoyed the two days. Thanks go to Luxembourg Optimists CC who were kind and generous hosts and the players and coaches from the other teams for providing a great atmosphere of competitive but fair cricket over the two days. Particular thanks also go to the other Belgium Red players and parents. 

It is no exaggeration to say that our young team formed over the two days and it was a wonderful experience for the RBCC players. But of course we are especially proud of the achievements of our players: – Akshat Tripathi captained the team, scoring a total of 48 runs and taking 6-63 over the four games; – Akhlaq Ahmad was the number 1 bowler in the tournament, taking 11-61 and also scoring 71 runs; – Thomas Leake, who is just 11 and so one of the younger players in the tournament, took 4-24 with a strike rate of 6.25 and finished in the top 5 bowlers in the tournament; – Hosain Ahmad Afghan, who kept wicket with involvement in 3 run outs and 1 catch, as well as scoring 22 runs as an opening batsman.

 Belgium’s first game on Saturday required our team to be at the ground in Luxembourg by 0830, so it was a very early start for some. Batting first, RBCC’s brothers Akhlaq and Hosain opened the innings. Akhlaq made a rapid-fire 24 off 11 balls including 3 fours and 2 sixes, before he had to retire under the competition’s rules. Belgium made steady progress to finish on 120 for 2 off the allotted 15 overs, with Akshat not out on 7 at the end. When Belgium came out to defend the total, Akshat opened the bowling and finished with 4-12. Thomas took 1-6 in an economical over as Luxembourg fell short on 112. In the morning heat, Belgium were sent straight back into the field again by Switzerland as their second game immediately followed the first, and 30 consecutive overs in the field proved tiring. Nevertheless, 2-25 from Akhlaq and another tight over from Thomas (1-6) helped restrict a very strong and powerful Swiss side, on average quite a bit older than the young Belgium team, to 131. 

Belgium’s chase fell just short on 117, with Akhlaq again retiring on 20 but unable to spark an unlikely finish when he was dismissed without further addition returning at the end. Akshat made 21 before retiring. For the third game, Belgium faced up against the Belgium “Gold” team and fielded first. An amazing start by Akhlaq saw him take four wickets (all bowled) with the first four balls of the innings. Midway through the third over of the innings, Akhlaq had incredible figures of 7 for 3 from ten balls (six of them clean bowled) and he finished with 8-5. Thomas (1-0) also got in the act, taking a wicket (caught by Hosain behind the wicket) with his first and only ball to finish the innings and leave him on a hat trick for the first ball of the next game. Akshat also took 1-6 as RBCC Colts got a clean sweep of the wickets with Gold bowled out for 29. The Belgium team reached their target in just 4.3 overs for a ten-wicket win, with Hosain unbeaten on 11 at a run-a-ball. 

This qualified Belgium for the final the following day, and a rematch against Switzerland in an extended match (20 overs). With their best chance of winning probably to bat first and try to put the strong Swiss batting line up under scoreboard pressure, Belgium unfortunately lost the toss and the Swiss decided to bat. In a strong start, Thomas and Hosain combined for a run out, followed by a wicket for Akhlaq and a second ball clean bowled strike for Thomas (just missing his hat trick) leaving Switzerland at 45-3 in the 7th over. But with the tournament rules meaning everyone had to bowl the Swiss took advantage of the part-time Belgium bowlers to pile on the runs and at one stage looked to be headed for a total in excess of 200 as fielders visibly struggled in the heat.

 However, an RBCC-led fightback in the final five overs was masterminded by Thomas (1-12), Akhlaq (1-22) and Akshat (1-26) whose inspired captaincy got his side back in the game and saw the Swiss finish on a difficult but not impossible total of 173. Belgium never quite were up with the run rate, but excellent innings from Akhlaq (27 off 20) and Akshat (20 off 12) saw Belgium reach 118-2 off 16 overs, before a vain attempt to accelerate saw wickets tumble and the side eventually bowled out for 120. An excellent two days of exciting cricket saw the RBCC quartet inspire their nation to reach the final and show great potential for the future.