Malaysia is all but holding the inaugural SEA Games gold medal in men’s 50-over cricket after a match-saving century from Ahmad Faiz Mohammad Noor helped secure a six-wicket win over Singapore at Kinrara Oval.
Malaysia has one game remaining in its tournament – against Indonesia on Thursday – but this was the gold-defining match; the only clash that would separate the two top sides.
The hosts faced a challenging chase of 196 for victory, but in front of a strong and vocal home crowd, they achieved it with 35 balls to spare to move to outright leaders on the table and as the only undefeated side.
Even a loss to Indonesia on Thursday would likely still have Malaysia take the gold, given its far better net run rate than any other side.
The match was always going to be the most scintilating of the tournament and it did not disappoint, with a full game playing out a rollercoaster of drama throughout both innings.
Singapore won the toss and elected to bat, but the decision appeared to be a poor one early, as the visitors stumbled to 30-3 in a little more than 10 overs.
However, just as Malaysia appeared to be well on top, Navin Param (66) and Rezza Gaznavi (86*) hauled Singapore from a pit of despair to a position of ascendancy to eventually set the hosts a victory target of 196.
Malaysia’s innings told a similar tale at 9-2, as openers Mohamad Norwira Zazmie Abdul Halim (4) and captain Mohd Anwar Arudin (1) were dismissed cheaply, before the side rebuilt through Ahmad Faiz (105) and another solid knock from Virandeep Singh Jagjit Singh (45).
The hosts were granted a reprieve in their pursuit when Ahmad Faiz was dropped at deep mid-wicket on 29, with the ball spilling for four.
Had the catch been held, the home team would have been 58-3 and facing the prospect of renewing its challenging chase with a fresh batsman.
Instead, the partnership was allowed flourish to 144 in 32.3 overs, with Ahmed Faiz riding his luck on occasions, before Virandeep Singh was trapped by Mohamed Shoib with his side 154-3 – still trailing by 42 but with seven wickets and 11 overs in hand.
A scare went through the Malaysian camp when Ahmed Faiz eventually fell for 105, caught and bowled by Mohamed Shoib to have the hosts 165-4.
However, some quickfire batting from Mohd Shafiq Mohd Sharif (19*) and Mohd Suharril Fitri Shuib (15*) ensured the remaining runs were chased down comfortably, with Malaysia ending the pursuit on 196-4 with 35 balls to spare.
It was a tantalising chase that was setup by Singapore’s Param and Gaznavi in the visitors’ batting innings.
The pair looked composed and patient when they needed to be and aggressive and attacking when they wanted to be, amassing their individual half-tons as they racked up a 100-run partnership in 25.4 overs.
Malaysia needed to find an answer and it did so, with some sharp fielding from Pavandeep Singh Jagjit Singh effecting the run-out of Param.
It halted Singapore’s charge at 137-4 and the hosts seized the opportunity to wrest back control, with Mohd Suharril Fitri Shuib removing new batsman Abhiraj Singh LBW for four a couple of balls later.
The visitors’ woes were compounded when Arun Vijayan was forced to retire hurt on two, before his replacement Dharmichand Mulewa was trapped by Virandeep Singh for two to have the batting side 150-6.
Malaysia was back on top of the game when a remarkable throw from Dhivendran Mogan at backward point to the bowler’s end caught Vivek Vedagiri short of his crease for one to have Singapore 154-7 with a little more than five overs in the innings.
It was then a battle of attrition for the remaining overs, with Singapore claiming the advantage with some quickfire runs in the shadows of the innings break.
A courageous Vijayan returned from his injury to see out the innings, but it was Gaznavi who did the damage, carrying his bat to blugeon 86 not out and see his side to 195.
It was a total that challenged Malaysia, but one that the hosts were ultimately up for.