A tournament decider that went right to the wire, two MVP-contenders pitted head-to-head – one weekend, six teams, ten T10 matches, all played at the splendid new Estonian National Cricket & Rugby Grounds in Tiskre, one of the jewels in the crown of grounds visited by the European Cricket Series.
The eyes of Europe, and in fact the world, turned to Estonian cricket in July 2020 as the camera crews and production team from the European Cricket Network rolled into Tallinn, Estonia. Over two consecutive days, nearly a hundred thousand tuned into live YouTube coverage as six sides – representing eleven domestic clubs from both Tallinn and Tartu – fought for the trophy.
In Group A, the Tallinn Hippos opened the tournament in style against the Rising Stars, as Stu Hook and Tim Filer combined to put on nearly a hundred without loss off less than seven overs, with a stunning display of batting that combined both finesse and brute strength. Tallinn United – one of the pre-tournament favourites – then fired the first warning shot of Group B as they ran down Eesti Tigers’ total with ten wickets in hand.
On day one it was batsmen well and truly on top, as after the early threat of rain, conditions settled – even the Tiskre zephyr only graced proceedings intermittently. The destructive Saif Malik bludgeoned back-to-back innings of 82 and 78* including 17 fours and nine sixes as the Tallinn Stallions made their presence at the tournament well and truly felt.
Several bowlers did buck the trend – Rising Stars’ Eusuf Hassan bowled with pace and precision to topple Tartu Vikings’ top order, before Tallinn Hippos’ Rony Zaman took 3/3 and Kalle Vislapuu recorded a superb double-wicket maiden to close the day.
On day two the business end of the tournament fast arrived, as Tallinn United succumbed in the first semi-final. Rifaq Khan’s incredible four-six cameo and veteran Nand Lal’s canny innings couldn’t prevent the Tallinn Hippos from progressing to the final – spinners Filer and Umair Akram snuffing out the comeback after half centuries to Filer and Hook put the competition’s oldest side in the box seat.
The early scalp of the skipper Malik had Rising Stars eyeing a final’s spot, before Ali and Bilal Masood blasted the game away from them. Wahid Nasir then spearheaded an excellent Tallinn Stallions’ bowling performance, snaring 3/8 as his side progressed.
Eesti Tigers finished their tournament on a high, with their experienced all-rounders proving too strong for Tartu Vikings in the Shield Final, before a blockbuster final closed the tournament in style.
With a showdown between Tallinn Hippos and Tallinn Stallions, the European Cricket Series had the dramatic finale it craved.
The first key battle occurred before a ball was bowled – with both sides having batted first and won all six games doing so, the coin toss loomed as decisive. To the delight of the Stallions, skipper Malik indicated they’d bat first – the Hippos would have to win by chasing; a feat only one side had achieved all tournament.
The tension became palpable right from the beginning – every play and miss drew hushed silence, every boundary riotous applause. Within just fourteen balls it looked ominous for Estonia’s newest team as their star openers departed. Superb work from ‘keeper Marko Vaik saw Masood stumped, before Dave Robson had Malik feathering one outside off.
Enter Bilal Masood and perhaps the innings of the tournament. An aggressive, and at times tempestuous 71 off just 29 balls saw the Tallinn Hippos bowlers feeling the heat. Masood and the wily Tim Cross engaged in a battle of the wills, before Rana Rahman finally got the wicket his side needed.
If Masood’s innings was fire and brimstone, the Hippos’ batting response was ice cool. Filer, Hook and Robson showed intelligence and discipline – with eight overs gone the trophy looked within grasp.
Up stepped Nazir, once more. A superb direct-hit run out from 45m away sent Robson packing, and the first-ball bowling of Vaik set up a nail-biting conclusion. As superb Stallions bowling whittled 13 off 10 down to just six off three, two final over dot balls from Obaid Anwar invited Stallions to dream of the miraculous. But Hook had other plans – an incredible pull shot, falling just a metre over the head of a despairing fielder – and it was six and settled.
Tallinn Hippos the 2020 European Cricket Series champions – crowning a weekend of excellent entertainment.