Unlike some other teams in the PCA, WVUCC think tank does not tolerate indiscipline. Prior to the game against the Hurricanes, many players opted to skip practice. Consequently, when game day rolled around, the Mountaineers followed the "no practice = no play" rule and dressed only 9 players for the all-important match.
The Hurricanes are a team that came into existence in time for the 2007 season. Two players - Naveen Peiris and Anu Chopra were familiar foes, having played for the Strikers in the 2006 season. Of the two, the Mountaineers were vary of Anu, but truly in awe of Naveen. Easily the most feared batsman in the league, Naveen is a left-hander with a lot of patience. His preferred mode of attack is to flick and pull for sixes while driving in the V for singles when the boundaries are not on offer. Last year he scored nearly 700 runs at a strike rate of almost 150. But his best quality is his unflappable temperament and sportsmanship. Before the day was done the Mountaineers got a first-hand account of just that aspect of his.
Naveen won the toss and put WVUCC into bat. C.S. Manish began in his usual, sedate manner while Arvind Thiruvengadam began like a man whose hair was on fire. For the third straight match he hit the first delivery he faced to the fence. Two more boundaries followed in quick succession but he could not temper his aggression and paid the price, holing out to cover.
Sohail Chaudhry came in, flicked a six and square-cut a boundary, before perishing off Ajay Belambe's bowling. The pattern of the innings was beginning to emerge. Batsman after batsman came in, played a cameo, and departed when set. At one end Old Man River was keeping his end of the bargain, inching his way along with his dabs to third man and fine leg. At the other end, Ashok Varadarajan and Amol Bhavsar both began with sixes and then perished in trying to needlessly repeat the strokes. For all their experience, the two have a distinct weakness against spin bowling as they are often caught between pre-determinedly defending the ball or hitting out, with no medium level of aggression.
When Manish departed, pulling a short ball to the deep midwicket fence, the Mountaineers were in trouble at 81 for 5. Stepping into the fray was Sumanth Dommaraju. In 2006, Sumanth impressed the think tank with his sharp fielding and confident batting. With a typical Hyderabadi-style propensity to flick balls on the off-stump to the leg-side, Sumanth is always a candidate for an LBW but when his head is over the ball, it is almost impossible to dismiss him that way. The Hurricanes found this out the hard way. Steadying the ship and teasing along the strike, Sumanth nurtured the Mountaineer innings past the 100 mark and, as he began to run out of partners (remember WVUCC played with just 9 players), he opened up and found the boundaries (5 fours, and 1 six) at opportune moments.
With his bowlers unable to finish the job, Naveen brought himself on and removed the wickets at the other end. WVUCC ended up with a below-par score of 138 for 8 in less than 20 overs. A little more application by any of the top 5 batsman and the remaining 5 overs could have been milked for many more critical runs.
But a score on the board still has to be chased. A splendid spell of new ball bowling by Sohail (3-1-8-0) was just the pressure-building start that was needed. Harshesh Patel, on debut, was a little more wayward and Amol Bhavsar quickly filled the gap with an outstanding display of bowling (4-1-11-2). With just 7 fielders to man the ground, the think tank decided that Ashok's prowess in the outfield was more valuable than his keeping. Sohail reverted back to his primary job - wicketkeeping - after bowling his opening spell. Standing up to the stumps, Sohail cramped the batsmen's foot movement with the ever-present threat of being stumped off a fast bowling looming over them. (This isn't hyperbole, in the 2006 season, Sohail once stumped an opening batsman while standing up to a fast bowler).
The Hurricanes, wisely, did not look to force the issue and at 36 for no loss they were in the driver's seat with Naveen still to come. The Mountaineers were looking for a crack and when Krish Kalyanaraman mis-hit a ball to be caught and bowled by Amol, the floodgates had been temporarily opened. The Mountaineers quickly went about taking the wickets on offer - one eye on the score and one eye on the big guns to follow. At 56 for 3, Anu and Naveen got together and began a very sensible partnership. Without looking to score boundaries they took the singles when available and bided their time. Sohail pushed the field back, looking to see if the batsman would be willing to take singles all the way to victory.
With less than 60 runs required (and 7 wickets in hand), Sohail tried the wildest of wild cards - the faux off-spin of Manish. Naveen and Anu were not taking any risks against the regular bowlers, so the think tank felt that offering a lamb to the slaughter might induce a mistake. The third ball of the over produced just that when Naveen unwisely tried to play against the turn and lofted the ball towards deep mid-wicket. The ball took the outside part of the bat and hung in the air for a long time. Abishek Muralidharan came running in from long-on, reached the ball, and then dropped it!! To add insult to injury, the next ball, a full toss, was smashed over square-leg for a huge six, easily clearing the trees that protect the trail-walkers on the hillside. Manish's first over went for 13 runs, and with the miss, possibly the match, too.
With both batsmen looking rock solid, something special was needed, and in the next over, when Anu unwisely took off for a run that wasn't there, Arvind collected an accurate throw from Sohail and negated Anu's despairing desperate dive back to the crease, a breach was made. All WVUCC had to do was scuttle the ship around Naveen and they could make a match out of it.
The first ball of the next over needs its own paragraph. Manish, the lamb, came back for one last attempt. Naveen danced down the pitch to meet the ball and Manish pushed it wide down the leg-side. Sohail collected the ball and whipped off the bails even as Naveen was turning back to the crease. As the Mountaineers began rejoicing they realized that the square-leg umpire had not given Naveen out!! Incredulous! Naveen turned to Sohail and asked him if he thought he had completed the stumping in time, and when he received an affirmative reply, he walked off the ground. If it was possible for Naveen to rise in our esteem, it went up even further after this classy act of sportsmanship. 105 for 5 after 15 overs, 34 runs to win in 60 balls, 5 wickets to go.
Having obtained the twin breakthrough's he needed, Sohail went on the offensive, bringing in the fielders, and bringing back his best bowlers. With the pressure mounting after every dot ball (the Hurricanes were constantly reminded about the mounting pressure by the vociferous Mountaineer fielders) the Hurricanes began pressing and crashed spectacularly, losing the next 5 wickets for just 23 runs.
An undermanned WVUCC won by 14 runs. In the 2006-07 seasons, WVUCC played no less than 7 games with fewer than 11 players . The Mountaineers won 6 of those contests! There is something about having missing pieces in the field to cover for that brings out the best in every WVUCC player. With no one to back them up, the players are forced to put a price on their abilities - whether batting, bowling, or fielding - resulting in some sterling performances. This win against the Hurricanes was no different.
Coming up next was a grudge match against the 2006 champions - the PittsPunters - who had never lost to the Mountaineers. There is a lot of bad blood between the two teams to make this more than just a game. The match lived up to its billing...but more on that in my next post.