Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 21: Accolades

At the end of the regular season, some of the accomplishments of the members of the team were recognized in a private forum. (Please do note that that stats quoted below do not include the playoff performances).

Best Player: Sohail Chaudhry
308 runs, 24 wickets, 4.9 economy rate, 6 catches, 2 runouts and a stumping.

Whether batting, bowling, or fielding, he is the inspiration for the rest of his team. And, by the way, his primary skill is wicket-keeping! A splendid captain, he has also improved his ratio of winning the toss. This season, for the first time he won more games after winning the toss. Usually we lose when he wins the toss. This year he was 6-2 when he won the toss and 3-1 when he lost. So statistically speaking, it makes no difference if he wins or loses the toss now (a testament to how good the rest of the team is). (And I used the word toss too many times in the paragraph...need to work on my writing skills).

Best Batsman: Abishek Muralidharan
335 runs, and 7 catches.

The 4th leading scorer in the PCA league this year was, by far, our best and most consistent batsman, outshining perennial contender Sohail. The bulwark of our batting, in 13 innings Abishek failed to reach double digits just thrice, while crossing 25 on 7 occasions. Also scored 3 50's - tied for the most by any player in the league. He also led WVUCC with 7 catches, second highest in the PCA league for a

Best Bowler: Amol Bhavsar (14 wickets in 10 matches) and
Avinaschander Manivannan (9 wickets in 5 matches)

For the initial 2/3rds of the season Amol was almost unplayable when he focused on just bowling a proper line and length. Ironically, when he looked for wickets he went wicketless. But overall, coming one-change in every match, he invariably put the other team on the back foot with quick strikes. For the last 1/3rd of the season,
Avinash came back from a (potentially career-ending) knee surgery to take 9 wickets in 5 matches, with an economy rate of just 4.16.

Best fielder: Abhijit Bhagavatula

A livewire at point (aren't they all?), Abhijit showed a rifle-like throwing motion to couple with high energy levels throughout the season. He may not have led the list of catchers but his presence at point, especially during the early overs, kept many an opener quiet.

Best wicket-keeper: Ashok Varadarajan

The highlight of WVUCC is that (counting practice and matches) we employed 7 wicket-keepers, with little to choose between the bottom 5. Of the top two, Sohail is good keeping up to the stumps but standing back from the wickets, Ashok has a wider range and greater athletic ability to compensate for lesser technique. Perennially our best fielder, Ashok took up the responsibility of keeping when the previous incumbents did not relish the prospect of a long season. Ashok led the PCA in dismissals by a keeper by a wide margin. He had a total of 25 dismissals as a keeper - 16 catches, 1 stumping, 1 unassisted run out, and 7 assisted runouts. The next closest keeper had just 12 dismissals. And by the end of the season he had even
curbed his instinct to shy at the stumps everytime he got the ball in his hands.

Best innings: Arvind Thiruvengadam
33 against PittsPunters

Last year's most improved player, Arvind exploded at the end of the 2007 season. For the first half of the season he kept finding new ways to get out, usually being the recipient of the one awkward ball of the innings. In his last 6 innings his scores were: 46, 4, 33, 65, 25, 78. His best innings, however, was the 33 he scored against
PittPunters out of a team score of 64! The remaining 10 batsmen only had single digit scores as WVUCC collapsed spectacularly. Great things are still to come from his flashing blade.

Best partnership: Abhijit Bhagavatula and Amol Bhavsar.

When a team is tottering at 23 for 6 and still wins the game in less than 20 overs losing just one more wicket, you know a special partnership has been forged. Curbing their natural instincts to hit out of trouble, Abhijit and Amol stitched together a match-winning partnership against the Strikers, preserving our record of always beating that once-formidable team.

Best bowling spell: Abhijit Bhagavatula

In his first over in the PCA league Abhijit took 4 wickets, including a hat-trick, the second in WVUCC history and the second ever in the PCA.

Best wild card: Ajay Nayak

Ajay opened the batting sometimes, batted at 5, 6, 7 and 8 at other times, opened the bowling, bowled at the death, and bowled in between, fielded in the cover region, fielded in the deep, and at all times made his presence felt vocally. A true team player, he was the first to raise his hand if an opener was needed (when Arvind went to California on a research trip) or an opening bowler was needed (when Venkat hurt his shoulder). Ajay will be hoping to be rewarded with a more steady job title in the future. Now that the coach has gone, maybe his cause will be easier!!

Team spirit award: Nikhil Burri

Nikhil played just 6 matches and was the 12th man for an equal number. He did not get to bat, bowled only 10 overs, and yet was there for every practice and every game he was in the selected 12. When one of the players was leaving for good, he even organized a team dinner so everyone could join in and wish him well. At practice he was always smiling and not once did he complain about his diminished role or that others were selected ahead of him. A true team guy! If he needs any further inspiration he should just look at Ashok who played one whole year as a 12th man who only fielded. Today no WVUCC team will be written down without Ashok's name being pencilled in right away.

Best game: Round 1 versus the PittsPunters

Playing with just 10 members (and one of them pulled up lame half-way through the match) a short-handed WVUCC handled the best shots that the Punters could take to win a humdinger by just 3 runs. Not surprisingly, Ashok contributed those three runs.

Best piece of fielding: Sumanth Dommaraju

Tony Edmondstone of the Strikers hit a ball towards Sumanth at cover and took a step and a half down the wicket before he changed his mind on the run. Too late! Sumanth moved a couple of steps to his left, picked up the ball, and sent in a bullet to the keeper to catch Tony totally out of the crease. A stunning moment that was to be seen to be believed.

Playoff accolades:

Best Batsman: Ashok Varadarajan and Sohail Chaudhry

Last year when the PittsPunters steamrolled through the playoffs, they did so by riding the stupendous batting of Saravanan Annamalai. This year when WVUCC entered the playoffs, the think-tank knew they needed their own Sarav. In a like-for-like replacement pattern, they decided that if Arvind got out, Ashok would go in and if Sohail got out, Abishek would go in. As luck would have it, Arvind got out early and Ashok walked into the tensest of situations and transformed himself into the batsman we always knew he could be. In the playoffs he scored 106 runs in 100 balls, with 12 fours and 4 sixes, being dismissed just once. His partner in crime was Sohail, who scored 121 runs in just 79 balls, with 15 fours and 4 sixes, being dismissed just once, too.

Together they put on an unbroekn 146 run partnership in the semi-finals (in just 14 overs) and 83 runs in the finals.

Best bowler: Avinaschander Manivannan

In the finals, he stifled the SteelZags with a brilliant display of fast bowling, first tearing apart the openers and then returning to finish the job. His analysis of 4 overs, 1 maiden, 9 runs and 2 wickets tells the whole tale of his dominance.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 20: Carpe Diem!!

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, especially on this occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Game 16: Finals - WVUCC versus SteelZags

After a long season, the stage was set for the final of the PCA tournament between the two top guns - SteelZags and WVUCC. Ram Paluri and Sohail Chaudhry had the immense satisfaction of leading their teams to this stage and, fittingly too, since no two finer captains or players play in the PCA.

During the regular season the Mountaineers were 7-1 when batting first and 2-3 when chasing a target. The SteelZags were 9-2 batting first, and 2-1 when chasing. Therefore, both teams knew that the toss would be crucial. Chasing a total, coupled with the pressure of a final, would definitely be a tall order for either team.

Ram won the toss, conducted by Shailesh Bokil, the President of the PCA, and elected to field first. I am just making sure you are paying attention...actually Ram elected to bat first.

The Mountaineers made a couple of changes from the team that won the semi-finals. Abhijit Bhagavatula came back into the middle order, replacing Venkata Sathi. The other change was more unexpected. When he played his last game for the Mountaineers, the WVUCC playes extracted a promise from C.S. Manish that if the team made it to the finals, he would fly back from the MidWest to play in it. They kept up their end of the bargain so the veteran batsman came back for one last fling.

The think tank decided that since the SteelZags had never lost to WVUCC, the players would make sure that the 'Zags were constantly reminded of it. The general crux being that picking today to lose to the 'Eers would be a louy time to do so. The not-so-subtle reminders to the batsmen that if they failed the pressure would be great on the rest of the team, had an instant impact as the 'Zags openers took a very cautious and subdued approach towards the Mountaineer bowlers. The first runs from the bat did not come till the 5th over of play! Ajay Nayak and Avinaschander Manivannan, rightly restored to bowl with the new ball, made batting miserable for the batsmen. Ajay was a little generous with his wides (we have come to expect that from him), but Avinash rose to the occasion with a chilling display of seam bowling. Sridhar Lingam and Verma Sagi hopped about the crease struggling to get the ball away from the square, and the two openers were soon put out of their misery, clean bowled by the opening bowlers.

Srinivas Mandava and Kumar Venkata methodically repaired some of the early damage without ever looking like they could break the shackles. Srinivas was run out backing up too far at the non-strikers end to a direct hit from Nishit Banuri, fielding at square-leg (43 for 3 in 12 overs). This brought Ram to the crease and at once batting looked easier as the captain calmly played out the bowlers. At this point in time Sohail brought in his ace in the hole - Nishit Banuri. As the season progressed Nishit showed great poise in bowling to the opposition's top guns. Of the 9 wickets he took this season he snared 3 openers including Mukesh Patel, and also Naveen Peiris once. Nishit did not disappoint, getting Ram to flick uppishly to the mid-wicket boundary where Arvind Thiruvengadam settled under it Aussie-style - fingers pointing upwards (82 for 4).

Amol Bhavsar added to the 'Zags misery by rushing through Asim Ali's defences in the very next over (82 for 5). One over later, Kumar's long vigil came to an end when he spooned an easy catch to Avinash off Nishit's bowling (86 for 6). Srugun Sreepurum tried to repair the damage but his partners showed their tension by throwing away their wickets. A visibly-upset Srugun was left stranded on 11 runs, while the rest of the team committed hara-kiri to be all out for just 115 in 26 overs. Avinash finished with fantastic analysis of 4 overs, 1 maiden, 9 runs and 2 wickets.

Here is a copy of the SteelZags batting scorecard. The interesting thing to note is that they scored just 9 boundaries in 26 overs, indicative of the splendid bowling and fielding by the Mountaineers.

In the pre-innings huddle, Sohail had just one instruction for the batsmen - attack at every opportunity. WVUCC would not go down without their guns blazing. Even though there were 30 overs to get 116 runs, the Mountaineers approached it as it they had just 25 overs in which to do it.

In the very second over, Ram Paluri bowled a brute of a ball that jumped up from just short of good length, and hit Arvind's gloves in front of his face en route to second slip where Srugun took a very good juggling catch (6 for 1).

Ashok Varadarajan went in full of confidence, stemming from his stupendous partnership with Sohail in the semi-finals. The duo continued from where they left off and eliminated any faint hopes that the 'Zags may have nurtured. Easily playing out Sunil Yendluri and Ram, the duo kept up the pace with well-struck boundaries and the occasional dart for a six. In a tactically shrewd move Ram brought on his spinners - MS and Srugun - from both ends. Once upon a time Ashok would have perished to the spinners but the current edition had overcome his weaknesses through intense net sessions and confidently took the 'Eers to the threshold of victory. With 27 runs needed to win, Sohail played a tired flick that was spectacularly caught by Sunil, one handed on the square-leg boundary, for a well-made 39 in 40 balls, with 5 fours and six (89 for 2).

Drinks were taken with 21 runs needed to win, when Ashok lost his concentration and played all over a ball to be bowled for 46 in 49 balls, with 7 fours and a six (95 for 3).

Abishek Muralidharan looked to finish off the match in a hurry, striking a boundary and a six over cover to bring the required runs down to single digits. At the other end, it was fitting that C.S. Manish was at the crease. He even calmly contributed a flick to the square-leg boundary, defeating the obvious trap set there by the 'Zags. With 4 runs needed to win, Abishek tried to finish the match in one blow but failed to clear mid-off (112 for 4).

Manish and Sumanth Dommaraju calmly took the singles on offer to tie the scores. In trying to go for the winning hit, Sumanth missed an attempted flick to be bowled by Srugun (115 for 5). Abhijit Bhagavatula jumped out of his crease, head in the air, searching for glory off the first ball he faced. Srugun beat the bat and Sameen pulled off the easiest stumping of his career.

However, all this was just a ripple that caused some artificial excitement and made the score look closer. The first ball of the next over was calmly flicked past square-leg (yes, the 'Zags tried that leg-sde trap again for Manish) to bring up the winning runs!! WVUCC had won the PCA championships!!

In a heartfelt congratulatory speech to the rest of the 'Eers Sohail expressed all his happiness, gratitude, and respect for each and every member of the winning squad. For the think tank and the senior members of the squad it was a personally gratifying experience to see the culmination of all the plans - failed and successful - that they had hatched for years. For the newbies on the squad this was an experience to remember.

The transient nature of college-life being such, this would be the last time this team played together. Most of the team will not return the next year, having moved on in pursuit of more lofty goals in life, but the thread of victory will join them for as long as they live.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 19: Dating Destiny

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author. However, this report has been prepared with the help of some insider information, eyewitness accounts, and personal interviews. All errors are entirely their fault, not mine.

Game 15: Semi-finals - WVUCC versus Hurricanes

In the summer of 1997, WVUCC narrowly lost to Ohio State University in the semi-finals of the MidWest Cricket Tournament. Since then the team had managed to reach the quarter-finals and semi-finals on two other occasions but got thumped very easily. This year, one of the strongest Mountaineer squads ever assembled stood a very good chance of improving on previous performances. Facing them were the newly-formed Hurricanes team.

Naveen Peiris won the toss and, not surprisingly, elected to bat. Venkata Sathi bowled an inspired spell, completely tying down the batsmen, yielding just 5 runs (of which 3 were wides) in 3 overs. However, it was Ajay Nayak who made the first breakthrough, trapping Vinod Nair in front of the stumps (18 for 1). Ajay is an infuriating bowler (for his teammates). The 6 balls that he lands within reach of the batsman always has them hopping around, but he is a hit-and-miss with his radar, bowling as many wides as good balls. While Venkat was tying up one end, Ajay was helping the scoreboard along, but he vindicated Sohail Chaudhry's faith in his bowling by prising out Krish Kalyanaraman, who began with a well-struck four, but could not keep down a cover drive and Sumanth Dommaraju snapped up the chance. Prasad Joshi faced the brunt of Venkat's bowling and did not have too happy a time with it. Eventually Venkat's perseverance paid off and he bowled his man.

The loss of three quick wickets for just 24 runs brought the two best Hurricanes batsmen to the crease - Naveen and Anu Chopra. The two of them took a very cautious approach, not attempting anything risky (the semi-final was a 30-over affair, so they had more time). Sohail, Amol Bhavsar, and Nishit Banuri continued the good work, keeping things very tight and the Hurricanes played into the Mountaineer hands by not taking them on. It is easy to bowl well when you know the batsman is intent on defence and the 'Eers took advantage by rushing through their overs quickly.

The introduction of Avinaschander Manivannan, inexplicably held back by Sohail, eased some of the pressure as Naveen found Avinash's line (left-arm over the wicket) to his licking, flicking and cover-driving for a few sixes and fours. The score had reached 113 when Nishit induced a leading edge from Naveen and when Sumanth settled under the catch the Mountaineers began celebrating even before he caught it - Sumanth rarely drops anything and he didn't this time either. Naveen made 30 of his runs in 6 balls (3 fours, 3 sixes) and only 9 in the remaining 39 balls, indicating how he was biding his time and was held in check by some exceptionally tight bowling. 113 for 4 and only Anu Chopra stood between the 'Eers and a big total.

Anu Chopra is one of the best all-rounders in the PCA. A slow left-arm bowler and a right-handed batsmen, Anu's batting style is not necessarily one that you'd drive a 100 miles to see, but it is a very effective one - fetching him over 400 runs this season alone. His biggest weakness is to be told that he cannot bat. He tends to lose his cool and focus, upon hearing that. When Naveen got out the Mountaineers vociferously reminded everyone that the lone batsman for the Hurricanes was gone, and the need to dispel this notion got to Anu, as expected. After a fabulous innings under the circumstances - 41 runs in 58 balls, with 7 fours - Anu was bowled by Arvind Thiruvengadam and at 125 for 5, the Hurricanes were in deep trouble.

Sohail came back to finish things up and, apart from a couple of lusty blows by Upinder Bhat, the Hurricanes could not really accelerate and finished at 155 for 9 in 30 overs. A decent total, but one that should not have posed a challenge for the Mountaineers. The Hurricanes only hope was to take 3 or 4 quick wickets and let the pressure of the situation get to the chasing team, as it so often does.

Iftekhar Kazi produced just the right start for the Hurricanes, having Arvind Thiruvengadam caught at mid-off off a full toss. Ashok Varadarajan walked in and eased into the role of the sheet anchor. It was the month of Ramzan, Sohail was fasting and, consequently, fading in and out. He told Ashok that he was not sure how much longer he could keep playing, so he told him to farm the strike and give him some rest, while Sohail attacked as and when he could. Ashok proceeded to do just that, giving Sohail valuable resting time during an over.

In his undefeated innings Sohail had just 6 dot balls, and hit 10 fours, 3 sixes, 16 singles, and 4 twos, indicating how strong his control of the game was. In contrast, Ashok sedately collected 26 dot balls, against 5 fours and 3 sixes. Between them the duo put on an unbroken 146 run partnership and took the Mountaineers to victory in just 15.1 overs. Sohail finished on 82 off just 39 balls, while Ashok made a career-best 60 off 51 balls.

The best indication of the dominance of the duo - they hit at least one boundary in 13 of the 15 overs they faced!

In the other semi-final, the SteelZags had a chillingly clinical performance in defeating the Gladiators and the stage was set, rightfully, for a clash between the two best teams in the league in the grand finale. The SteelZags came in secure in the knowledge that they had a mental edge over the 'Eers having never lost to them. But the Mountineer team that had lost to them in the past was not the same one that had made it to the final. Sohail Chaudhry was back at the top of his game, the top order batsmen had all struck a purple patch, Ashok Varadarajan had finally fulfilled the potential he had shown all these years, the bowling displayed menace and control in equal measure, the fielding side was easily the best in the league, and a nearly-forgotten veteran was going to come back for one last fling.

Destiny awaited the 'Eers and they had no intention of disappointing her. Only the SteelZags stood in the way. Tune in shortly for the last match report of the season...

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 18: Outgunning the undermanned

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author. However, this report has been prepared with the help of some insider information, eyewitness accounts, and personal interviews. All errors are entirely their fault, not mine.

Game 14: WVUCC versus Blitzers

The final game of the regular season for WVUCC was bereft of much tension. The second spot in the league, and with it a bye in the first round of the playoffs, had already been secured. In addition, the Blitzers came to the ground with just 9 players.

Sohail Chaudhry won the toss and chose to bat. For the third straight match, and the 5th time this season, the Mountaineers put up in excess of 200 runs (202 for 7, to be exact). The architect of this total was Arvind Thiruvengadam, who made a career-best 78 in 60 balls (8 fours, and 4 sixes). The rest of the batsmen batted around him and ensured that the total was big enough that the undermanned Blitzers did not harbor any thoughts of an unlikely upset.

When you are chasing over 200 runs, and have just 8 wickets to spare, being 56 for 7 is exactly the best way to go about doing it, eventually finishing up at 90 all out. Six bowlers shared the 8 wickets to fall and the Mountaineers charged into the playoffs in style, firing on all cylinders.

They finished the season with a 9-4-1 record (second only to the 11-2-1 mark of the Steelzags), runners-up for the second year in a row in the regular season. They eagerly awaited the winner of the first quarterfinal between the Hurricanes and the PittsPunters.

All the Mountaineers, bar none, wanted a return match with the Punters in the semi-finals, but it was not to be as the Punters choked in their quarterfinal match. They had the Hurricanes reeling at 117 for 7 but could not stop Naveen Peiris (who scored a fantastic 100 not out) from taking the score to 200 for 7. In their chase, the PittsPunters were 135 for 4 at one stage and collapsed to 170 all out with Naveen taking 4 wickets for 18 runs in 5 overs.

The Mountaineers were convinced that they had a date with destiny and she was waiting for them in the finals. But before they got to that the stage was set for the two behemoths - Naveen and Sohail - to face-off once again. Tune in shortly for the next installment in this saga.

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 17: Lotur Rotak

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author. However, this report has been prepared with the help of some insider information, eyewitness accounts, and personal interviews. All errors are entirely their fault, not mine.

Game 13: WVUCC versus Lumberjacks

Sohail Chaudhry had played the Lumberjacks 5 previous times and had done reasonably well against them (see the end of this article for a more detailed breakdown). The Lumberjacks knew that their best chance of pulling off an upset was by dismissing this ginormous thorn early. Unfortunately for them, they were given a chance to try this right away as Sohail won the toss and chose to bat.

Walking in with Arvind Thiruvengadam, Sohail continued from where he left off in the previous match, thumping boundaries and scurrying for singles, almost at will. Arvind played within himself again, scoring 25 runs (with 4 boundaries) in 20 balls because Sohail was settling in for the long haul. Unfortunately for Arvind, Puneet managed to slip one by at with some low bounce and the first wicket fell at 48.

In preparing for life after C.S. Manish (funny how I manage to keep getting his name into every report long after he is gone!), the WVUCC thinktank came up with a like-for-like solution. If Arvind got out, Ashok Varadarajan would come in, and if Sohail got out Abishek Murlaidharan would come in. Ashok had been questioning his true worth as a batsman and the promotion to #3 was just the tonic he needed to find himself. Sohail and Ashok put on a 101-run partnership with Ashok contributing a steady 38 in 38 balls (2 fours and a six - all hit towards cover). When Ashok fell, Abishek continued along the same vein, keeping Sohail company.

Sohail took a few balls to settle in, escaping a couple of really close LBW shouts. Once he got his eye it, the most-feared all-rounder in the PCA league served notice that his season-long batting slump was over. Wading into the Lumberjack bowling with typical aggression, Sohail did not let up, finding time to play all of his favourite shots and more. While not quite at top form, Sohail still managed to play 63 balls, and find the fence often enough (8 fours, 5 sixes) to notch up the third century of his PCA career. When he finally got out, the score was a formidable 199 for 3. WVUCC finished at 214 for 6 in 25 overs, their second straight score over 200, and the 4th time they had done so in the tournament so far.

I'd like to tell you that the Lumberjacks put up a great fight, and gave the Mountaineers a run for their money, but that would be far from the truth. By now, the bowling of the 'Eers was assuming scary proportions (for the rest of the league) and Venkata Sathi bowled 4 overs in the opening spell, took 5 wickets and gave away just 11 runs. Very few teams can recover from such a start, and the Lumberjacks certainly aren't one of those. The dominance was such, Sohail did not even bowl a ball. Instead he gave some extended time to the other bowlers and this gave Nishit Banuri some valuable time to showcase his talents. Fast emerging as the bowling find of the season, Nishit gave Sohail another shut-down option in the middle overs and the Mountaineers were starting to click at the right time. (Once again, thank you, PittsPunters)

Now for the promised stats on Sohail's love affair with the Lumberjacks. He has played them 5 times so far. Here are his scores (an * indicates a not out innings):
69* (in just 19 balls)
11 (batting at #4 for the only time against the LJ's)

That is a total of 332 runs at an average of 110.6 in 5 innings.

With this win, WVUCC improved to 8-4-1 and awaited a return match against the Blitzers.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 16: Restoring order

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author. However, this report has been prepared with the help of some insider information, eyewitness accounts, and personal interviews. All errors are entirely their fault, not mine.
In order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to his 2006 stats.

Game 12: WVUCC versus Hurricanes

With the retirement of C.S. Manish, a permanent opening spot had opened up. Ajay Nayak, as always willing to step up for the team, was considered but in the end the thinktank decided to revert to the old pair of Arvind Thiruvengadam and Sohail Chaudhry (who had once put on 152 runs for the first wicket.

Still smarting from the embarrassing loss to the Punters, WVUCC was ready for the rest of the league, and upon winning the toss Sohail opted to strike first. Coming back to his natural spot at the top of the order Sohail revelled, in typical fashion, slashing and carving fours, and running hard otherwise. But the revelation was Arvind. For a long time Arvind has been threatening to put up a big score, only to manufacture ways of getting himself out. Having Sohail at the other end was just the calming influence he needed and the Hurricanes did not know what hit them. Sohail put up impressive numbers in an opening partnership of 112, (42 runs in 32 balls, with 6 fours, and 1 six) but was completely overshadowed by Arvind. Don't let the numbers fool you - this was a very watchful innings by Arvind, carefully crafted to ensure that he did not throw his wicket away. 55 of his runs came in just 11 balls (6 fours and 5 sixes), 10 runs came in the remaining 38!

After Sohail got out, Abishek Muralidharan and Arvind continued in the same vein battering the Hurricane bowlers into submission. With the score on 136, Arvind perished but Abishek marshalled the middle order to ensure that the advantage was not lost. Abishek made an accomplished 53 in just 37 balls, (3 fours and 4 sixes) and WVUCC finished on an imposing 221 for 7 in 25 overs

All Hurricane hopes rested on their captain Naveen Peiris. The WVUCC strategy was to attack the batsmen around Naveen in order to make him feel the pinch of losing partners at the other end. Strategies are all well and good but you need the right personnel to execute them. The loss of Manish in the batting department was compensated by the return of the best left-handed new ball bowler (along with Usman Hashmi) to have ever played for WVUCC - Avinaschander Manivannan. Ajay and Avinash kept the Hurricanes in check and began eating through the top order. In his last over Avinash breached Naveen's defences and the Hurricanes goose was cooked. By the time the 10th over was bowled, the Hurricanes were 52 for 6 and sitting dead in the water.

Some aggressive batting by Vinod Nair and Krish Kalyanaraman made the margin of defeat a little more respectable but there was never any doubt that the Mountaineers were back with a vengeance. Arvind duly completed a good personal day for himself by snaring the last wicket to end the Hurricane innings at 164

WVUCC improved its record to 7-4-1 and was back in second place. Next up were the Lumberjacks and they must not have been too happy to note that Sohail had returned to the opening spot and was finally approaching the top of his game.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 15: Crass will out

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, especially on this occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

In order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to his 2006 stats.

Game 11: WVUCC versus PittsPunters

For a long time, almost a decade, C.S. Manish had been involved with WVUCC, either as a player (mostly as a substitute fielder), or as a manager/coach - a role he shared for many years with Bala Balakrishnan, before Bala moved to New England to raise a family. In 2007, Manish was playing his last season for the 'Eers, and due to circumstances beyond his control, he would have to leave the team before the season ended. When Sohail Chaudhry and the rest of the team were told that the 11th game of the season would be the last he would play with them, the team decided to accord Manish with the highest honor possible - captaining the team.

It was going to be a critical game - against bitter rivals, the PittsPunters - and when Manish lost the toss to Rajanikanth Jayaseelan, his day had not started on a good note. Little did he know that things would get much worse...

Mukesh Patel came out with his guns blazing. WVUCC's policy of spreading the field and denying Mukesh the easy boundaries charged up this PCA titan, and rather than settling for the singles he took on the fielders. Repeatedly jumping out of his crease, Mukesh attacked the straight and cover boundaries, getting away with numerous close calls that fell just out of the reach of the fielders. In no time, the 50 was up on the board but Nishit Banuri came to the fore. In a portent of things to come later in the season, Nishit struck to a wicket-to-wicket line and controlled the aggressive batsmen, eventually castling both openers. Wickets fell at regular intervals, and one statistic shows exactly how true this cliche was. Here are the partnerships for the 10 wickets - 39, 14, 16, 16, 20, 6, 9, 13, 10, 2. Once the first breach had been made by Nishit, the rest of the bowlers chipped in and did not let the pressure slacken. Sohail bowled an inspired spell - 4 overs, 4 wickets for 13 runs, including the important wicket of Ganesh Krishnan (Bada Ganesh to the PCA), out LBW. Bada Ganesh, the heart and soul of the PittsPunters, is a very, very, very good all-rounder but a classic complainer. Belonging to the Martin Crowe-Tim Duncan school of "who-me?" theatrics, Bada Ganesh is eternally convinced that he is never ever out LBW, and should the bowler flatten his stumps, would probably protest that he is not out because his leg-stump is still standing. His dismissal led to some rancor between him and the umpire, and the ill-will soon spilled over to the field of play.

The PittPunters were bowled out for just 145, but an undercurrent of tension was apparent in the air.

When Manish and Arvind Thiruvengadam came out to bat, they faced the brunt of some incessant chatter. Manish shrugged off a couple of the initial comments, but uncharacteristically (for him) fell for the bait and lost his composure. In an effort to quieten the close-in fielders, Manish aimed an ugly, cross-batted hoick that missed the ball by a fair distance. Amit Rainia did not miss the stumps but blotted the minor victory by giving Manish an abusive send-off. People talk about proverbial straws and camel's backs. The last gesture was it for Manish, who lost all semblance of respect for a couple of the Punters.

WVUCC is one of the teams that is constantly talking on the field, reminding batsmen of potential weaknesses, cheering up their players in the face of a batting or bowling onslaught, but the only team that they have had problems with have been the Punters - who are good at dishing it out, but are very thin-skinned about receiving it in return. The first game of the season between these two teams had been played with a fine sense of friendly banter and competitiveness. The second game was anything but fun.

Once the initial breach had been made, the PittsPunters were fired up and the bowling ripped through the Mountaineer batting line-up. Except for Arvind, no other batsman crossed 5 runs, and the defeat would have been even worse had Arvind not counterpunched his way to 33 runs with 5 boundaries. In the end, the Punters cleaned up the 'Eers for 64 , with Vijay Ramanujan recording brilliant bowling figures - 4.4 overs, 5 wickets for 6 runs (including 1 no-ball and 2 wides!).

More drama erupted during the drinks break when a couple of PittsPunters players attempted to ease the tension by apologizing to Manish. Manish refused to accept the apologies and the two teams parted with bitter memories. For two years Manish had watched some members of the Punters cross certain boundaries of accepted behaviour on the field, only to walk-off the ground and then come around with apologies, as if whatever they said on the field was a lapse and was not meant to be taken seriously. As if! On his last day of the regular season, Manish saw no reason to play along with this charade. If a few of the Punters had been on the WVUCC roster, they would have never played another game for the 'Eers as indiscipline is not regarded lightly by WVUCC.

This defeat and the rude manner in which they, especially their senior-most player, had been treated by some of the PittsPunters, ignited a fire in the 'Eers and they turned their anger towards the remaining games of the season. The last vestiges of self-doubt had been burnt away, and the rest of the league was going to pay the price for the Punters folly.

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 14: Damp squib

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, on occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Also, in order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to his 2006 stats.

Game 10: WVUCC versus Gladiators

After the cautious first win of the season against the Gladiators, the Mountaineers were primed to compose a more comprehensive win in the return engagement. However, the best laid plans of mice and men and other similar sentiments came to mind when the match was washed out without a ball being bowled. The Gladiators and the Mountaineers shared two points apiece.

With this tie, the 'Eers record improved to 6-3-1, and next up was an emotionally charged return match-up against the PittsPunters.

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 13: Escape to victory

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, on occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Also, in order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to his 2006 stats.

Game 9: WVUCC versus Strikers

The first game of the season between the 'Eers and Strikers was over in a jiffy, with the Strikers not even getting a whiff of a chance. In the return game, the proud remnants of the once-powerhouse team promised to not go down without a fight.

After winning the toss they could not have had a more disastrous start, though. Two balls into the innings, Shailesh Bokil was unable to keep down his favourite shot and gave Sumanth Dommaraju, at point, an easy catch in Rajesh Penmetsa's first over on debut. In the next over, Tony Edmonstone, who chose to bat without any helmet, stretched forward and the ball jagged up and smashed into his nose, breaking it. Tony took no further part in the game but the tone for an apprehensive batting performance for the rest of the day was set. Batsman after batsman came to the crease, hesitantly put his front foot forward and paid the price for his timidity. Only Sanjeev Singh, with a composed innings, looked like he was willing to watch the ball, but his partners were in a rush to get out of the way of the bowling, throwing wickets with reckless abandon.

But at 106 for 5, with Sanjeev Singh still at the crease, the Strikers had a chance to put up a decent total. In came Sohail Chaudhry and Arvind Thiruvengadam. A combined spell of 4.1 overs, 1 maiden, 6 wickets for 13 runs scuttled all hopes in sensational fashion! From 106 for 5, the Strikers collapsed to 108 all out.

Sanjeev Singh had watched his batting partners come and go, unwilling to bat it out with him. Unfortunately for the Mountaineer batsmen, he took his anger out on them. In the last year or so, Sanjeev has lost more than a yard or two of pace, becoming a military medium pacer (a la Madan Lal). On this day, he reached back into his heydey and produced a spell of sustained pace bowling that had the top order hopping for cover.

If the Mountaineers thought that the Strikers start to their innings was disastrous, they had no idea what was in store for them, courtesy Sanjeev. The slide started when C.S. Manish was caught plumb in front of the middle stump off the second ball of the innings, the ball hurrying onto his pads before the opener had even brought his bat down. The very next ball cleaned up Abishek Muralidharan, crashing into his stumps even as Abishek was caught at the crease staring at the spot where the ball had bounced. But the biggest fish was yet to be caught. Sanjeev finished off his first over with his third and most important wicket, finding the stumps off Sohail's pads. 2 runs for 3 wickets in 1 over. Trouble was brewing...

Things got worse when Sanjeev charged in, first smashing through Arvind Thiruvengadam's defences (12 for 4), and then Sumanth Dommaraju's (23 for 5). Ashok tried to hit his way out of the jam but in the next over, Dhiraj Raikhelkar joined the party, trapping him palpably in front of the stumps, LBW for 10, inclusive of 2 fours (23 for 6). WVUCC were in dire straits and Sanjeev still had two overs to go!!

Abhijit Bhagavatula and Amol Bhavsar then sensibly played out Sanjeev's remaining overs. Abhijit, flush with confidence from his recent successes, carefully put his front foot well forward and negated any chance of an LBW or clean bowled. At the other end, Amol reined his attacking instincts to play the best innings of his WVUCC career. Sanjeev Singh finished his outstanding spell (5 overs, 11 runs, 5 wickets) to a standing ovation from both teams, but he had been unable to breach the last recognized pair and he knew that the 'Eers may have just slipped from his grasp.

Abhijit and Amol then proceeded to shut the Strikers out of the game with a controlled partnership, not taking any risks whatsoever, and hitting the bad balls when they came by. The fact that the target was not large helped as they had lots of time on their hands. So much so that as the score started building up Sohail signalled to Amol to take a few risks in an attempt to get the bonus point (for reaching the target in less than 20 overs). Amol proceeded to do just that with three fours and a six in the mid-wicket to square-leg area. He perished with the score on 84 for a fantastic 30 in 27 balls (if you remove his boundary hits, he scored 12 runs in 23 balls, just what the doctor ordered, as Ravi Shastri would say).

Harshesh Patel ensured that no further mishaps would occur, keeping Abhijit company while the middle-order hero calmly struck a slew of boundaries to take WVUCC to victory in 18.1 overs. Abhijit remained not out on 28 in 42 balls (4 fours). If you remove his boundary hits, he scored 12 runs in 38 balls, showing remarkable maturity and calmness, especially in the way he blunted Sanjeev's spell.

Even though the Mountaineers got out of jail, the day belonged to Sanjeev Singh. If he had received even a semblance of support from the other end he may have even pulled out the victory, but it was not to be.

With this win, the 'Eers record improved to 6-3 and next up were the Gladiators, a team that WVUCC certainly had the measure of and were hoping to get maximum possible points from.

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 12: Justice is served

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, on occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Also, in order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to his 2006 stats.

Game 8: WVUCC versus Blitzers

Along with the Steelzags, the Blitzers provide WVUCC with the most enjoyable on-field experiences. There is a great deal of chatter that goes on, friendly banter that brings lots of smiles to everyone. In 2006, the Blitzers were unable to beat the 'Eers, losing close matches both times.

Sohail Chaudhry once again won the toss and elected to bat. C.S. Manish began the match in sensational fashion hooking two of the first three balls bowled by Rajat Grover for sixes, easily clearing the tree by the pavilion with the second one. However, at the other end Ferdinand "Ferdie" Justus exacted revenge by tying down both openers with some sharp seam bowling. Ferdie is an enigma, a smiling, effervescent player with a Shoaib Akhtar-esque penchant for bowling two good overs with a mean streak and then quickly getting tired. But those two overs he bowls are as good as any bowled by the top bowlers in the league. In his second over, he sliced Manish almost in half with a sharp incutter and even as the umpire indicated not out, the batsman walked, indicating that he had nicked to the keeper.

Emboldened by the atypically aggressive start provided by Manish, the rest of the top order came in and attacked the ball from the get-go. The top 6 batsmen all scored at least 13 runs, getting starts, but no one really managed to sustain it for long. The Blitzers, Ferdie excepted, are honest toilers at best, trundling along at medium pace or less with a stump to stump line. On this day, they contained the Mountaineers without threatening to ever run through the line up. Arvind Thiruvengadam survived a few close Ferdie-induced calls to stitch together his highest personal score, falling just short of the half-century mark just when an increase in tempo was required. (Luckily for the 'Eers this innings marked the start of a purple patch even as Abishek Muralidharan and Sohail went into a batting slump of sorts).

A Sumanth Dommaraju cameo towards the close pushed the score past the 150 mark to finish at 167 for 7 in 25 overs - competitive but definitely not nearly enough on this ground.

The Blitzers innings would depend upon the fate of two of their main batsmen - Raj Gopal and Ferdie (yes, the dude can bat, too). Raj Gopal was the most feared Blitzers batsman in the 2006 season, with a pleasing array of straight drives and punches in the off-side. In 2007, he astonishingly regressed, displaying remarkable impatience for a batsman used to making big scores. The book on him is simple; spread the field, cut off his boundaries, leave a huge gap at square-leg and invite him to attempt a cross-batted hoick to the vacant region. Sure enough, a series of balls that did not fetch runs forced Raj to attempt an ugly heave and he only managed to snick it to the keeper. Unfortunately, Raj's attempts to extricate himself from his slump through the rest of the season did not succeed and I only hope that in the off-season he will think about his failings and focus on not throwing his wicket away when the runs do not flow easily. He would do well to watch Sohail or Naveen Peiris bat to learn how to wait for the bad balls to come along.

Before that, Sheeley Rajamony had given Ashok Varadarajan, the keeper, an even easier catch and the Mountaineers sniffed a chance to put the game away. But Ravi Vishwanathan, the grizzled veteran (why he did not open in 2007 for the Blitzers is beyond my comprehension) eased the tension by playing out the tough period, with Elanchezhian Mahendran for company. Slowly, but surely, they began easing the runs and Sohail spread the field to induce a mistake. Sure enough Elan fell in the trap, caught at the square-leg boundary. And when Ravi misread a straighter one from Thilanka Munasinghe the 'Eers were one wicket away from pulling out the game. Standing between them and the wicket was the stocky (ahem) Ferdie. Ferdie then showed Raj (and the others) how it was done. He scored 38 runs in 7 balls (5 sixes and 2 fours) and nudged and pushed for 15 runs in the remaining 31 balls. At the other end, Balaji Kannan, duplicated Ferdie scoring 20 runs (2 sixes, 2 fours) in 4 balls and 6 runs in the remaining 22. Unfortunately for the Blitzers, Balaji got excited with victory in sight and got out trying to hit another six. However, Ferdie ensured no more hiccups occurred along the way calmly finishing the match for his team, remaining unbeaten on a well-made 53.

With this loss, the 'Eers fell to 5-3 and next up were the Strikers...surely an easy win was in the offing against the only winless team in the league, or was it as simple as that?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 11: Timber!!!

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, on occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Also, in order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to his 2006 stats.

Game 7: WVUCC versus Lumberjacks

The Lumberjacks are the other University-based team in the PCA (you can figure out for yourself which University they belong to). Last year they had a horrid time adjusting to the more experienced teams in the league, but soldiered on, nevertheless. They finished the season strongly, winning 3 of their last 4 games. Better things were expected from them for the 2007 season, and though by the end they did come close to a playoff spot, they probably underachieved.

Sohail Chaudhry won the toss and had asked Puneet Khandelwal to ask his team to bowl. For WVUCC, C.S. Manish's hamstring had flared up again and Ajay Nayak stepped into the breach. Arvind Thiruvengadam went quickly, but Ajay found the bowling to his liking. With a propensity to flick strongly off his pads, Ajay regularly peppered the square boundary and grew in confidence (or condifence, as his batting partner Abishek Muralidharan would say). Shrugging off the loss of Arvind, Ajay played his best innings of the season (6 fours and a 6) and was ably assisted by Abishek. Abishek, having unlocked the key to scoring runs, now displayed his penchant for bigger scores by effortlessly rattling up another 50.

Against the Lumberjacks, all the batsmen went in with an aggressive mindset, irrespective of the loss of wickets, so Sohail picked up the baton, passed it along to Sumanth, and when Abishek finally fell, Abhijit stepped into the void. Having discovered that he could bat, and bat well, in this league Abhijit went from strength to strength. Seamlessly mixing the attacking shots with defensive pushes for singles and two's Abhijit ensured that the WVUCC score went from an impressive one to an imposing one. Abhijit remained unbeaten on 43 (5 fours, 2 sixes) off just 30 balls and WVUCC put up 215 for 7 in 25 overs.

Raoul Pinto and Puneet began as if they believed they could overhaul the target and quickly brought up the 50 partnership. However, the old Lumberjacks showed up soon enough. 62 for no loss soon became 69 for 4 and the stuffing had been knocked out for all purposes. With the match well in hand, Sohail took the opportunity to give as many bowlers as possible (8 bowlers in all) a chance to bowl. In doing so he let the later order batsmen put up a few runs; never at a pace fast enough to threaten to take the game away, but nevertheless, delaying the inevitable defeat. Eventually, an umpiring error brought the final score to 172 all out, which was crucial as they needed to get to exactly 172 to prevent WVUCC from gaining a bonus point.

With this win, the 'Eers rose to 5-2 and next up were the Blitzers.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 10: Hey Ram!

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, on occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Also, in order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to his 2006 stats.

Game 6: WVUCC versus Steelzags

The regular season powerhouses of the '06-'07 season met for the second time in a match up that featured a lot of friendly banter between the two sides. The Mountaineers enjoy playing against the Steelzags (and the Blitzers) the most in the PCA league, because there is a constant chatter (some may call it sledging) that goes on relentlessly between the two sides but never descends to nastiness (that is a report for another game).

For all their chattering, WVUCC had never defeated the 'Zags in 4 tries and were eager to correct that trend. The day got off to a bad start when C.S. Manish, gimpy leg and all, had to play since the Mountaineers were struggling to get 11 players on the field. To compound matters, Ram Paluri won the toss and promptly decided to test the Mountaineer bowlers.

Venkata Sathi bowled a dream spell (5-1-12-0), tying up Srugun Sreepurum and Verma Sagi. Harshesh Patel was also on line but a little more prodigal with the wides. Srugun began the 2006 season with a 50 but has overwhelmingly underachieved as a batsman since then. He likes to hit the ball through mid-wicket and, if denied those easy runs, gets very itchy-fingered at the crease. He is one of a handful of batsmen in the league who are like that (Mukesh Patel, Ferdinand Justus, Raj Gopal, and Abishek Muralidharan are a few names that quickly come to mind). The book on him is to keep the ball outside the off-stump and wait for him to self-destruct. With the score going nowhere, sure enough he did, lofting Harshesh to mid-on. The wicket calmed Harshesh's nerves and he soon had Swadhin Saurabh caught behind by Ashok, who would have a typically outstanding day behind the stumps. Verma belongs to the Manish school of batting - preserving his wickets while rotating the strike to the other batsmen. He played out Venkat's spell and then relaxed a little when Sohail Chaudhry came on. Big mistake! In his first over, Sohail had Verma snagged by Ashok and the 'Zags were in trouble at 48 for 3.

Srinivas Mandava (MS to all of us) is more of a bowler than a batsman, though you would not know it if you watched him bat. In 2006, he was the first person in the PCA league to take a hat-trick, and the Mountaineers were not exactly worried about his skills with the bat. Sure enough, in the next over, he was caught and bowled by Amol Bhavsar, who followed up the good work with a wicket-maiden. 48 for 4.

Sridhar Lingam and Ram then set about repairing the damage with some enterprising batting. Sridhar looked in ominous touch initially, striking three boundaries to various parts of the leg-side off Amol, who started looking for more pace and lost his line. Sridhar, however, was very smartly run out by Ashok when he took off for a run but could not scamper back in time when sent back by Ram. 75 for 4.

Sumanth Dommaraju came into the attack, and what followed was an incandescent innings by Ram. Scenting a kill, the Mountaineers crowded around the bat and Ram's response was breath-taking. Without slogging or hitting uncultured shots, Ram effortlessly cleared the fence, time after time, with lightning-quick flicks and cover drives. He hit 1 four and 7 sixes, reaching 50 in just 15 balls (but not a PCA record for the fasted 50, mind you), before Suman had the last (very, very belated) laugh having him caught behind by Ashok off an attempted cover drive. 139 for 6.

The rest of the batsmen put together a few runs here and there and WVUCC felt that they had escaped a real leather-hunt when the Steelzags finished at a managable 171 for 8 in 25 overs. If you remove Ram's blitzkrieg, the 'Zags scored 121 runs in about 22 overs - respectable, but definitely under par for Edgebrook Field.

Cliche' time: Cricket is supposed to be a great leveller, and it proved to be just that on this day. In his first game for WVUCC, Abhijit Bhagavatula had taken 4 wickets, conceeding just 1 run in one over, including a hat-trick. In this, his second game, his solitary over went for 28 runs as Ram waded into him in what seemed like a pre-meditated and calculated assault. Abhijit's bowling would never be the same again for the rest of the tournament, but he would go on to display another card of tricks that still made him an integral part of the team...but I am getting ahead of myself.

The old firm of Manish and Arvind (Thiruvengadam) were back at it again, but could not get anything going. In a surprise move, Ram, who in 24 previous regular season games had bowled a total of just 11 overs, shared the new ball with Krishna Konduru. In his very first over, he hurried Arvind into a drive and pulled off a stunning caught and bowled. 2 for 1. Three balls later he had a bigger prize - Sohail. Getting the ball to jag back off the seam, Ram got the ball to cut into Sohail, and crash onto the stumps off his pads. 6 for 2 and deep trouble for the 'Eers.

Abishek and Manish then calmly went about repairing the damage. The 'Zags had decided that Manish's weakness was in being unable to keep a flick down, and so they targeted his legs. In doing so they played into his hands. Manish has probably never scored a run in the point to mid-off region in all his years in the PCA (some would say he'd be lousy at baseball!) and yet the 'Zags fed him on the leg-side. Krishna bowled a horrible first spell and was hit to the boundary multiple times by both Abishek and Manish and the pressure began to ease. Against the grain, however, Ram managed to slip a ball by Manish's patented forward defensive push and rattled the stumps. 47 for 3. One run later, he did the same to Abishek, too. 48 for 4. In the next over, Sumanth overbalanced in trying to flick a wide ball down the leg-side and Verma smartly stumped him. 48 for 5.

This brought Ashok and Abhijit to the crease. The duo then set about taking quick singles and defending anything on the stumps, furstrating the 'Zags. Ashok played a steady hand, increasingly showing a prowess for hitting to the cover region that was heartening to watch (and a portent of big things to come). But the revelation on the day was Abhijit. Those of you that had the pleasure of watching Santhosh Balla bat will have no difficulty in picturing Abhijit's batting style. The similarities are there - the tendency to nudge and push and find the gaps, the ability to quickly step forward and square-drive to cover, or flick to midwicket when the ball is overpitched, the hustle between the stumps, and the internalized aggressive approach to the task at hand. In an impressive performance, Abhijit and Ashok took the score forward with a 50 run partnership without looking like getting out (until, of course, they did).

Ashok's weakness is spin bowling (used to be spin bowling, I should add, now that more time has passed since the day of this match) and the 'Zags kept a spinner at one end until Srugun finally managed to slip one by him and a crucial breakthrough had been made. 98 for 6.

Ajay Nayak and Abhijit continued in the same vein but the asking rate was mounting and something had to give. Quite unexpectedly, it was Abhijit who was trapped in front of the stumps, playing on the backfoot to Krishna, who redeemed himself for a lousy first spell by bowling a brilliant second one. The rest of the batsmen could not keep Ajay company and in the end the Mountaineers were all out for 140, losing by 31 runs. The unfortunate part was that they had another 41 balls to get them in but no batsmen left - a waste of resources that rankled the players for a long time.

Each time the Mountaineers played the 'Zags, they have found them just a little harder to defeat. The baggage is piling up and all the 'Eers can hope for is a chance at redemption in the playoffs.

But first things first, with this defeat the 'Eers fell to 4-2 but next up, to heal the wounds of this match, were the snake-bitten Lumberjacks!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 9: Strikeout!!

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, on occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Also, in order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to the page that shows his 2006 stats.

Game 5: WVUCC versus Strikers

The 2006 Strikers team was an awe-inspiring one. The 2007 edition was not. The team went through a major overhaul, more so than any other team in the league, including the Mountaineers, and came out a pale shadow of the all-conquering (almost) 2005-06 editions. In 2006, the Strikers lost all 3 times to WVUCC. Would 2007 be any different?

Sohail Chaudhry won the toss and opted to bat first, as is his wont. With both regular openers - Arvind T. (gallivanting about in California) and C.S. Manish (torn hamstring) - unable to play Sohail reverted to his normal spot joining Ajay Nayak. Very quickly the duo put on 33 runs before Ajay's high backlift proved to be his undoing, unable to bring his bat down in time, out LBW to Mahesh Nanda.

Abishek Muralidharan and Sohail then took off, seemingly in a race to see who could score faster. Middling the ball from the start, Sohail played his best innings of the season, so far, effortlessly toying with everything the Strikers had to offer. All his trademark shots - the square drive over cover, the pull-flick over square-leg, and his own patented upside-down paddle sweep - were unfurled and he raced past 50 in little time. The bowling was causing no problems when he was adjudged LBW after missing a sweep shot. Normally very undemonstrative when given out, Sohail was extremely upset with this decision.

The other batsmen did not let the pace slacken and gave Abishek company. Ever since his debut in the 2006 season, Abishek has been the king of the 20-30 run cameo. This day, against the Strikers, he made the transition the WVUCC think-tank had been waiting for. Batting within himself (41 of his runs came in just 8 balls, the remaining 24 took 34 balls) he waited for the all-too-frequent easy picking to come along while otherwise biding his time. While batting with Sohail he also set a unique record that will be almost impossible to beat in the small-sized Edgebrook Field - an all-run 5. While completing a second run, an overthrow fetched an additional 2 runs, and a second overthrow took his tally to 5 runs. If Roger Costello had not stopped the ball on the fence with a one-handed grab, Abishek could have had 7 runs off one ball!

Batting serenely (Abishek is one of the most attractive batsmen to watch, especially when he goes on the backfoot to punch into the off-side) he finally perished in trying to increase the scoring rate in the slog overs. Ashok Varadarajan and Amol Bhavsar then finished the job scoring 45 runs between the two of them in just 27 balls to take WVUCC to an imposing 232 for 5 in 25 overs.

The outmatched Strikers had one hope - that Sanjeev Singh could fire with Tony Edmonstone or Mahesh Nanda in tow.

Venkata Sathi and Harshesh Patel, on debut, quickly accounted for the openers but were unable to dislodge Sanjeev or Tony. Batting quite cautiously, Tony and Sanjeev accumulated the runs without ever threatening to tear open the game. Tony looked very compact and looks like a player who could make a lot of noise in the years to come in the PCA.

One sensational piece of fielding turned the Strikers resistance to putty. Tony defended the ball towards Sumanth Dommaraju at cover and took a couple of steps in completing the stroke. Sumanth moved two paces to his left and fired an underarm laser to the keeper that stunned Tony - run out without even attempting a run! Many batsmen have underestimated the fielding prowess of the laconic Sumanth to their own dismay and Tony was no different.

Sumanth then turned his arm over and a desperate swing of the bat by Sanjeev did not connect and he was bowled, and with it the hopes of the Strikers were dealt a death blow. 63 for 2 quickly became 106 for 6 in 17 overs when Sohail decided to give another debutant, Abhijit Bhagavatula, a bowl. Meanwhile, the third debutant, Nishit Banuri, began to get ready to bowl the next over.

Abhijit started well, bowling a dot ball to start off. The next ball fetched him his maiden wicket when Sunny Patel lofted the ball to Abishek at deep long-off. The third ball was deflected for a single but on the fourth ball, Goutam dragged his outside the crease to be smartly stumped by Ashok. Off the fifth ball, Deepak Malhotra mistimed a drive and Amol Bhavsar pouched the simple catch to put Abhijit on a hat-trick. Roger Costello came up to the crease, surrounded by a bunch of jacked-up Mountaineers. His way of dealing with the hat-trick ball was to smash it as hard as he could. Unfortunately all he could do was find Harshesh Patel on the square-leg boundary and the second hat-trick in WVUCC history had been recorded!!! (The first was, naturally, by Sohail against Cleveland CC a few years ago). Abhijit finished with the incredible analysis of 1-0-1-4. Nishit Banuri did not get to bowl or bat on debut!!

WVUCC improved to 4-1 on the season and next up was a showdown with the undefeated Steelzags. With revenge on their minds the Mountaineers looked to put one over the 'Zags. Would they break the hoodoo of never defeating the 2006 regular season champs?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cricket in the 'Burgh - part 8: Serving a cold dish

The opinions expressed in this post are solely that of the author who, on occasion, had an out-of-body experience and was able to watch himself play.

Also, in order to keep some suspense about the 2007 season, when I provide a link to a player's page I shall link to the page that shows his 2006 stats.

Game 4: WVUCC versus PittsPunters

To say that there is little love lost between WVUCC and the PittsPunters is to put it mildly. On an individual basis, there are a few players who get along with each other. But, as a team, all rules of engagement go out the door. PittsPunters won the 2006 title with a frighteningly clutch performance by Sarav in the playoffs. The 2007 Punters squad was hit by the retirement or transfer of some players but it was still a dangerous team. Last year they had the measure of WVUCC, defeating them all 4 times they played, but the Mountaineers were eager to buck that trend.

A few players were unable to attend practice, so WVUCC once again went into the game with just 10 players in the line-up, not the best way to start off against a bitter rival.

Sohail won the toss and opted to bat first. The regular opener, Arvind Thiruvengadam, was in California and Ajay Nayak (as he would do many times in the season) stepped up and offered to open with C.S. Manish. Ajay endured a jittery start, nearly playing on, but was calmed down when reminded that preserving wickets was the credo for the first 5-10 overs. He took his time getting off the mark, and soon accelerated flicking (in Ajit Agarkar-high-backlift style) 3 effortless boundaries. The opening bowlers were easily dispatched, going for 44 runs in their combined 6 overs. Rajanikanth Jayaseelan, the captain, brought himself on and Ajay was suckered into edging one to the keeper. But the score was a healthy 57 for 1 and he had done his job. Sohail started with a first-ball four but looked out of sorts and got out relatively soon (64 for 2). Abishek Muralidharan and Manish were unruffled by any of the bowling and moved along serenely. A few minutes after Abishek joined him, Manish pulled up lame while attempting a sharp single (later diagnosed as a torn hamstring) and Sohail came back as a by-runner.

Abishek hit just 1 six as he and Manish (well, technically Sohail) ran hard converting 1's to 2's and 2's into 3's. Abishek's biggest weakness is a streak of overconfidence that comes into him when the going is good. With the score motoring along to 135 and none of the bowlers looking remotely close to taking his scalp, Abishek did not help himself by trying to clean the long boundary. If he can ever divest himself of this urge to clear the straight fence he'll probably score truckloads of runs in the PCA league (135 for 3).

Sumanth Dommaraju ensured that the damage wasn't severe with another calmly constructed innings, as only he can, flicking a six and running like a hare between the wickets. However, at the other end, with the score on 175, in the 24th over, Manish's long vigil came to an end. A tired hoick did not have enough power to clear the infield and the opener limped off having scored 64 runs in 60 balls with 6 fours and a six. The innings was typical Manish - full of carefully watched dot balls interspersed with the occasional nudge to the fence. The only shots hit in anger were when the bowlers pitched short and he pulled and hooked the majority of his boundaries. With no off-side game to speak of, Manish's score reflects how often the Punters erred by slipping the ball towards the leg stump.

WVUCC finished up at 189 for 5 in 25 overs. Ashok Varadarajan endured the disappointment of being shunted down the order but chipped in with 3 runs. Remember that contribution later....

Makarand Kulkarni (Mack to us) sent shivers down the Mountaineer's spines hitting Sohail for 4 boundaries in the first over - all the shots were from the copybook and the ball raced along the gound to the fence. Vineet Goyal, having suffered the ignominy of being hit for a six by the strokeless wonder (Manish) when he bowled, came out determined to make amends and the Punters score quickly crossed 50. Unlike some other teams in the past (or the football team in the near future), this Mountaineer side remained upbeat through it all. A slice of magic was needed and when Ajay's sharp throw found Vineet short of the crease, the first breakthrough was made. Prashant was greeted by a volley of chatter and was trapped in front, LBW, by Venkata Sathi, who bowled an unbroken 5 over spell from one end. (56 for 2). After the initial flurry, Mack found the going a little harder and got tied down by an impressive Amol Bhavsar. There was an air of inevitability about the way he tried to force the pace and was caught behind by Ashok. (82 for 3).

Rajani and D.S. Dileep came in guns blazing and took Ajay and Amol apart. Attacking at every opportunity, between them they scored 8 fours and 3 sixes, and the Punters crossed the 100 and then the 150 mark in no time. Sumanth had also been hit quite a bit but Sohail, in the absence of other options (remember the Mountaineers were down to 9 players with Manish just limping on the field), persisted with him. Needing just 30-odd runs and plenty of overs in hand the Punters, inexplicably, kept trying to finish the game with a big hit. Two swings of the bat, two misses, and Sumanth found the stumps both times!! Sohail then turned to Nikhil Burri. On debut, Nikhil, who embodies the WVUCC team spirit in the truest sense, did not let his captain down. Stemming the flow of runs into just singles, Nikhil's relentless stump to stump line was too much for Rao, who tried to make room to free his arms and only ended up adding to Ashok's tally behind the stumps. 152 for 3 had turned into 163 for 6 and a hard-fought battle was well and truly on.

In spite of having fewer fielders, the Mountaineers did not let up in the field. The Punters went from an attacking mode to a panicking mode in the twinkling of an eye. To add to their woes, an ill-advised attempt to take on Sumant's arm resulted in D. Joshi being run out by a mile (175 for 7; 14 runs to win).

Sohail brought himself back on and Vyas Sekar greeted him with a calmly struck six to the cover boundary. Trouble was brewing for the 'eers. But in the same over, Amit Raina was trapped flush in front of the stumps by Sohail (not surprisingly, Amit had an extravagant swing of the bat and missed). 184 for 8; 6 runs to win.

The very next ball was hit towards the midwicket boundary by Ravi Vasudevan, but he needlessly chanced a second run. Amol threw a rocket from the fence and Ravi was gone! 185 for 9; 5 runs to win.

N. Chankapure took a single to get Vyas back on strike. 2 balls to go, 3 runs to tie, 4 runs to win. Would Vyas look to save the game first by scoring at least 3 runs or would he look to be the hero? The Mountaineers were hoping he chose the latter option and he did.

Sohail bowled his normal slog over delivery, aimed at hitting the base of middle stump. Vyas cleared his feet and made solid contact with a full swing of the bat. He made one crucial mistake. Instead of trying to clear the shorter cover boundary, he opted for the longer one, towards mid-off. The ball hung in the air for a long time and Abishek charged in more than 25 m from long-off and caught the ball in mid-stride. WVUCC had won! By 3 runs, with 1 ball to spare. Ashok's 3 run contribution was the difference!

Of all the wins in the regular season this was the most rewarding. Beating the Punters is very high on the wish list and the circumstances made it even sweeter. WVUCC was now 3-1 and in 2nd place in the league with this win. Next up - the 2006 runners-up Strikers.