Friday, October 02, 2009

TMC: Episode 13 - The long kiss goodbye

Welcome to The Midwest Chronicles (TMC). These are the accounts of the exploits of the Nebraska Cricket Club in the 2009 season. To spice up what would otherwise be a routine match report of runs scored, wickets taken, and catches snaffled (or spilled) these posts are being written with a tongue firmly in cheek but with the facts completely in the true. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the meandering show.

Here's a complete guide to the cast of characters and their nicknames. The cast will be updated as players are added or dropped or nicknames changed as the season progresses
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There is no failure except in no longer trying.
- Elbert Hubbard

I don't believe in failure. It's not failure if you enjoyed the process.
- Oprah Winfrey

Success builds character, failure reveals it.
- David Checkett
The final of the CLIA championships was played on a sunny, cloudless but windy day on September 27, 2009. The match was between the Iowa Bulls and the Nebraska Cricket Club. Iowa came into the final carrying 7 differnt batsmen who had made at least one score of 50-plus in the tournament. NCC came in proudly bearing 3 of the top 4 wicket-takers in the league. They had split the regular season series 1-1, with each team losing on its home turf.

Those are the bland facts. The match was anything but that. Here is what happened.

NCC desperately wanted to chase and Bob Loblaw was sent by Captain Ozone to win the toss. Bob lost the toss (big surprise there) but heaved a sigh of relief when the opposing captain chose to bat! NCC went into the match on the tail of a brilliant bowling display in the semi-final, but knowing fully well that the pitch was different, the ground size was different (much smaller boundaries) and that the batting side they were facing was a lot more potent.

Energizer Bunny and Gunmaster G9 opened the attack. Bunny was given the task of keeping things tight at one end while Gunmaster let loose at the other. Aditya and Waqar began extremely aggressively, determined to not let the pacers settle down. In return, Ozone stepped up the ante with an 8-1 field, with the only fielder on the leg-side being a short midwicket. The batsman took on the packed off-side field and utilized the shorter boundaries to good advantage popping the ball up in the air beyond the reach of the fielders whose placement was restricted by having to be inside the 30-yard circle during the first 8 overs. Bunny was unable to get the beautiful outswing that is his trademark and Gunmaster, while fast, was unable to send the batsmen hopping back as he had the previous weekend. After 6 overs the score had raced to 52 for no loss as both openers threw caution to the winds. In a theme that would abound through the day (for both teams), edge after edge landed in untenented areas while well-hit balls went flying over the fielder's heads.

During this mayhem, a very sobering and unfortunate accident happened. Waqar dropped the ball near the wicket and took off for a sharp single. Racing in from point, U-Turn picked up the ball and sent in a quick throw, on the bounce, to the fast-approaching keeper, Bean Counter. The ball hit the edge of the pitch and, with a sickening crunch, smashed into the bridge of Counter's nose. Counter, who wears glasses, got lucky in that the frame took the brunt of the damage but in bending backwards it left a deep cut on his nose. Temporarily unable to see out of one eye, Counter was carted off to an emergency room and Bob Loblaw took over behind the stumps.

Doctor Kamikaze was brought in to stem the tide but was smashed for a huge six over square-leg. Chikna was brought in from the other end and he continued from where he left off last weekend, bringing some sanity back to the proceedings. The score had reached 70 for no loss in 8 overs when Chikna drew first blood. An attempted yorker by Chikna was smashed hard to long-off by Aditya, where a prowling Thin Man calmly took the catch a few yards inside the fence. One down but the big guns were still to come!

Utpal Patel, by consensus the best overall batsman (and the most consistent with 8 fifties in this year's edition of the tournament), walked in to the perfect platform. 22 overs to go, score already at 70. Ozone countered by bringing on Bhishma to partner Chikna as NCC eschewed a safety-first approach in order to snare the big fish. Refusing to crowd the boundary with fielders Ozone kept the fielders in, inviting UP to hit over them to get runs. For a while this kept UP quiet as he played out the on-target balls while taking singles when possible, especially against Bhishma, who was clearly relishing his clash with UP.

After 12 overs the score had reached 84 for 1 when Gunmaster was brought back into the attack for the second time. The first ball he bowled was launched by UP into long-on where Energizer covering about 15-20 yards pulled off a well-judged running catch. Two balls later, Gunmaster bowled a bouncer that nearly decapitated Mihir on the way to the keeper. Everyone and their uncle knew the next ball would be a yorker. In spite of that, Mihir was unable to get his bat down in time and was out LBW before the ball had even stopped rolling. NCC was beginning to claw its way back into the game.

Saket Pradhan, the most dangerous batsman in the league for his propensity to hit big sizes and even bigger scores, was still around and getting his wicket was key. Showing his might, Saket calmly picked up Gunmaster and twice hit the ball way behind the long-off fielder's head and then repeated the punishment to Chikna. Drinks were taken after 15 overs with the Bulls ominously placed at 98 for 3 with Saket still at the crease.

After drinks, Ozone turned to Kamikaze and Bhishma at one end while rotating his faster bowlers - Gunmaster and Chikna - from the other. While all this was going on, the opening batsman Waqar had settled down after his blazing start and was looking to simply hold one end up. Time after time, Bhishma tempted him with juicy offerings but the batsman, mindful of the stakes, defended them away. One ball even nudged the off-stump on the way to the keeper but Waqar survived when the bails did not fall. Bhishma's excellent analyses of 6-0-25-1 tells only half the tale. While his economy rate was excellent, his ability to keep the batsmen quiet is a very underrated aspect of his bowling and every ball he bowled was watched carefully by the batsmen content to just play him away.

Just when it looked like Saket was going to race away to a big score, he got too cute and tried to nudge a straight delivery from Kamikaze to the leg-side and when he missed the ball, the pad got in the way of it hitting the stumps. The umpire had no hesitation in raising his finger and the big man was gone! 33 runs in 22 balls with 3 sixes and 1 four was his contribution to the batting card but his exit meant that the Bulls had opened the door slightly, and NCC, not always the politest of guests, came roaring back in.

In the next over bowled by Kamikaze, Waqar finally lost his cool and attempted a cross-batted swipe. Waqar missed, but Kamikaze did not, hitting the middle of middle stump. Manish (the Bulls player not the insignificant scribe) spent some time swiping runs where he could but he was fast running out of partners as the NCC bowlers began to prise them out one after the other. Here's a speed read through the rest of the card:

Shiva was cleaned up by a Chikna yorker.
Anand was trapped LBW off U-Turn's bowling.
Viru was caught by Bhishma (a sharp chance at square-leg off a fast traveling ball).
Manish (yes, the Bulls player) was caught by Thin Man (on the second attempt) at long-off off Bhishma.
Anshul was the second LBW victim and the last wicket of the innings.

In 28.4 overs, the Iowa Bulls were all out for 178. From 70 for no loss after 8 overs, getting them all out for 108 additional runs in 20 overs constituted a determined fightback by the regular season champions.With the asking rate almost 6 per over, both teams went into the second half feeling like they had a more than even chance of pulling it off.

But before we get to that, for one last time, let's find out a little more about the world that we live in (or not). Since it is the final report of TMC, here's a super-sized list for your reading pleasure.
  • Men can read smaller print than women; women can hear better.
  • Average number of people airborne over the US in any given hour: 61,000.
  • Salt is the only edible rock.
  • In order for a deck of cards to be mixed up enough to play with properly, it should be shuffled at least seven times.
  • The average person over fifty will have spent 5 years waiting in lines.
  • On average, most people button their shirt upwards.
  • The highest point in Pennsylvania is lower than the lowest point in Colorado.
  • There are more people alive today, than have EVER died!
  • A 'jiffy' is an actual unit of time equal to 1/100th of a second.
  • If smoke does not rise straight up, but flows away horizontally, you can expect rain.
  • Windmills always turn counter-clockwise--except for the windmills in Ireland.
  • Traveling by air is statistically the safest means of transportation.
  • A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
  • The only 15-letter word that can be spelled without repeating a letter is uncopyrightable.
  • The pound sign on a telephone is called a octothorp.
  • The New Hampshire license plates, whose slogan is "Live Free or Die." are manufactured by prisoners in the state prison in Concord.
  • The longest one-syllable word in the English language is screeched.
  • Monday is an awful way to spend 14.3% of your life.
  • The average person speaks about 31,500 words per day.  (Bob Loblaw speaks a few more than that).
  • When the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers play football at home, the stadium becomes the state's third largest city.
  • February 1865 is the only month in recorded history not to have a full moon.
  • A rainbow can occur only when the sun is 40 degrees or less above the horizon.
  • Personal letters make up only 5% of the mail delivered by the U.S postal Service.
  • Only 55% of Americans know that the sun is a star.
  • The official name of the St. Louis Gateway Arch is The Jefferson National Expansion Monument.
  • A repeat from an earlier report: 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321.
  • During an average lifetime, a man will spend 3,350 hours removing 8.4 meters of stubble when he shaves.
  • A tenth of the 7 million tons of rice grown in the U.S. each year goes into the making of beer.
  • The average adult spends about 12 minutes in the shower.
  • The average woman consumes 6 lbs of lipstick in her lifetime.
The Iowa Bulls are the only team in the league to feature a double left-arm seam opening attack. Anand and James began the proceedings against Chikna and Bhishma. The duo looked totally relaxed and unhurried by either bowler and the score progressed calmly for the first 5 overs or so, with both batsmen looking mainly for one's and two's. In the 6th over, James produced a beauty - a ball that pitched outside the off-stump and jagged back in through Bhishma's defenses to end his composed innings (9 runs in 18 balls, 26 for 1).

Fresh off an unbeaten 103 in a local match the previous day, Chikna looked in ominous touch once he got into the stride of things. He nonchalantly stepped down the wicket to hit a straight drive over the bowler's (Anand) head to the boundary. Then, a few balls later he took an attempted bouncer and dropped it in near the tennis court beyond the midwicket boundary. However, almost immediately after that Chikna got into a heated argument with the opposition bowler and the umpires over some heckling from spectators watching the game. To the dismay (but no surprise) of his teammates, he got out the very next ball, tamely pulling a short ball to the square-leg fielder. A promising innings ended in a dispiriting whimper (22 runs in 21 balls, 1 four, 1 six).

Kingsize and Thin Man steadied the nerves in the dressing room by looking mostly for singles as the Bulls switched to a double spin attack. Let me rephrase it: the Bulls switched to a double slow bowling attack. Appearing to take cues from Mamu's successful bowling style, Aditya and Anshul threw the ball up in the air, taking away all the speed, and waited for the batsmen to get out in trying to hit the ball out of the park. For a long time Thin Man and Kingsize resisted all impulses but there were signs of them, especially Kingsize, getting fidgety that the boundaries were not coming. Thin Man took matters head-on after settling down with singles, smashing two fours to the straight boundary and two huge sixes over square-leg. With Thin Man going strong, what Kingsize needed to do was settle down and give him the strike and he looked to be doing just that when he got excited and pulled a short ball straight to the deep square-leg fielder...who dropped a sitter! Even as the spectators were chiding the fielder for having "dropped the match", Kingsize tried to cut another ball and popped up a simple catch to the gully fielder. This time there was no mistake and at the stroke of the drinks break, NCC had suffered a needless setback (12 runs in 20 balls, 1 four, 77 for 3 in 14.5 overs).

102 runs needed in 91 balls, 7 wickets hand: Advantage NCC.

After the drinks break, Thin Man continued where he had left off  and thumped a couple of boundaries.  However, the next ball spelled doom when he tried to simply nurdle the ball past the midwicket fielder for a single. Instead the ball took the leading edge and James took three steps to his left and was fully airborne when he grasped the chance (33 runs in 26 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes). It is on such little gems that big games hinge.

78 balls, 85 runs to get, 6 wickets in hand: Game on!

For a few overs Kamikaze and Bunny took their time, gently taking singles and playing away the last of the slow poison coming their way. After 21 overs the score was 103 for 4; 54 balls, 76 runs to get, advantage shifting slightly towards the Bulls.

In the 22nd over, UP turned to Saket, having decided that slow bowling was the way to go. Saket, who can generously be called a slow-turning leg-spinner, is the type of bowler you can easily get 6-8 runs an over from without sweating too much. His 4th ball was an innocuous little straight one that Bunny did not offer a shot to and the umpire had no hesitation in adjudging him LBW. Padding up to a ball is mistake in judgement that Bunny has made in the past but for the first time this season it caught up to him and, that too, at the most inopportune time. While the ball may have been missing the stumps, it is a different matter that a man with such abundant batting skills should easily be able to defend a ball with his bat and not his pad. Bringing the umpire's judgement into the equation was a huge mistake. (By the way, Law 36.1d (ii) clearly states that the umpire was absolutely correct in giving him out). (12 runs in 20 balls, 1 four).

106 for 5 in 21.4 overs. 50 balls, 73 runs, 5 wickets in hand: advantage Bulls.

The last ball of Saket's first over brought even more disaster for NCC. Kamikaze inner-edged a ball onto his pads and, even as the bowler and fielders were appealing with all their might, wandered out of the crease indicating with his bat that he had touched it. Unfortunately for him, the point fielder swooped down on the ball and threw down the stumps as Kamikaze scrambled back desperately. Run-out! (7 runs in 14 balls).

108 for 6 in 22 overs. 48 balls, 71 runs to win, 4 wickets in hand.

Counter and Bob Loblaw were now at the crease. Counter, back from the emergency room with 3 stitches on the bridge of his nose and nursing a huge headache, was unable to see out of his left eye so he took up a pronounced two-eyed stance in a mirror image of Shiv Chanderpaul.


(Photo from CricInfo).

Aditya's last over was bound to feature a few faster ones, aimed at slipping through Counter's defenses, and he managed just that after Counter had taken him for a couple of hits through mid-wicket. Counter was out LBW and NCC's innings was now in total disarray. (4 runs in 6 balls).

113 for 7 in 23 overs. 42 balls, 66 runs to win, 3 wickets in hand.

Gunmaster and Bob began to take singles and looked to not take any further risks just yet. However, they survived a couple of close calls and a attempted quick single to short third man found Gunmaster just short of his crease. (3 runs in 6 balls).

120 for 8 in 24.3 overs. 33 balls, 59 runs to win, 2 wickets.

U-Turn and Bob had both batted up the order in other matches during the season so to call them tailenders would be a fallacy but the Bulls were not aware of it and began to celebrate a little prematurely. The trash-talking went up a notch and the duo decided on a simple plan - get as close to the target as possible in the next three overs, in order to swing for the fences in the last two. What followed for the next three overs was just that. Placing the ball repeatedly into the gaps, the duo began to slice away at the target without taking any risks. In the process the pressure began to tell on the fielders who got itchy as the runs added up. U-Turn picked up an over-pitched ball from Saket and thumped it to the cover boundary to add insult to pressure. In the 27th over, U-Turn tried to pull a short ball from outside the stumps but only managed to send it high up to very short gully. The ball was swirling in the strong breeze and UP, of all people, dropped the sitter. Ever watchful, the batsmen crossed over for two runs while the Bulls were looking at each other with the ball just a few feet from the wickets. (Yes, friends, the words "son, you just dropped the game" were picked up by the non-existent stump microphones).

At this point in time, an old injury flared up when Bob pulled his hamstring muscle and Bunny had to come in as his runner. Running between the wickets is the least practiced aspect of cricket and communication involving a runner is even less so. Unfortunately for NCC, Bunny and U-Turn got into a hopeless tangle and U-Turn was run-out when he was sent back while attempting a second run!! (17 runs in 14 balls).

150 for 9 in 27.4 overs. 14 balls, 29 runs to win.

The two oldest guys were now at the crease with Ozone joining Loblaw. The last two balls were played away calmly for a single (Loblaw) and a double (Ozone).

153 for 9 in 28 overs. 12 balls, 26 runs to win.

UP took it upon himself to bowl the pivotal over of the inning, the 29th. The first ball was on a good length targeting off-stump. Swinging with the line, Loblaw hit the sweetest straight shot imaginable, and the ball flew all the way over long-on for an uplifting six. Suddenly, it was now 11 balls to go, 20 runs to get. Bob and Ozone calmly exchanged singles off the next two balls to bring it to 9 balls, 18 runs to win. The fourth ball was a splendid yorker that Bob tapped back to UP. Dot ball! The fifth ball was a repeat of the first ball, but slightly shorter in length. The shorter length forced Bob to swing more across the line and his swing missed the ball - bowled (19 runs in 16 balls, with 1 six)!!

161 all out in 28.5 overs. 8 balls left, 17 runs short.

With that, the Iowa Bulls had scaled the peak that had been in sight for so long - CLIA champions! In a display of all-round teamwork, they proved to be the better knit unit on the day and deserved their triumph. NCC was left with the wreckage of a second straight disappointment in the final of the CLIA league championship, a bitter pill to swallow for everyone involved, both players and ardent supporters.

When U-Turn and Bob Loblaw got together they showed that the runs could be had with a little control of the strike. This is their scoring chart:
U-Turn: **1142211221W
Bob Loblaw: 211**121111161W

The duo put on 30 runs in 19 balls and while Bob was at the crease the team put on 53 runs in 40 balls. Sadly, this 9th wicket partnership was the second-highest of the day for NCC, showing where the game had slipped away, with no real partnerships developing to put the Bulls bowlers under the cosh.

The long drive back to Omaha was initially filled with remorse over the golden chance that had been wasted. But, as Des Mines faded into the distance, the conversations turned to what had been accomplished in the season and the positives from the season. Counting the playoffs, NCC had played 14 matches, and lost just 4. Numerous exciting moments had been experienced, and countless fun-filled experiences shared. Like all seasons, this one featured moments of pure joy and frustration in equal measure but coming up just 17 runs short at the end of a 4 month season is a lot better than many other teams can claim.

As the days pass by the pain of the defeat still lingers but the happier moments are starting to make their way through. 2009 did not have the perfect ending for NCC, but the ride was an enjoyable one and that, as they say, is the real deal.

(With that, I end The Midwest Chronicles. If you are still reading this, I am hopeful that you had some fun along the way and I thank you for your support, both vocal and silent. Stay tuned for the top 10 fun moments of the 2009 season).

1 comment:

Pradhip Swaminathan said...

I am reading g this after 7 yrs now.. it is still so fresh and so vivid... These chronicles are some of my best times in life.. We were a great team...