Chargers tryst with Destiny — Usman Ali Syed

Tagged as underachievers in the 40 over season and missing playoffs by a whisker, courtesy some below par performances towards the end of the season, had left its fair share of bad taste in our mouth. It was hard to imagine that despite putting 6 out of 12 player of the week performances, by 5 different players, we ended up on the wrong side of the line. As Jeremy Irons aptly said, “We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams”. And as is the case in life, our T-20 championship dream laid on the foundation of a sour memory, of not making the 40 over playoffs. As a poet would have said, The urge to perform was ever so high, On a special occasion as the time drew nigh. The playoffs were anxiously awaited and we knew, based on our t20 qualifying matches which we won against good teams i.e. Windies/Nova/Hunters/Others that we had what it takes to be a champion. Another thing that was in our favor and which we all take pride in is the fact that we are more of a family than a team which makes it enjoyable, both on and off the field. Now, without spending too much time, I will move towards the actual play offs.

 

Quarter Final: After a gap of one month and getting a little bit rusty we had the ‘DC United’ Mountain to climb. We have always enjoyed playing against DC United and have had pretty close encounters in the past. Though, we were confident in our ability as a team, we were aware of the challenge DC United posed. The match started on a relatively mixed note for us, as there was some confusion regarding the home team, which delayed the proceedings and we again ended up on the wrong side, as we were given a penalty of 10 runs for not setting up field on time. But to our advantage DCU were playing with 9 players. Our openers who both scored more than 500+ runs in the season, were at the helm of affairs which made us feel pretty confident. While Tallal at one end was in ominous touch, blistering 6 sixes, Mohammad, on the other end, was in sublime touch providing the backbone/foundation. The two complement each other extremely well. Courtesy these two we raced to 100 in the 11th over. Soon, Tallal got out after scoring a quickfire 66 off 36 balls. The dew made the ball heavy and it became hard to clear long boundaries and in pursuit of picking the run rate up, Mohammad departed after scoring 55 off 44 balls. This led to a mini collapse which resulted in Nisar and Wajih back in the pavilion sooner than expected. Ali butt stabilized the innings with a run a ball 15 and was well supported by Bilal Chaudhry and Ammar Malik. Amidst all this drama, we amassed 158 runs in 20 overs. It was a decent score, considering our bowling line up and ground conditions. DCU started their chase at 10/0, due to the being awarded penalty runs, aforementioned. They were immediately pegged back by the wily bowling of Bilal Chaudhry (a.k.a. ‘Bowling Machine’), who claimed wicket of the first ball. Despite losing early wicket, DCU batted confidently but found it relatively hard to score. Chargers opening bowler Usman suffered glute injury, which led to the introduction of Tallal earlier than usual. Tallal, steaming with confidence from first innings had his tail up. He is genuinely quick and was too hot to handle. In the first 6 overs DCU had made around 40 runs (inclusive off 10 penalty runs). DCU tried to pick the runrate and Abhinav hit Bilal for two sixes in his 4th over. Despite this Bilal finished with a Economy rate of under 6. DCU would have thought good about their start but our spin duo Hozaifah and Fahim(Hossain Ehsan) were yet to bowl. Hozaifah came in and bowled immaculate line and length in his first over. Tallal switched ends and replaced Bilal. He got a breakthrough iimmediately. This led to DCU’s highest run scorer for the season Ajay Mallavarapu, stride out. He and Abhinav tried to steer the chase but Ahbinav’s stay at the crease was shortened by a Hozaifah flipper and he got out stumped. Ajay got a reprieve as a difficult chance was put down by Usman at short midwicket. With Tallal and Hozaifah bowling in Tandem, the pressure mounted and DCU found it very hard to score. They hit Hozaifah for a few sixes but were not able to completely read him. But DCU still posed a threat with Ajay still batting. After Tallal and Hozaifah, it was Mohammad and Fahim who applied brakes on the scoring, with their tight bowling, and they both picked wickets. Fahim got a batsman out stumped, while Mohammad got crucial wicket of Ajay, courtesy a brilliant catch by Tallal. Mohammad also bagged two more wickets, courtesy excellent catches by Nisar and Usman respectively to finish the game off.

 

Semi Final: Windies is always a fun team to play against. They are very much similar to us in style. Before this match, everyone had termed them favorites, on account of their 40 over Championship win last week. To our advantage we knew their strengths and weaknesses. They have one of the best bowling attacks and we were playing on a matting pitch as compared to turf which suited them. We knew we had a chance and wanted to grab it. We won the toss and batted first. As opposed to QF, Mohammad departed early, getting out bowled by J Cox. It is always hard to adjust to matting, after playing on turf the whole season. The pitch was not conducive to batting and demanded patience. We changed our batting order a bit to send in Haris as one down but he could not open his account and succumbed to pressure. After him, it was more about consolidating and seeing off initial threat of J Cox, which was aptly done by Hozaifah, who was sent in next. He did not score much but was made sure to hold the end while Tallal at the other end scored his runs. After Hozaifah departed wajih went it with an aim to hit the ball out of the park. He connected one beautifully but straight into the hands of long on, who took a great a catch. Immediately Tallal got out, after scoring a run a ball 42 and we were 70-5 in 13 overs. This was a huge setback for us. The onus was on the lower middle order to contribute to put a respectable score. Ammar Malik (a.k.a. ‘The Captain’) took the reigns in his hand and scored 20 odd runs. Nisar chipped in with 13 and we put 108 runs on the board. We knew it was a tricky total and a couple of early wickets could bring us right into the game. We backed ourselves and went in with full zeal and zest in the second innings. We changed our strategy and opened the bowling with Bilal and Fahim. Fahim bowled exceptionally well and Bilal was as usual economical. Fahim bagged two wickets and Windies were 25 odd for the loss of 2 wickets in the first 6 overs. After Fahim it was time for Hozaifah and Tallal to do their magic. Hozaifah, once again proved unplayable. Batsmen felt dumbfounded against him. He ended up giving 12 in his 4 overs and picked up a wicket. Nisar did excellent stumping off of hozi’s bowling. To mention, Nisar has been excpetionally well behind the stumps. He has 50 dismissals behind the stumps this season. This dismissal was another display of his excellence. Tallal on the other hand bowled with pace and aggression and batsmen were scared to come on front foot against him. Some good fielding efforts by Haris and Wajih resulted in couple of run outs and the game was on. Windies were restricted to 46/7 in 13 overs. We were playing pur heart put. To exemplify, one of hozaifah’s quicker ball went wrong and headed towards slip where Usman Zia did his best to stop it by bravely putting his hand out. The victory seemed near and we relaxed a bit. As they say cricket is a funny game, Windies player J Cox was given run out while evading a throw while the score was in 50s and our captain, took the appeal back as an act of sportsmanship. This let off resulted in a 50 run partnership between him and Gary, who played a brilliant innings, reminiscent of Misbah’s innings in the first T20 world cup final. The reason i said Misbah and not Dhoni is because, Windies did not win the game 😉 . Overs 15-18 did not go well for us and Hozaifah, who so far had a great day, dropped Gary in the 17th over. Suddenly Windies needed 17 off the last two overs. Fahim was brought in to bowl the 19th over. He bowled beautifully and got J Cox out as well as just gave 6 runs. Now they needed 11 off the last over with Gary on strike. Everyone in our team had their heart pumping and felt the nerves. They scored 5 doubles (out of which one was short run). This made the equation to 2 required off 1 ball. Mohammad bowled an excellent yorker and they ran 1 leg bye. The game was tied and we were headed towards a super over.

The Super Over: Since we bowled in the second innings, we had to bowl first. Tallal, was rightfully picked to bowl from our side. He bowled a very good over and was slightly unlucky to even concede 8 runs in the over. There was an inside edge which went to fine leg for 3 runs, a misfield for a couple of runs, a bye. It was super thrilling and super drama. With 9 to defend, Patrick ran in to ball the first ball. Tallal zia was facing the ball and we were on our toes, biting out nails. Patrick speared a good length ball on off stump. Tallal rocked back and muscled it over midwicket. There was a huge sigh of relief and smile found its way back on our faces. Next ball Tallal took a single and then Mohammad finished the game with a beautiful extra cover drive. We were in the Finals baby!!!!!

 

The FINAL: One of our teams “fortune-teller” (aka Haris) had said during beginning of the season that, ‘I would not be surprised if we end up in the finals for either T20 or 40 overs”. His prediction had gone true and we were in ‘The Final’. There was contrasting feeling amongst the members. Some of us were super excited and could not sleep the entire night while some were ultra relaxed, atleast from the outside. We won the toss again batted first. Washington had a wonderful run throughout the season and some termed them as the slight favourite. They were the 40 over championship finalists and had not lost a single T20 game, the entire season. They were coming off of solid performances with bat and ball in the QF and SF. We knew they were good chasers and wanted to beat them in their favorite suit i.e. while chasing. The innings started in balance and Washington bowled very well to restrict our openers to around 40 runs in the first 6 overs. We did not lose any wicket but the bowling was tight from Washington. In the 9th over Tallal got out after scoring run a ball 20 and the responsibility fell on the young shoulders of Mohammad. And as they say, ‘Like Caesar, he came, he saw, he conquered’. He played a knock of his life (up until now :p). He held one end, found gaps, hit over the top, ran hard. It was his day. What ever he did, turned gold. Where others found it slightly hard to score, he was fabulous with his stroke play. It was a genuine masterclass innings from one of the best players, I have witnessed in my short cricketing career. He is destined to be a SUPER-STAR cricketer for USA, if he continues to play like this. Amassing 500+ runs and taking 20+ wickets is not a joke. Coming back to the match, Mohammad scored a brilliant 93 off 66 balls and got us to a respectable total of 139 in 20 overs. With trophy at stake, we had to put in our best effort to win, as washington was a good batting side. Our Bowling Machine (Bilal) once again started in a great manner and bowled a tight over. From the other end, Tallal opened the bowling and got wicket of Tarun Chopra, first ball. Ashutosh played confidently and hit Tallal for a four through covers. The first ball, next over, Bilal bowled Viral, with a beautiful outswinger. Bilal was impeccable with his line and swing. Ashutosh played a handsome cut against Tallal and got four. He was oozing with confidence. Usman bowled 6th over off the innings and conceded 11 runs. Bilal was also hit for 2 fours in the next over. Washington had found their groove and were cruising at 76/2 in 10 overs. Hozaifah also was unable to grip the ball due to cold weather. Someone had to step up in the bowling. And in came the captain, who had not bowled a single ball in QF and SF. He came in and bowled a ‘back of the hand ‘ slow ball yorker which deceived the bastman all ends up. He got the first important breakthrough. We got some respite, but the match was still drifting away from us. Next came fahim, who got out Anil, caught at long on by Haris. This made the equation 88/4 in 12 overs. Washington needed just 52 from 8 overs with 6 wickets in hands. A good over for them would have sealed the match for them. Once again, Ammar Malik, produced a beauty by getting Ashutosh out via a stunning caught and bowled. It was a full blooded shot from Ashutosh but I think ‘size does matter’ as the ball could not find it through Ammar’s fully stretched out big hand. The momentum had shifted a bit, with us having slight advantage. Still they needed 36 in 6 overs with 5 wickets in hands. Mohammad was brought in to bowl the 15th over. He straight away took a wicket and conceded only two runs. Washington found him a tough nut to crack. It was his day and hard to keep him out of the game. Next over was bowled by Tallal who bowled brilliantly. He was simply too good for the tailenders. He took two wickets and they struggled to even put bat on ball against him. With 20 needed off 2 overs and last wicket in hand, Mohammad came in to bowl the 19th over. He bowled a ball on middle and was hit through midwicket. Bilal, who was stationed at short midwicket, ran backwards and got to the ball in a flash and picked the ball and threw it in one motion. Mohammad successfully collected the ball and whipped the bails off. It was curtains for Washington. And as i said earlier, it was Mohammad’s day and he signed it off well mashaALLAH J . (MA MA 😉 )

Everyone was ecstatic. Some laid on the ground. Some hugged. It was truly an atmosphere worth living. It was our best achievement as a team so far and we were proud of each other. Almost all the people on our roster showed up in either QF, SF and Final to support us and it was heartening to see this. We did utilise CricHQ courtesy Ahmad Iqbal. A big round of applause for Fahan,Wajih, SA Hossain, Rafay, Maaz, Ibrahim and Mohammad’s Family. PS: It was a thrilling ride indeed mashaALLAH.


 

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