by Rajit Passey

 

The Road To The Championship!

 

The date for the WCL Division I Championship was set – September 27, 2015. The play off schedule was published in August during the regular season and our goal was clear – make it to the Premier Division. Regular season was excting and the road leading to the play offs was uneventful. We made it to the play offs easily but going in, we knew it was not going to be easy winning the championship with so many good teams around. One off day, and we would have been cooling our heels, waiting for next year!

Background – When the season had begun, we had hopes and optimism for the season, but no real goals were set as such. The by chance, availability of Ravi Inder earlier in the season brought excitement to the camp and changed the perspective. This was the first time in the club’s history that we were bringing in a seasoned Semi-Pro player. Reactions were mixed within the team, the debate started if we were doing the right thing by bringing in an external player. Discussion back & forth had its merits or demerits – less opportunity for regular and loyal local players versus getting a seasoned campaigner who would bring stability and first class experience to a club level team. With his arrival, we were confident of making it to the play offs but also knew of his unavialability beyond August into the play offs. It was a dificult decision as the internal strife could have split the team but wiser heads prevailed in the end and saw the merits of bringing in the southpaw

We were flying under the league’s radar, until the arrival of Sunny Sohal!!! A good friend of Ravi, he had played quite a bit of cricket with Ravi in India. One phone call from Ravi sealed the deal. His arrival brought instant crediblity, recognition and solidity to a good team. The spot light was clearly on Potomac. The pundits had declared us as the favorites to win the championship but we were very cautious and apprehensive knowing Ravi wont be there for the playoffs. Ravi and Sunny’s tremendous batting had the team and the rest of the league buzzing. Their awesome strokeplay was a treat to watch. The left-right combination made it more difficult on the hapless bowlers who had to face the wrath of their wielding willows. Apart from their cricketing prowess and insight into the game, the easy going fellas instilled lot of confidence and self belief into the rest of the team.

We had lost a couple of close games early in the season and the loss to UMBC took Potomac out of contention for one of the automatic PD spots. Another ouple of losses towards the end of the season and Ravi’s departure caused a bit of dent to our confidence but we were still hopeful of doing well in the play offs – courtesy of a favorable play offs draw as we had ended up as the # 3 seed. The hope was to make it to the final and even if we lost to UMBC in the final, we could still qualify for PD as one of the finalists. But ICC had other plans and upset the favorites, UMBC, to ruin our chances of making to the coveted PD spot by just making it to the Final.

Play offs – UMBC & Kennsington were annointed as the favorites. By this point, the odds had changed – Potomac, in the oddsmaker and the experts opinion, was an outsider looking in. Internally, the team was confident that with the local talent and Sunny’s awesome consistent batting, we would reach the final. Yaseen, Ravi’s replacement during the regular season was brought in for the first play off game. He was, Ravi’s half a clone, as a left handed batsman but did augment the team’s medium pace options with his lively left arm bowling. We won the quarters game against Fairfax fairly easily with contributions in batting from Sunny, Yaseen, Mustapha and a late flurry from Aravind. In bowling, Aravind was the spearhead, causing early damage and he was ably supported by rest of the bowlers.

Potomac got a shot in the arm when the club was able to secure Ravi’s availability for the final & semi-final. The confidence booster was dampened by some unfortunate internal bickering about the final team selection for the semi final. The selfless attribute, which is a hallmark of our team, was shaken but the rift could not break the team. The semi-final experienced some tense moments before the game began but once we got off to a flyer courtesy of Sunny & Ravi, there was no looking back. The late fireworks were provided by Surendera and Aravind which ensured we posted a huge, almost unsurpassable total. Lovely swing bowling by the usual suspects – Aravind and Sunny broke the backbone of Urbana’s batting and I was lucky to pick up some wickets in the end to not so good bowling! Rest of the bowlers did their job admirably and Urbana was not able to put any fight. They submitted meekly and the game ended early.

The Final – The euphoria of making it to the Finals was dampened somewhat when we learned UMBC had lost to ICC in the other semi final. Although confident of our abilities, we were still circumspect and knew ICC was a good team. They had the experience and the guile to upset the apple cart. The week leading to the Final was one of the most stressful weeks that I have personally experienced. All the events leading to the final – the team selection, the weather forecast, planning the logistics, performance anxiety, added to the deadly cocktail mix called STRESS. Then the game was moved from Sunday to Saturday by the thoughtful EC committee, and then amidst protests by ICC, it was moved back again to the original date again. It was impossible to get a grip on the situation specially with the ever changing weather reports.

Weather forecast changed by the minute and the hour and there was so much unpredictability that it was impossible to gauge if the game was going to happen as scheduled. To complicate matters even more, the league had published revised dates in the event of the match being rained out. If the game were to be moved to the following week because of the rain, then we were facing availability issues. Half the team including me would have been missing because of prior commitments. Plan B was drawn but luckily we ended up not taking that route.

Dark Clouds hovered above on the day of the final. It was overcast, but the weather Gods had relented. The forecast was for a rain free day. There was a bit of last minute team selection uncertainity as we were torn between playing an extra spinner or an additional batsman. Ended up going with the batsman. Lost the toss and ICC immediately indicated that they wanted to bat first. During the warm ups, we suffered a minor set back when Munish popped his calf muscle and was hobbled by the injury for rest of the game. Luckily, the ever energetic Harsh was there as the 12th man to help with the fielding.

Aravind started the proceedings from the Far end (I just made it up!) and bowled a nice, full length over. Second over of the innings, bowled by Sunny from the Pavillion end, yielded early success. It was an inswinging full delivery that trapped the dangerous Vivek Patel right in front. Sabin and Kaushal started playing sensibly and were trying to build a partnership when in the fifth over an apparent catch was disallowed of Aravind’s bowling. The LIFE allowed the batsman another opportunity and the runs started coming at a fairly brisk pace. At the break, end of 14 overs, the score stood at around 75 for the loss of one wicket. Surendera, Krishna and Ravi were pressed into action but were not able to make any inroads.

Couple of straight forward catches were dropped in the second period by usually safe hands, allowing the batsmen to settle in and the partnership flourished. Against the run of the play, Kaushal played an uppish cut off Ashu’s bowling and was smartly snared by Krishna at point. It was a good catch as Krishna had to reach to the side to grab that one. I think the score was around 140 at the second break with 2 down. Sabin who was the beneficiary of couple of LBW shouts and 2 dropped catches, was still there at 78. On a placid wicket, Potomac bowlers were guilty of being indisciplined by bowling the wrong lengths and giving too much width. Fielding was not helping the cause either.

At the second break, we talked about being more discipined and bowling in the right areas. Immediately after the break, we caught a break as Ravi had Sabin caught at deep mid wicket by Aravind and then Aravind bowled a splendid couple of overs to put the breaks on ICC batting. He snared couple of wickets in the process. Sunny & Krishna also bowled smartly in the death overs to curtail the scoring. We pulled the game back by taking wickets at regular intervals. The final tally was 234 for the loss of nine in 40 overs. Aravind took 3 wickets, Krishna and Sunny hd 2 apiece abd Ravi and Ashu chipped in with one each. It was a decent score on a fairly fast outfield but with our batting going deep, we were confident of winning. I must say, the umpiring was quite ordinary and there were moments of indecisiveness and hesitation.

Potomac openers, Sunny and Ravi started on a fairly brisk clip. First 3 overs we had 26 on the board. Ravi seemed in ominous touch with a straight driven six and a thunderous cover drive. Sunny was his usual self getting couple of boundaries with his trademark upper cuts and lovely cover drives. A bowling change bought ICC the prized wicket of Ravi Inder. Ravi was caught down the leg side as he tried to tickle the ball to the fine leg region. There was a moment of disbelief in our camp as Ravi could have shredded the ordinary bowling attack to pieces. Next bat, Ajay Nagarajan, who had been in tremendous touch during the season, started briskly with a first ball four, but was caught at gully the very next ball in trying to turn the ball on the leg side. Second down, Amit Gill also departed fairly quickly as he was caught at cover playing an uppish drive.

With 3 down, I walked in with the score reading around 60. ICC camp was buzzing at that point. Sunny was still their and looked his solid self. I played a few shots and we were 84 for 3 at the break. Immediately after the break, I pushed feebly to a pitched up ball and gave a low, tame catch to short extra cover. Rakesh walked in. Sunny who had played superbly till then and had completed his fifty, was out caught behind to an innocous looking delivery that he tried to run down to 3rd man. There was a deathly silence in our camp and the boistrous and energetic ICC supporters (quite a bunch of them) were getting louder every time we lost a wicket. Munish, playing on one leg, holed out to long off in attempt to up the scoring. Our score read a pitiful 104 for 6! With its tails up, ICC was sensing an easy victory!!!

The sullen look and the gloom was apparent on Potomac players and supporters faces. We were hoping against hope but the odds did not seem in our favor. Although we were in trouble, the remaining batsman who were waiting their turn, seemed positive and unfazed by the situation. Aravind and Rakesh started to build the innings brick by brick and with smart running between the wickets. Aravind played beautifully for his 29. He upped the falling scoring rate by playing to his strong zone, on the leg side. Both of them gave the team renewed hope. Rakesh was solid on the other end and rotated the strick very cleverly with his favorite shots through the offside. 154 for 6 in 28 overs at the break. Team had a flicker of hope.

Immediately after the break, Aravind, the fighter, chipped a flick straight to square leg and ICC camp was on their feet. Seemed almost everyone in the ground wanted ICC to win. The crowds rants were getting louder every time a wicket fell. Seven down and with 75 runs to go, our chances wee getting slimmer…

Surendera with his mast and gaitly chaal strode in. Played a few balls calmly, before cutting loose. Rakesh and Surendra took the fight to ICC camp. Clean, monsterous hits from Surendra’s bats started flowing, with Rakesh prodding him along, he turned the match on its head. The asking rate which had climbed to over 7 an over started to climb down. ICC team and supporters were taken aback and in a state of shock. The ferocity of the sixes that Surendra hit was a sight to behold. Rakesh, on the other end played a gem of a knock under tremendous pressure. One of the best that I have seen from him. But the day belonged to Surendra. The equation was even when Rakesh got out to a full blooded shot that was destined to go over covers for a six, until it was plucked out of the air by an ICC fielder. I think it was Saqib Gulzar.

Two wickets to go, hearts pounding, Krishna joined Surendra in the middle. Constant instructions from the sideline were being hollered after every ball. There was more stress outside in the Potomac camp then the two guys batting inside. With clean and crisp hitting, these two kept the scorecard ticking without taking too many risks. Steadily, the run rate climbed down and asking rate was about six an over with 5 overs to go. Good running between the wickest, some lusty hits and the he equation came down to 12 needed in 16 balls. The last ball of the 38th over was a full toss and Surendra put the nail in the coffin by hitting a monsterous six over mid wicket. What a knock! I have no words to describe his batting. Under pressure, he was cool as a cucumber. He showed so much composure and calmness, it seemed he was taking a stroll in the park. That day when when he hit the ball, it stayed hit. Bravo Surendra! Potomac’s savior. Brillian effort!!!

Krishna played a neat little gem as well, invaluable unbeaten innings in a pressure cooker of a situation. The Potomac team raced past the shell shocked ICC players to hug and appreciate Surendra and Krishna. What a moment! The wild celebrations were on when the trophy was presented to us. What an emotional roller coaster!!! The stress, pressure, elation and joy that we experienced on that Sunday will remain etched in my memory forever.

The ICC supporters, no where to be seen now had slipped into oblivion, amidst the wild Potomac celeberations!. It is impossible to describe in words the intensity, the joy, the high that we felt. You had to be there to witness it.

Special mention is due for the opposing team. ICC team displayed tremendous grit, determination and sportsmanship and were appreciative of the fierce fightback. They played their hearts out and almost won the game. The Great game of cricket was the winner that day. This match could have gone either way!!!

We as a team, had gone through our fair share of trials and turbulations the entire season, but in the end we stuck together. It was a victory for the team. It showed in the fightback that despite losing two star batsmen early, the team fought and never gave up. Three cheers for my team mates who stuck together through thick and thin and pulled off a nail biting thriller!!!

 

 

 

 


 

1 Comment

  1. Rakesh Batra says:

    Very nicely written Rajit.

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