Virginia and Zolon both successfully defended their 40 over titles this weekend. The weather gods provided perfect conditions for the championship games and the WCL executive committee provided superb arrangements. Let’s start with the Premier Division Championship game. I reached the ground at 10 am. The grass cutting machines had just finished their job and the boundary ropes had been put in place. Calver Wright and his crew were busy getting the wicket ready. Shoaib Ahmed, Nikhil Deshpande and Shakeel Yusuf were working diligently to set-up the tents and the chairs.

Shoaib mentioned to me that Shakeel had worked until late last night making the final arrangements and picking up the U-Haul truck and the chairs. The ice box was full of ice bags and there were cases of water and Gatorade all stacked up. The EC had done all it could to facilitate a great game. Now it was up to the teams to do their part.

Vikings team was the first to arrive, in their t20 outfits. The players looked excited and ready to go. They started working on their fielding drills. Soon, the Virginia players too arrived and the ground began to have a feel of a big game. The toss was won by Vikings and they elected to bat first. Before the two teams took the field, each player from both teams was introduced and an official WCL Finals 2013 cap was handed out. The national anthem was played, followed by team pictures. With all these formalities completed, it was time for the game to begin.

Fahad Quereshi and Waleed Aslam opened the innings. Adam Sanford took the new ball for Virginia. In the very first over, Adam tested Waleed with a couple short deliveries. Virginia wanted Waleed’s wicket as they knew getting him out early would put significant pressure on Vikings. The second over was bowled by Ramkishan and he struck in his very first over when he was able to find the gap between Fahad’s bat and pad. Nail walked in next and in Adam’s second over, the third of the game, and on the very first delivery he was facing which was a fast Yorker, he played across and saw his stumps uprooted. Now it was up to Waleed and Ammar to consolidate. For a few overs, they did just that. However, just when it looked like the two had settled down, Waleed tried to hit Ramkishan over mid-off but the ball went straight to Shahzad at mid-off who made no mistake. Vikings were in all sorts of trouble with 3 wickets down for 20 odd runs. Ammar and Nasir Durrani started to rebuild the innings. They were taking no chances but when an odd bad ball came their way, they were converting it for runs. The runs were not coming at a good pace, but for the next 10+ overs, no wickets fell. But Vikings knew that just surviving through the overs won’t win them this game. They knew that they had to put up a respectable total. However, Virginia was bowling well and scoring runs was not an easy task. With pressure mounting, Ammar tried to break the shackles by trying to hit over mid-wicket. He missed the ball completely, but the bowler did not. Ammar, after having done the hard work, had to walk back. Ammar batted well for his 29. As generally happens when a wicket falls after a long interval, another one falls soon. It happened here too. Nasir hit a full deliver with power, but straight to short mid-off. Vikings were in all sorts of trouble now. The wickets were falling, and the runs were not coming freely. It was now up to the lower middle order to get the team to some total that it could defend. The batsmen tried to score runs at a faster rate, and some shots did come through, but so did the continuous fall of wickets. At the 28 over mark, the score was 89/7. The commentators and spectators were hoping that somehow Vikings would be able to get to 150, but the odds were against them. The lower order players tried their best and did hit a few boundaries on a fast outfield, but Vikings could only manage to get to 118 before being all-out. The only hope that Vikings had now was to take some early wickets and put some pressure on Virginia.

Anirudh and Andy Mohommad opened the innings. Anirudh was in an aggressive mood and went after the bowlers from the beginning. He especially targeted Rizwan. Nasir was bowling well but the two batsmen played him watchfully, and if there was a lose delivery, they punished it. The score was racing away at more than 6 runs per over. After 7 overs, the score was 49. In those 7 overs, both batsmen had been given at-least one chance. Things were just not going Vikings’ way. Anirudh kept attacking, and was rewarded with runs. When he did miscue a shot, Vikings were not able to hold-on. A break-through finally came about when Vikings were able to get Andy Mohommad out, but not before 50+ had been put on the board. Hector walked in and with no pressure on the team, he played freely. Ammar was bowling his heart out and both batsmen gave him the respect that he deserved. However, the need of the hour was wickets, and they were not coming. As the scoreboard kept on ticking, Vikings players’ shoulders began to drop. They could sense the inevitable. And finally, in the 18th over the target was achieved with 9 wickets in hand. Ramkishan was adjudged man of the match for his brilliant bowling. His figures were 8/11/2 wickets, plus a catch.

Virginia clearly played better in both innings and is a deserving champion. However, Vikings should be very proud of their season. A team that wasn’t even assured of a playoff spot until the last week of the regular season played some excellent cricket to get to the championship game. By any yardstick, this is a great season for Vikings. Congratulations Vikings, and I’m sure you will come back strong next year. For Virginia, what can be said that hasn’t been said before. This is a very solid team and it was obvious that the guys enjoyed playing with each other. Both Guru Chitna and Shahzhad Haider have put in a lot of effort in building this team. Shahzad said the following after the game “We want all teams to know that will be defending our title next year.” So a warning shot has already been fired. Teams beware and prepare accordingly. And then a very long celebration party began which, I’m told, lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

The commentators reminded all the spectators that there is another game to be played the next day between Zolon and UMBC and that it should be an exciting game so please do come and watch.

UMBC and Zolon teams were on the ground by 10:13 am. Both teams were ready to go on a beautiful Sunday morning with temperatures in the mid-60s. UMBC won the toss and elected to bat. After the pre-game formalities, the serious business of the game ensued.

Rocy and Shahid Minhaj opened the batting. Zolon started with Sumon and Ashwin. The batsmen were cautious early on as both bowlers were bowling well. Sumon struck early when he had Rocy out cought at slips. Manav and Shahid Hanif too were back in the pavilion within the first 8 overs and UMBC found itself in a difficult position. The game was beginning to resemble the previous day’s PD final. Zolon bowlers were bowling in the right areas and runs were hard to come by. With wickets falling, the UMBC batsmen had the added pressure of preserving their wickets. Tanmay and Minhaj were tasked to consolidate. Tanmay played some good shots and was able to hit a few boundaries but then was completely deceived by a Sumon delivery that he went too far forward to and edged the ball to first slip where Raghav took a sharp catch. With 4 wickets down it was now up to Minhaj and Eraj to rebuild. Eraj started out cautiously and made sure his defense was solid against the Zolon attack. Minhaj tried to break the shackles and went for a sweep on a loopy delivery. He missed it completely and his stumps were disturbed. Eraj too didn’t last long and was out lbw when he went on the back foot to flick a quicker ball through square leg but missed it. This brought Rikin and Gurnish together. Both these batsmen gradually settled down nicely. The next few overs saw no wickets falling and once these two batsmen gained in confidence, they started to rotate the strike. Zolon brought in two quick bowlers. After a couple of good overs, the bowling started to become wayward and both Rikin and Gurnish took advantage of this opportunity. Some much needed runs had been accumulated. At the 28 over mark, UMBC was at 91/6. The score was amazingly similar to the previous day’s score at the same mark (89/7). After the break, and at the beginning of the power play, Zolon changed its bowers. Ashwin and Anurag came back into the attack. Zolon was rewarded immediately as Rikin played a false shot to Anurag and was caught at long-on. The partnership had been broken, and along with it, some momentum. However, the dangerous Gurnish was still at the crease. He did not let Rikin’s wicket deter him and he continued to play well. Ashwin was able to get Anand out caught & bold and now with 8 wickets down and the score around 100 runs, it was all up to Gurnish. Luckily for him, he found a good partner in Chirag. Chirag made sure that he played solid defense and just rotated the strike and allowed Gurnish to score runs. In Anurag’s final over, Gurnish surprised the bowler by a hard swing that connected well and sailed over long-on for a huge six. On the very next ball, there was a tough caught behind chance that was not taken, and Gurnish then simply played out Anurag’s last 4 deliveries. With Ashwin and Anurag’s overs completed, it was now time for UMBC to attack Zolon’s 5th bowler. And attack Gurnish did. In one over, he hit 4 wonderful boundaries and was aided by a wide ball that resulted in 5 runs. The over fetched UMBC 16 valuable runs. However, Chirag made a costly mistake in the following over and paid for it by getting himself run-out. This meant that the last wicket was on the crease and Gurnish had to make sure that he kept strike. Fahed came in to bowl and Zolon was offering Gurnish a single, if he wanted one. However, Gurnish did not wish to take a single on the first 4 deliveries. He did manage to get a double, and then on the 5th ball, he tried to go over long-on but miscued his shot for a catch at short mid-wicket. With this UMBC’s innings came to a close at 129. The standout bowlers for Zolon were Sumon (3 wickets), Anurag (3 wickets) and Ashwin (2 wickets). Other bowlers too had done a good job in their support roles. Zolon was satisfied with its overall bowling and fielding effort. It was now Zolon’s game to lose.

Anurag and Sumon opened the batting and Gurnish opened the bowling. After conceding 8 runs in the first 5 balls, he bowled an excellent delivery that slight left Sumon, but not before taking a thin edge. Chirag made no mistake behind the wicket, and Sumon had to walk back. UMBC had got what it wanted, an early first wicket. The new batsman too didn’t last long as in the very next over he tried a slog shot and was bowled. Zolon was now 11/2. In Gurnish’s second over, the third of the innings, Digant edged a ball going down the leg that he was trying to steer to fine leg, but the edge was so thin that the ball didn’t deviate much and it was an easy take for the keeper behind the stumps. Zolon was 12/3. UMBC was now fully charged and could smell a chance. A couple of more wickets, and UMBC would be in full control of the game. Fahed walked out and the two batsmen decided that runs be damned, let’s just make sure that we don’t lose any more wickets and get the shine off the ball. Anurag played very cautiously, perhaps too cautiously but made sure that the bowlers don’t even get a sniff of another wicket. Fahed punished the bad balls that came his way, and the consolidation had begun. At the 14 over break, Zolon had reached 60/3. Zolon now needed 70 more runs to win and the momentum had shifted back to Zolon. The two put on another 14 runs before Anurag got out to Usman Shahid on a ball that cut in as Anurag tried to go for a forceful drive. A false, pre-determined, shot cost Anurag his wicket, but by this time, the pressure had been lifted. Ashwin walked in next and provided good support to a well settled Fahed who was batting brilliantly and had hit sweetly timed boundaries to all parts of the ground. Ashwin too settled nicely and proceeded to score well. The scoreboard kept on ticking, and with it the hopes of UMBC began to fade. At the 28 over mark, Zolon was 104/4, requiring only 26 more runs. UMBC brought all its players into the circle to try to put pressure on Zolon. Zolon batsmen, when opportunity presented, simply went over the top. During this phase, there were a couple of sharp chances that both batsmen provided to the fielders, but they were unable to hold-on. And then finally in the 32nd over, Ashwin hit a widish delivery through point for a boundary to reach the target. After being 12/3, Zolon scored the next 118 runs for the loss of only 1 wicket.

Fahed Rizwi was adjudged the man of the match for his unbeaten 54 plus 1 wicket. He came in to bat when the score was 12/3 and played very positive cricket. After the game, Gurnish Singh said, “Fahed is such a good batsman. I was very impressed with his innings.” Everyone who was at the game had high praise for Fahed’s temperament, shot selection and concentration. This is Fahed’s second finals MVP. He had similarly won this award back in 2007 for Bengals cricket club when he played a brilliant innings and scored 80+ runs. Fahed is a big game player, and he showed it on Sunday.

UMBC is a quality team and should be very proud of it’s season. I realize that they are disappointed, but look at all that this team has achieved this year. The team won the Lincoln Conference Trophy, it won a share of the inter-conference trophy, it secured a #1 seed in the playoffs, and it reached the finals. This is a very impressive resume. Congratulations UMBC. You are a top quality team that will see continued success in years to come.

In closing, I want to recognize the tireless efforts of the Executive committee and the group of volunteers at the ground. Vijay Prakash Malella did a wonderful job as the scorer on both days. Shakeel Yusuf and Nikhil Deshpande was at the ground before 10 am on both days and oversaw all technical arrangements. Shoaib Ahmed was there working tirelessly on Saturday, and then Sunday morning. This EC is the hardest working group that WCL has ever seen. So take a bow guys!

And now the focus shifts to t20, where some new teams will enter the playoff foray. Best of luck to all the teams in all the Divisions!

Notes: Lots of people have asked me who the Oddsmaker is. Most people think its Hemanth Kishore. They have asked me if that’s the case. I’ve told them, that it could be. But then it might not be ;)

The Oddsmaker wishes to remain anonymous. I say let him be. He feels he can write freely in anonymity. If he provides quality articles, why reveal his identity and miss out on good articles.

Ram Chilukuri had said “This is Zolon’s championship to lose”. Zolon proved him right.

 


 

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