By Sam Sooppersaud
In my last article on the New York Public Schools Athletic League’s (PSAL) cricket program, I warned that PSAL cricket is exciting, and has the potential to be stressful. Not only to the players, but also to the spectators supporting their favorite teams. A faint-hearted person should think twice before attending any of these games.
Such a game was played on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, at the cricket field referred to as “The Cage”, because of the 18-foot high chain link fence surrounding the field. This cricket park is situated at Foch Boulevard and Barron Street in Queens, New York. It was the second meeting of the two high schools in the 2015 PSAL tournament, Newcomers H.S. vs Aviation Technical H.S. Evidently, everyone attending the game was strong-hearted, as there were no reports of anyone falling ill from the stress and excitement generated by the match.
The two teams met for the first round at Baisley Pond Park, in Queens, on April 16th. It was, what a learned cricket fan would call a regular game of cricket. Newcomers scored 114 runs with Aviation easily surpassing that score to win the match. Routine. Not too much flair or excitement. Over the six years that the PSAL cricket program has been staged, these two schools have created a “friendly rivalry” between them. I think this stems from the fact that both coaches (Newcomers and Aviation’s) hail from the same (Canje) district in Guyana. Coach Henry complains to Coach Sam, “you guys always keep us out of the championship,” in referring to the fact that Newcomers have always defeated Aviation in the playoff games contested by the two teams over the years. However, both coaches get along great with each other, and the players have a wonderful camaraderie.
Back to that exciting cricket game! Aviation won the coin toss and elected to take the field first. Newcomers were set back in the very first over when one of their opening batsman was bowled for 3 runs. The score was 6 runs for 1 wicket. The Newcomers vice-captain Wahidur Rahman, walked out to the middle to join the other opening batsman, Shafat Choudhury. They had a short chat, then set about the “damage control.” They started slowly rotating the strike, a single here and there, with a double occasionally. There were very aware that they, being two of their team’s main bats, must stay and bat for as many overs as possible. They were successful in this bid.
Once Shafat and Wahidur were settled in, they began playing more freely. The boundaries and the maximums were hit frequently. Aviation used six bowlers in their attempt to separate the two, but without success. All the bowlers came in for some punishment at the hands of the two settled batsmen. They batted from the first over to the 19th over, when Shafat was caught on the boundary for a well-made 72 runs. This includes 7x4s and one 6. In the 20th over Wahidur was caught attempting to hoist the bowler over the long-on boundary. His was a glorious 75 runs that consisted of 6x4s and 4x6s. The second-wicket partnership was worth an invaluable 156 runs.
Aviation was set a total of 166 for victory. Coach Henry was very positive in his charge to his players. “They scored all that runs, there is no reason why we can’t beat their score,” spoken like the “fighting” coach that he is. They started the innings scoring freely, following the coach’s edict. However, they lost a wicket in the 3rd over with the score on 18. However, they continued their free-scoring ways. Opener G. Singh was severe on any loose delivery, dispatching it to the boundary with his power hitting.
At the end of the 12th over Aviation was on the winning end of the pendulum, with a score of 105 runs for the loss of only 2 wickets. Singh was in his full glory respecting none of the bowlers. In the 13th over Singh let loose a tirade of shots, hitting three consecutive 6xs. He scored 23 runs in that over alone. The score was then 128 for 2 with 7 overs to go, and G. Singh unleashing bombs to, and over the boundary fences.
Nevertheless, then I felt the Aviation coach gave some “fatal” instructions to his batsmen. He sent out word to the middle that “only 39 are needed in 42 balls, all we need are singles to bring the game home.” This was within my hearing. I am the Newcomers coach. Once I noticed that the batsmen had eased their bellicose batting style, I responded accordingly. They were now trying to place the ball to take singles and if available, a double now and again. I instructed my charge to “choke the batsmen,” meaning bring in the field and cut off the possible singles..
With five overs to go, Aviation needed 30 runs: that is 30 in 30 as the Twenty20 parlance goes. How about 19 runs in 18 balls. A winning formula for the batting side! By this time the shouting and screaming of the fans, and the players in the stands were at a crescendo. Numerous cars stopped and the occupants came out to watch the unfolding excitement. They too joined in shouting encouragement to the batsmen then alternately to the bowlers and fieldsmen. Then there were short periods of calm and quiet, then suddenly, burst of shouts and screams. The atmosphere was now very tense.
I am proud to say, that even at this stage of the game, with Newcomers back against the proverbial wall, they showed no signs of surrendering. They fought on against the odds. Twelve runs to win in 12 balls. Oh, come on now Aviation, an easy task! But is it, really? Let me recap the score. Newcomers 166 runs, which requires Aviation to score 167 for victory. The score at this juncture was 155 for 8 wickets. Two overs to go! Panic! Stress! Loss of voice!
In the 19th over the batsmen were limited to 5 runs by the Newcomers’ bowlers. The captain, following instructions of his coach (me) were marshaling his troops about and “squeezing” the batsmen, hence restricting their scoring. Now seven runs were needed from six deliveries, and 9 wickets down. Hey, hope you don’t have a heart problem! This kind of excitement is not good for your health!
Skipper Refatul Islam threw the ball to his most reliable bowler for the season, Farhan Ansari, a slow-medium, with the ability to “move the ball about”. Swing bowing. Ball #1, a dot ball. Ditto balls #2, 3, and 4. The 5th ball was skied to short square leg. An easy catch – the game is over! Wrong! The ball is grassed. A drop catch. Has Newcomers as a result of this dropped catch, just squandered their chance to win? The batsmen scampered through for a single.
Last (legal) ball to bowl; 6 runs needed for an Aviation victory. Only a maximum, a six, would do. The bowler runs in; he delivers; the batsman took a mighty heave, missed the ball completely. Game is over, Newcomers wins by five runs. The Newcomers players jumped for joy. There were high-fives all around. What a game!
Yes, cricket fans, the PSAL cricket season is heating up. In fact some teams are already feeling the heat battling and jockeying for playoff berths. Leading the pack is the 2014 champions John Adams High School. They have not lost a game for the season, as yet. The last I saw their record, they were 10 wins with 0 losses. But, others schools are gaining momentum.
The standings at this time: John Adams 10-0, Jamaica 9-0, DeWitt Clinton 8-0, Brooklyn Int’l 8-1, Richmond Hill 8-2, Springfield Gardens 8-2, Herbert Lehman 7-3, Franklin Lane 6-3, Prospect Heights 6-3, Martin Van Buren 6-3, Midwood 6-4, and Newcomers 6-5. At this stage it’s anybody’s game! Twenty20 Cricket is unpredictable. Any team can emerge as the 2015 champions. Come out and see for yourselves as these schools battle it out on the cricket field.