By Sudharsan Ramarao
The USA is one of the hottest and fastest growing markets for the game of cricket, and it is imperative that the game be spread among the local communities for it to become one of the mainstream sports such as baseball.
With the Capital Region of New York being one of the fastest growing regions in the country, it was the responsibility of Capital District Cricket Association (CDCA), the flag bearer of cricket in the region, to spread the game of cricket the best way possible. And what better way than conducting a game of high octane cricket with the best of the best in the region playing against each other. That’s what the All Stars Mayors cup was all about.
The best of the best players were picked from CDCA’s two main leagues, the T20 Electric League and the 30-overs Empire League, forming two teams, the Electric Chargers and the Empire Dukes. The Chargers and the Dukes played a 30-overs match at the Lincoln Park ground in downtown Albany, New York, in the presence of the Mayor of Albany Kathy Sheehan who presided over the awards presentation ceremony. With over 200 spectators attending the game, front page coverage in the local newspapers, and lots of young Americans among the crowd, the All-Star Mayor’s Cup was a resounding success.
Electric Chargers needed 15 runs off the last three overs with three wickets in hand. Jayaram Manukonda who had been battling cramps and holding the Charger’s inning together for a long time, was on strike. Ranadheer Sammetta, one of the most athletic all-rounders in the Capital District, was having a ball. The stage was set for a dramatic showdown in what was already turning out to be a humdinger of a match. Ranadheer with his fluent and poetic run up, came from the northern end and bowled a good length delivery on the off stump, and Jayaram, who uses his wrists as much as his power, lofted it straight past the bowler. The ball raced off the bat through the long-off region to the boundary. It was a telling blow.
The equation became 11 runs from 17 balls. Jayaram and his partner Naveen Punyala ran towards the center of the pitch and vented their emotions with fist pumps. But the never say never Ranadheer was not done yet. He picked up the ball and bowled the next one almost the same as the one that was dispatched for a boundary. But this time the ball had a bit more pace in it and fuller in length. Jayaram, wanting to finish the game sooner than later, had a full go at it only to see his stumps rattled. Ranadheer leapt in the air with a David Warner like fist pump. It was vintage theater. It was what the 200 or so spectators gathered at the Lincoln Park ground wanted to see.
The match billed as a high octane cricket game was already turning out to be so. Ranadheer gave only a single off the next four balls and then cleaned up Naveen off the last ball with a peach of a yorker. The equation became 10 runs off 12 balls. Anil Sahaman, the burly Guyanese all-rounder, then bowled the 29th over conceding just four runs. The match went down to the wire.
Electric Chargers needed four runs off six balls, while the Empire Dukes needed one wicket. Rana had the ball again. Prasanna Date, who plays for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was on strike. Ranadheer ran up and bowled a full-toss on the leg stump. Prasanna had a full swing at it as the ball raced towards the midwicket boundary only to be stopped just inside the boundary. Amidst the clamor from the team mates on the sidelines, Prasanna and Akash Ayaina completed three vital runs. The match was tied. Akash and Prasanna then ran for that all important single off the very next ball to take the Chargers home. The Electric Chargers were the champions of the All Star Mayors Cup.
Jayaram Manukonda bagged the Most Valuable Player award for his gutsy 48. Ashok Adikoppula of the Chargers claimed the Best Bowler award for his stellar bowling performance that got him two wickets with his venomous in-swing. Kiran Vishnu the skipper of Empire Dukes took home the Best Batsman trophy for his innings of 45 that helped the Dukes set a challenging total of 155.
Chasing a total of 155 on a spongy wicket at Lincoln Park, the Chargers skipper Javed Safi surprisingly promoted himself up the order to open the inning. Javed Safi, known to be a clean striker of the ball, started with a bang by hitting the second ball of the inning for a huge six over mid-wicket. But he was operating against a very clever bowler Vishva Velichala who is known to bowl suffocating spells and he got the skipper immediately for a LBW. In came Faizal Hussain, the strong Guyanese batsman who is known for his big hitting prowess.
What followed in the next few overs was a carnage of sorts, as Faizal also known as G took the Dukes bowling to the cleaners by repeatedly lofting them for towering sixes. One of them went so high and long that it could have touched the clouds. But he too fell soon after for a cunning slower ball from Vishva. In the 10 balls he faced Faizal scored 27 runs, 24 of them coming in sixes. It was left to the other opener Mahesh Dassram, a protégé of the Guyanese great Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and has a remarkable resemblance to the legend, and the eventual MVP Jayaram to steady the ship.
Mahesh, a left-hander, played fluently on both sides of wicket with his trademark leg glance shot, fetching him two elegant boundaries. He and Jayaram made sure that they rotated the strike and put the bad balls away. Mahesh eventually fell to a soft dismissal for a well-made 29 by spooning a return catch to Sridhar Sagi. Jayaram was solid at the other end.
With no steady partnership and wickets falling at regular intervals, Jayaram took it upon himself to carry the inning. He took a particular liking to the spinners as he negotiated them beautifully. Anything full was lofted straight behind the bowler, while anything short was pulled ferociously towards the mid-wicket. He even used his supple wrists to push balls down to the leg-side for comfortable singles. What he showed was a true master-class of how to go about a chase in a high pressured game. For his 48 pressure soaking runs, Jaya ram was deservedly the Most Valuable Player of the game. For the Dukes, the spoils were shared between Vishva Velichala, Ranadheer, Sridhar Sagi and Nandakishore Krishna, as they bagged two wickets each.
Earlier, the chargers won the toss and put the Empire Dukes in to bat on an overcast morning. Ashok Adikoppula, continuing his fine start to the season, was at his usual best, troubling the batsmen with his venomous in-swingers. He priced out the opener Nanda, the athletic all-rounder who plays for Knights, with a short of a length ball that was too close to cut. He followed this up with another wicket, trapping Kalyan Kompally for a LBW. The other opener Renny Jainbi was in prime form playing cracking strokes on either side of the wicket. An elegant lefthander, he showed great poise while playing on the leg-side. Some of his flicks off the pads were so beautiful that the commentators couldn’t stop comparing him with the Pakistani legend Saeed Anwar. However, luck was not on his side as he went for a nonexistent single and was run-out -for a well-made 26.
Kiran Vishnu the skipper of Empire Dukes then took the responsibility to hold the Dukes’ inning. One of the most accomplished cricketers in the Capital region, Kiran was at his imperious best whenever the ball was short. The back to back boundaries that he scored off Hariprasad Amanapu thru mid-wicket was a great sight to behold. He played risk free cricket and made sure he stayed till the end of the inning. At the other end Ranadheer and Sridhar Mahendrakar gave him able company by scoring quick runs in the death overs. Ranadheer scored a run a ball 17, while Sridhar was not out for a brisk 21, helping the Dukes post a challenging 155. For the Chargers Javed Safi picked up two wickets with his Afridi like leg-spin. Akash Ayaina and Ramathirtha Randhi picked up one wicket apiece.