By Sham Ali
It rained runs as young Rafeek Nazeer delivered a swashbuckling century that saw Galaxy Cricket Club put on one of the best fireworks show in the Eastern American Cricket Association T20 finals at Baisley Park (The Cage) last Sunday. Nazeer combined with Rajiv Ivan to produce a massive 3rd wicket partnership in a searing response to Richmond Hill/Liberty total.
A brief flurry in the first over from the semi finals demolition man, Akshay Homraj who blasted a brutal 142 that sucker-punched Everest/Acs into the winter, let his inexperience got the better of him, on this occasion. After taking 20 runs from the first five deliveries he attempted an ambitious drive off the last ball of the over, and found the man at mid-off.
Nazeer, a diminutive young right handed batsman, walked to the crease with the look of youthful innocence, and oblivious of the celebrations by the opposition at the fall of Homraj’s wicket, they got their man. A celebration that may have ‘pulled the lions tail’, and large crowd on hand who probably came to see their semi-finals hero were silenced, temporarily.
But heroes are born everyday, and on this day, in this final, it was the test of endurance, guts, and grit, that punctuated batsmen of a different breed, and Rafeek Nazeer, on this occasion, rose to the occasion in spectacular fashion. At 20 for 1, with a slight bump of the glove from Homraj to Nazeer, one boy to the next, as he passed him on the way perhaps transferring last week’s fortune.
Nazeer declared his intentions form the first ball he faced with a confident drive off Trevor Henry that raced to the extracover boundary. That stroke had intent and purpose and he didn’t look back. Rarely, in these parts, has a batsman announced his presence at the wicket with such authority and push on with such uniformity to reach that coveted century, and in the process adding a touch of insignificance to an imposing total from the opposition.
A total that weighed heavily on a brutal assault earlier from the opening pair of Wahid Ward and Dominique Rikhi as they posted 76 runs in the power play (6) overs, after Galaxy Captain, Vijay Seonarine, won the toss and opted to bowl first on a feathered.
The decision may have surprised many, especially after Galaxy had posted a huge 229 runs on this pitch in the semis the previous week, resulted in some question marks beginning to pop-up as Liberty/Richmond Hill opening pair seized the initiative with a solid partnership. Rikhi sprinted to his half century in only 23 balls, and the total sped away to 100 in 8 overs.
Some worry was evident, however, these T20 games are often balanced on fluctuating fortunes. Seonarine is a seasoned campaigner, he has seen his share of these, and he held a good grip on this match and marshalled his boys during the run feast. He kept switching his bowlers around looking to separate the partnership that was looking quite ominous, and had yielded 100 runs in 8 overs.
He finally turned to his ‘ace’, the left arm orthodox, Yudesh Bisnauth, for the answer. Ward immediately took him over mid-on for six, and a single. A dot ball into Rikhi pad followed by a well flighted delivery that teased Rikhi out of his crease for the drive, it spun passed him and was stumped for an aggressive 50 runs off 23 balls that included five 4’s and three 6’s.
Ward was unfazed and kept his foot on the pedal taking 21 runs off Yudesh’s third over, as he and Trevor Henry kept the run rate at a healthy 12 runs per over and blazing away. They had two big overs (31 runs) from Seonarine to push the total to 147 for 1 in the 12th over and eying projected scoreline of around 250 runs.
But then a crucial double strike maiden in the 13th over from Rajiv Ivan, right arm spin, put the brakes on the RHL inning, and subsequently pulled this match back into a balance. It was Ivan’s changed in angle from around the wicket that rattled Ward’s woodwork with a faster ball that found an opening between bat and pad, and two balls later Trinson Carmichael missed an ambitious pull and his furniture was dismantled, and suddenly Galaxy boys had an extra spring in their feet.
A few lusty blows from Henry (37) pushed the total to 170 before he was bowled Metraj Balgobin. Joel Boodhoo (28) kept scoreboard ticking over with three thumping sixes in the death overs. Three run outs in the quest for quick runs restricted RHL to some extent but yet they posted an imposing total of 212 for 8 of the allotted 20 overs. R. Ivan took 2 for 29, M. Balgobin 1 for 42, and Y. Bisnauth 1 for 31
This final swung like a pendulum and was poised for a showdown. Galaxy batting lineup may not cringe at the target, but it will require some batting. Krishna, Galaxy backbone for almost three decades, appeared worried given the frequency by which he had another pour of a ‘brownish liquid’ and when asked about the total he replied ‘that’s a ‘lata runs.’
Richmond Hill/Liberty captain Danesh Deonarine took the field with his boys a raring to go with an eagerness to defend their total. They needed to pick up a few early wickets to put some pressure on Galaxy, and bowl to a plan.
Unfortunately, Nazeer had a plan of his own, and he did so with a brilliantly measured inning. He drove with authority through the coverpoint region, pulled Altaf Habibullah dismissively to midwicket, but when this ‘nashy’ young man transferred his ‘weight’ onto his front foot he packed a deceptive dose power for a few massive massive maximums. Ward sixes hit the fence with a bang, but Nazeer’s cleared it with a whooa. The gates on the Baisley ‘Cage’ were open and the young lion was rampant.
But rarely has stroke play been match with such similarities by batsmen on either side of an inning in these parts where bowlers have become an endangered species in these T20 encounters, with pace and swing, turn and bounce a fretful lost art.
The stoutly built Wahid Ward sent two rockets to the midwicket fence. Nazeer response with three. Ward went high and far over mid-on. Nazeer went higher and further. Ricky, Henry and Boodhoo maximums were big but Rajiv Ivan’s maximums were huge. If Johnny Walker was looking to find Eldorado all he needed to do was follow the direction of the maximums off Ivan and Nazeer’s willow. Such was the action packed in two twenty overs innings with spectators on the lookout.
Conversely, Rajiv Ivan, the current Guyana player, and the more experienced of the two played a mature role in the partnership. He was quite watchful early in his inning while picking up the occasional boundary getting to 31 off 22 balls. He turned over the strike regularly to Nazeer who was striking the ball cleanly. He got to 50 off 28 balls and the partnership was beginning to gain momentum.
Carmichael sent a few short ones passed Ivan helmet in his first over, and that probably set Ivan’s blood on fire, he called for his helmet. Carmichael’s attempt failed in his next two overs as Ivan latched on and spanked him high, hard and far for three maximums; he rocked onto his back foot and cleared the fence and road over square leg, and on the front foot he shaved some trees and had the birds ‘ducking for cover’ over wide mid-on. He then ensured that Ward spell lasted only one over, 20 runs, as the partnership flourished to a healthy 143 runs in 12 overs.
it was a ‘tit for tat’ at the 12 overs mark on either side of the inning, with Ivan firing on all cylinders. Deonarine, RHL captain, kept looking for answers but just couldn’t find any from his bowlers by which time his boys had lost a few strides, and he was running out of options.
Ivan upped the tempo in the next three overs with a flurry of crisply timed boundaries and hopes of quelling his charge disappeared faster than a reptile in a trench moss. Drinks flowing, runs flowing, as Galaxy raced to a commanding position at 185 for 2 in the 15th over. RHL bowlers were guilty of bowling either too full or too short, and on every occasion they found the sweep spot of the willow.
Carmichael returned in the 16th over, but had no bandage to stop the bleeding, and Jamiel Jackman, perhaps still shaken from his first over to Homraj ran into Ivan, on his return and went for 15 runs in the 17th over as Ivan took 15 balls to score his last 50 runs.
Galaxy Captain Vijay Seonarine could not have summed it up any better when asked if he was worried about the opposition total of 212 runs, he replied “No, this is a small total for his team” take that for confidence.
Nazeer at the other end was within striking distance of a century. This ‘Cage’ pitch remained a featherbed to the end and Nazeer made full use of it, and was in no rush to leave this pleasuredome. This is his show. This young man has a stash of strokes in his repertoire as the RHL bowlers tried gamely in unhelpful conditions to restrict him.
He pushed to cover for a single the way he started his inning, and raced to the other end, and quietly took his helmet off, sweat dripping, bat raised, and the crowd rise and roared. He raised his bat and helmet high to a loud applause that acknowledged a brilliant century from this fine young man and the new Galaxy poster boy.
It was a century that had some spine, in the context of this match, measured in every way and was poised on poetry from young Rafeek Nazeer. It was a ‘take that’ response with a massive 3rd wicket partnership of 176 runs with Rajiv Ivan that blew away the Richmond Hill/Liberty target. That he got to his century with three singles was evident of his stony occupation at the wicket and mere dept of his concentration.
This partnership between Rafeek Nazeer and Rajiv Ivan turned this target of 212 runs on its heads; a target one would expect, if challenge, to be a nail biting, heart palpitating slug out into the final overs, instead it turned out to be a one-sided run feasts that featured some immaculately executed stroke play that blasts the opposition out-of-here and into another galaxy. This was RHL second final this season, and their manager, Mahin, must be proud of his boys. They played well, but ran into a formidable opponent.
The diminutive Rafeek Nazeer stood tall and tower above all as he tied the score with a neat square cut for two in the 18th over, and then followed up with a thumping six ‘look for that skites next year’ as it sailed over mid-on, to zip-up this championship victory, and a season finale that was intoxicated by an over dose of T20 entertainment.