By Sudharsan Ramarao
Sports would never be the same without the presence of underdogs; for they evoke the much-needed drama and emotion from their followers. India was an underdog when it beat the mighty West Indies in the 1983 Cricket World Cup. Rafael Nadal was an underdog when he claimed his first Wimbledon Grand Slam, and so was Leicester City who beat insurmountable odds to win the English Premier League in 2016. The common denominator amongst those victories was that no one expected the underdogs to win, but they did, and that’s what makes their achievement even more incredible.
The Empire League Panthers was the punching bag for the rest of the teams, losing every game played until this point. The Panthers lost games it should have probably won. So, when they took on the Knights in the league showdown, everyone expected the same storyline. But not every story travels in a straight line. There must be a turning point too, and what a turning point it turned out to be for the Panthers as they rallied a remarkable victory against the Knights of Albany, one of the stronger teams in the league this season.
Setting the tempo upfront was Venkat Kandhavel, the Panthers opening batsman who played with no fear and took the attack to the Knights bowlers from ball one. He took down the usually miserly Naveen Punyala, the Knights opening bowler for 2 sixes, then hit Viraj Patel for back to back sixes, and then swung Raj Ardham’s slow leg-break for another maximum.
In an action laden innings that lasted for 21 balls, Venkat Kandhavel blazed away to 41 stroke-filled runs. The Panthers were 56 for one in the seventh over. Raj Ardham then applied the much-needed breaks by picking up the back to back wickets of Venkat and Raghuveer Bethelli in the seventh over. Batting steady on the other end was Harsh Jogi, who provided the much-needed calm when Venkat was blazing away. He held the other end firmly and played solid cricket, rotating the strike with singles and cashing on the loose deliveries, whenever there was one. The other Panthers batsman did not make much of a mark as they came and left in a hurry while Harsh alone stood firm. For the Knights, Raj Ardham and Arun Ghanta picked up 3 wickets each while Siva Pattapu claimed 2 wickets. Panthers were all-out for 131 in the 25th over.
Chasing 132 in 30 overs, Knights started off their innings fluently as both their openers Raj Ardham and Vamsidhar Varmakonda played safe cricket, negotiating the good deliveries with defense while putting away the bad ones. The Panthers could have dropped their shoulders down and lost it. But not so. As Raj Ardham tried to hit a full-toss out of the park, Murali Bolloju at midwicket jumped and plucked the ball out of thin air. Raghuveer then produced another brilliant piece of fielding to run-out Viraj Patel. Jayaram Manukonda then joined Vamsidhar Varmakonda, and strung together a decent partnership, but Jayaram soon mistimed off-spinner Harsh Jogi and lobbed a simple catch to Anvesh Chikulapalli. Raghuveer Bethelli then proceeded to dismantle the Knights’ middle-order with his off-spin claiming four wickets in the process. Arun Ghanta played a fighting hand and was stranded without partners as the Knights folded for 126. Knights lost by 5 runs, and so, the Panthers were victorious for the first time.
For his composed 36 with the bat and 2 wickets with the ball, Harsh Jogi was Man-of-the-Match.