By Soumendra Basu
The farewell poem for Peter Sobha on his retirement as club president of the Commonwealth Cricket Club, includes the following stanza, describing some of the early challenges of running the club:
There were days when your biggest challenge was,
Not how to maintain the scoring rate:
But to make frantic calls before the toss,
For right then there were only eight!
Fast-forward many, many years ahead to the present. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The night before the game, Soumendra Basu received frantic texts from Fazal stating that due to last minute developments, he was short of players. Much like Peter, Basu had ‘retired’ from cricket at the end of last season, which meant filling in when the team was short of players. After all, this was an important game for playoff seeding for both teams, and there was the matter of settling the score for a loss to Eagle A in an earlier game.
Well, Fazal did have only eight in the field for the first four overs, having lost the toss and being put in to field. Luckily sharp bowling from Gautam and Fazal himself somewhat limited the boundaries, but Eagle A openers Sridhar and Ravi Rao easily exploited the substantive gaps in the field and quickly got their eyes in without taking many risks. By the time reinforcements arrived for Commonwealth A, the openers were well-set and on their way to a 67 run opening partnership. With his eye in, Ravi tried his very effective leg side flick one too many times, and let one though his bat and pad playing across.
Prithvi Reddy, visiting from India, replaced Ravi. Prithvi was a batsman in form, and he began middling the ball beautifully, putting together another good partnership till Sridhar found his timber rattled, perhaps misjudging Anil’s pace after a two-step run up. Mithun joined Prithvi, and for a little while they were held in check by some sharp spin bowling by Twain Walters. Soon however, both batsmen broke loose and the scoring started to accelerate.
Both batsmen tried to slog Twain off his length, and ended up giving three similar looking chances to Fazal fielding at long-off. All three followed identical paths, bat to hand to ground. The only difference was that the first one lined itself perfectly with the sun in Fazal’s sightline and then took a detour to open a cut above his eye on its way to the ground. Keeper Kiran Natraj was beside himself, especially since he had asked Fazal to re-position himself away from long-off after the first drop. Finally Fazal relented and repositioned himself in the infield, and suddenly Commonwealth fielders started catching the ball.
First Gautam held on to dismiss Mithun, and then Nipul latched on while diving forward at… where else… long-off, to send back Muqadas, both off Twain. This loss of partners sent Prithvi into a frenzy, and he began to take the aerial route to anything pitched up to him. In spite of Kiran’s loud entreaties to hold back the length, the Commonwealth A bowlers served up enough length balls for Prithvi to accumulate eight fours and six massive sixes on his way to a well-deserved century, before being castled by Roman Senior for 102. Twain was not done however, running out Narasimha Challa with an accurate throw from the deep. Roman had Hemant caught by Nipul before Jack Patel and Nirav Shah took Eagle A to a very competitive final score of 266/7 in 40 overs.
Eagle A appeared very confident and secure when they took the field and when openers Basu and Fazal walked in. That security lasted for less than one over, when Narasimha Challa conceded 11 runs to Basu in the first over. In his only two other games this season as a fill in without any practice, Basu had mostly introduced his bat edges to the ball. For whatever reason, he mysteriously rediscovered his form, and the ball stared coming off the middle of his bat – hard. At the other end, Fazal played across the first ball he faced, and was visibly relieved for not being declared out due to height.
A few balls later, he dispatched one far into the trees over the netting, leading to a long delay in relocating the ball. Perhaps in was the delay, or just stubborn muscle memory, but two balls later, he played across to Sridhar yet again and was bowled. In walked Roman, who was content in playing copybook defense while he got his eye in. However, he gave us all a glimpse of his stroke making abilities with a cover drive with the ball crossing the boundary before any fielder moved, leaving seared grass behind it. On the other side, Basu got to a quick-fire 52 with four fours and four sixes before mistiming a super slow delivery from Jack Patel to sky the ball in the infield for a simple catch.
Rahul Bhardwaj came in, but was soon dismissed cutting a wide ball by Guruprasath straight to backward point. In-form Shreenath Rajagopalan walked out to the middle to join Roman, and the spectators were treated to an elegant 99 run partnership. While Shreenath found gaps with elegant drives, Roman was hitting the ball very hard, but mostly along the ground. Both batsmen scored at a steady pace without taking much risk, and kept the required run rate in the vicinity of 7 per over. If there was a couple of slow overs, it was following by a high scoring one, an example of which was two magnificent back-to-back straight driven sixes by Shreenath.
With no slip, Shreenath loves to play the late cut just past the keeper, and that proved to be his undoing, feathering a touch to the keeper off Mithun at 42. At 182/4 after 28.3 overs, and a required run rate of 7.4, it was still anybody’s game. Of course, Kiran Natraj had other ideas. He blasted 23 runs in 13 balls with five fours, before he fell to a remarkable overhead catch by Mithun off Nirav. Nipul Patel, who had magnanimously vacated his opening slot to accommodate Basu, joined Roman, who was by now cruising steadily towards his century.
Nipul started cautiously, and with 6 overs to go, 49 runs were needed. Ramon called for water, and a brief conference with Shreenath calibrated the batsmen with the asking rate. The next three overs went for 15, 12 and 11 runs, respectively, while Roman reached a very well deserved century. Nipul finished the game with a massive six on the last ball of the 39th over, and Commonwealth A got a 5-wicket win. Roman remained not out with a classy 107 not out with eleven fours and two sixes.
It was a hard fought game, and there was good camaraderie between the teams over some tasty biryani. It was a fun day of cricket, for the players and the spectators including a local couple that watched the entire game and stayed back to chat with some of the players over biryani. But the person who enjoyed the most was Joe Buffong, who parked himself in the shade on his chair and spent most of the Commonwealth A innings picking on Fazal, who was a very good sport about it. It was an afternoon well spent, both on and off the field.