By Sham Ali
Shahid Shahzad delivered a vintage performance at Idlewild Park last Saturday against Bleachers in the New York Masters Semi Finals as he absorbed the humidity and blazed his way to a belligerent 148 runs. It was a performance that sent Bleachers into the shade and under the covers for a long winter and one that propelled Everest into the finals for the 7th time.
It was Everest opening pair of Debo Sankar and Shahzad that laid the platform in this match with a solid opening stand after Bleachers won the toss and under very humid conditions they made a scientific decision and inserted Everest to bat. Sankar, in his role, remained rather subdued, but did not miss the opportunity to dispatch the loose ball for the occasional boundary. He looked solid in an all important partnership that was worth 78 runs in 12 overs before he had a brain freeze and decided to improvise with two of those hair-brained T20 scoop from successively balls and threw away his wicket via lbw.
Shahzad though remained unperturbed, focused, and measured realizing the value of his inning in this match. He has had two centuries gliding off his blade in the preliminary rounds of the competition. However, in this semi final he simply went blitzkrieg and single handedly took the opposition by the collar, and delivered a stinging jab to the midsection. It virtually knocked the wind out of the Bleachers attack and blew the red cherry out of the park for eleven massive sixes and seven fours. He posted another 58 runs partnership with S. Mohan (22) before Mohan was relieved of the occasion’s burden.
With the score on 134 for 2 in the 22nd over, Vijay Seonarine, a former Guyana national player, joined Shahzad and they proceeded to securely stitched together a match-winning partnership. In a ‘shock and awe’ display they unleashed a brutal assault on anything that was thrown at them that was either too full or too short. Even the good length deliveries were met with disdain, and that ultimately exposed the ineffectiveness of the Bleachers bowling attack against these two accomplished batsmen. The partnership flourished at a rapid rate and swelled to 134 runs in 12 overs.
And in the virtue of Shahzad’s blitz he quietly, but definitively wrote his version of Everest’s probation as – time served at the wicket – with perhaps a hint of mockery to any egotistical armchair demagogue. Shahzad’s inning was a telling riposte to an untenable outcome from previous semi-finals as Everest Masters convincingly cleared the way into this final with an unsoiled performance. But who knows even brilliant batting can be construed as presenting ‘imminent danger’ to fielders and spectators alike and ‘unsportsmanlike behavior’ by an armchair demagogue.
Irrespective of the exigencies that lurks this though was a bountiful Idlewild batting surface and this pair of Shahzad and Seonarine was in no rush to leave the pleasuredome. As the day got sunny and warmer the pitch became friendlier and Shahzad got stronger. His was powerfully dismissive against D. Palmer and E. Gayle for consecutive sixes. While Seonarine matched him stroke for stroke, he unleashed his with equal power albeit with a touch of finesse to polish off the over with another maximum.
This Bleachers attack did not possess a bowler with the capability to scold them and any sense of superiority that existed on the side of this opposition was slowly eroding under the commands of Shahzad/Seonarine. Bleachers ace bowler Shadi Khan struggled for some rhythm on this day, and understandably so, after he had laid to rest only a few hours ago, one of his best friends, Mustapha ‘Musto’ Hanif, may his soul rest in peace. Kevin Darlington, the former Guyana fast bowler, kicked a bit of dust, and bowled with some pace and purpose but he just could not find the corridor to penetrate the Everest batsmen. Bleachers tried different tactics, but needed more. In fact, come to think about it, they lacked quite a lot.
Everest however has quite a lot as they have demonstrated in this match. Shahzad who has a series of big scores so far continue to make a mockery of the points deducted from Everest at the beginning of the season. That may have served as a fortuitous blessing in disguise as Shahzad practically blew away this opposition, and ‘single handedly’ won this semi-final match. His demeanor appeared quite averse to belligerence, but with willow in hand he is a transformation. His breathtaking maximums combined with Vijay Seonarine’s effortlessness lifted Everest from 134 for 2 in the 22nd over to 288 for 4 at the end of the allotted 35 overs, before Shahzad holed out on the mid-wicket boundary for a brilliant 148 runs (11 6’s, 7 4’s), and Seonarine 62 (5 4’s, 3 6’s). K. Darlington took 2 for 53, and R. Staple 2 for 31.
Bleachers is a formidable opponent, however, they needed something special to counter Everest in their reply. But instead they got off to shaky start with Richard Staple back in the pavilion in the first over, and Darrel Roopchand followed soon after. It was the Everest opening attack that delivered two Caribbean beauties, albeit receiving a few good sticks on the process. Sham Ali shaved Staple’s edge in the first over to Amin at 2nd slip, while Trevor Walke, the-man-of-steel, recovered after taking a concerning tumble in his follow through bruised Roopchand ‘s edge in his next over. That ignited an Everest explosion when Seonarine at first slip moved to his right initially and then changed course in midair and held on to a stunner low down to his left.
Dixeith Palmer, the former Jamaica national player, can be a one man show, and he produced the only significant inning for his team, which, while it lasted, threw a bit of a scare into Everest, but he needed someone at the other end. He didn’t find any, instead, he watched his team eroded in a display of witless batting behind a toss that haunted him. When captain Zamin Amin, who has led from the front, trapped him for a breezy 77 (7 6’s, 5 4’s) Everest seized the opportunity to pounced on this opposition, and firmly fixed their heels on the jugular. The procession had begun before the ice started to melt on the drinks, and at that point even Jonny Walker was staggering at the site of two full-proof Eldorado, Yea right!
But once Dixeith Palmer was gone with the score on 106 Bleachers tail were exposed to Everest’s elements, and they appeared virtually frozen by just staring at Everest peak having to go uphill on one leg for another 182 runs. The inning was reduced to a few swipes and swishy that led wicketkeeper Cyril Choy and medium pacer Lincoln Deonarine to plan an easy foxtrot stumping. Sohan Dass’s plan with Seonarine landed in Zamin Amin hand at mid-wicket off an ineffectual pull from Derrick Kallicharran.
Alternatively, this opposition appeared wounded at the end of the first inning after staring and chasing after 288 runs, and by the time the hard-hitting veteran Austin Hutchinson came to the wicket the burden was too heavy for inning needed a herculean effort as the asking rate was swelling. Everest though was unyielding in their pursuit, and has demonstrated the ability to tactfully foxed the opposition top order and gradually chisel away at their tail which looked clueless, and had no bandage to stop the bleeding from the earlier incision. The inning petered out to 193 all out with S. Dass taking 3 for 20, L. Deonarine 2 for 22, Z. Amin 2 for 31, S. Ali 1 for 51, and T. Walke 1 for 41.
This was a tremendous team effort from the Everest Masters outfit that simply played cricket. But quite regrettable though is that this competition was froth with rumbling, mumbling, and grumbling at the beginning of the season, with no perceived value whatsoever. That Everest participation was in question, and that these two top rated teams only met by chance or ‘the lords’ design in the semi-finals seriously, seriously, seriously ( for the lack of definition) defeated the very purpose of the masters’ competition. If anything, Everest’s presence this semi final may have choked a few and confirmed unequivocally that Everest will not make pillow out of stones, but instead this Everest team will continue hold the spirit of the game to the letter.
And as the defending champions (and oh if I forgot to mention that we did not receive the trophy from the last final, kindly excuse my slight case of dementia) as Everest has shown that they can take a ‘punch’ and some, and can deliver a few as well. They have also demonstrated that they can rise above the disparity by decorating every letter of the word probation with flakes from a cracking red cherry. Cricket is what we play! And Everest totally outplayed this opponent in this semi-final match-up. And, collectively, if EVEREST MASTERS is a marked team, then put a check mark in the box next to the spot in the final. Again!
Everest will play Village Rams at Idlewild on Saturday. Good luck to both teams in the final.