Monday, March 19, 2012

RnW Challenger Trophy: RnW Chennai Retains the Challenger Cup

As narrated by Adi...

First Innings

Ponmudi and KK opened the bowling for us. Guru and BK opened the batting for them. It was one of fiercest bowling spells I have ever seen being bowled by any RnW team. Superb combination of pace and line and length. Was bad luck that either of them did not get a wicket in that spell. Special mention must be made of this: during Ponmudi's first over, a ball came back in sharply from around off-stump and Guru got his bat down just in time. Else it would have easily taken his leg stump. The ball after hitting the bat actually rolled over behind the stumps escaping Guru's attempts at kicking it away! :-)  

 First 6 overs, they were only able to make 20 runs despite the powerplay being in place (2 fielders outside the circle). We fielded very well and cut off the lifeline of their innings - singles.  

Then came on DD and JP to bowl. DD got BK in the second over of his bowling, 8th over of the innings. BK hit a drive straight down the throat of short mid-off (Me). BK was struggling to make any runs. He made 5 of 21 deliveries. At the end of the 10th over, they had got only 39 runs. Their strategy was very clear. Guru was going to stay and the rest of them would go for their shots. 

That's when Murali had just started his spell - 10th over was his first one. And along with him we had got Praveen in. And Murali bowled so well, it would have been a crime to replace him with another bowler. Neither did he bowl any lose balls nor did he allow the opposition have any free runs (wides, noballs, etc). It was a brilliant piece of line and length bowling. The problem was with the other end where we were leaking a minimum of one boundary per over or giving away too many extras. 

Murali got the #3 batsman clean bowled in the 18th over. They had made 51 runs in 8 overs off which Murali had given only 13 runs in 4 overs. The other end seemed to the gap to be plugged. Sankar was the guy in such situations. And he bowled his first over, 19th one of the innings, for only 3 runs. There, we had the answer for the other end. But the problem was that Murali was finishing his continuous spell in the next over. He did so with aplomb. Murali's figures were 6-0-25-1. 

But the Bangalore team, kind of, answered my questions on whom to bowl next by taking the Batting PP of 4 overs. The automatic choice was KK and Ponmudi back into the attack. Who else but our best opening bowlers. Their strategy was to have Jacob, a big-hitter, go for his shots with the field in and Guru continues to stay on. But KK got Jacob with a superfast delivery which blew the middle stump out and the bat was somewhere above the shoulders. Don't know what he was trying, in the bargain we had got our man. Then came in Gaurav. An unconventional technique with a very effective result. He hit Ponmudi for three boundaries in the final PP over, the 24th of the innings. 

Soon after that we got out man, Sankar, into the attack. And what does he do? He gets Guru with a brilliant inswinger which Guru mistimes (or was that an inside edge?) straight down the throat of short midwicket (JP). Neatly taken by JP. Along with Sankar, I brought myself into the attack. And in the very first over I bowled, we had a team hat-trick which included two runouts and 1 bowled. Quickly, Bangalore was staring down the barrel at 136-7 off 27 overs. In the last 3 overs, Sankar and I conceded, 30 runs. It was some clean straight hitting by their batsmen - Mahesh and Pradeep. The six of the last ball was as straight as an arrow. Though off a full toss, it took a lot of power and timing to clear the ground which was of International standards. They ended with 166-8 off 30 overs.
Our fielding deserves special mention. We did not concede any extra run and stopped many potential singles. An please note this: We did not drop a single catch. No sloppiness anywhere. Brilliant work by everyone. Full 100% commitment. Bupesh came on for Murali and was brilliant in the cover to point region. He in fact created a runout. Which was very good to watch. And Pradyot's wicket-keeping was simply stunning. The byes that you see there were rank bad balls thrown down the legside at KK's pace! :-) 

Second Innings 

167, given the size of the ground, was a very competitive target to chase down. JP and KK went in to open the innings. And they went after the bowling like wild dogs after a pack of deer. Bangalore team was clueless. In fact, their body language indicated as if they didn't know what had hit them. The opening pair had made 50 runs in 4.4 overs. Their strategy changed in the very third over. Their opening bowler, Sam, was replaced because of the three boundaries that JP hit him for. And the replacement, Guru, was treated no differently. He went for three boundaries as well! 

Just when everything was going well. JP had this connection in his brain snap. It's that part which snaps so very frequently that we are all sick and tired of it. He wants to hit a boundary off every ball. After having hit Guru for three boundaries in the 5th over, he went for a fourth one. And hit one straight down the throat of a fielder at covers. Very disappointing end to a cracker of an innings. Shanmugavel (Velu) walked in with the entire scales tilted in our favour. But he couldn't get away easily for runs as he is accustomed to. He took some 24 deliveries to make 10 runs. Clearly, he was struggling out there. In that desperation, he hit one in the air in the backward point region and was caught brilliantly by flying Guru.The time he got out we had slowed down a bit on the run rate from where we were before. We were at 69/2 in the 13th over. 

Anba walked in at the fall of Velu's wicket. And along with KK, they got the scoring rate back up. They added 27 runs together in less than 4 overs. Anba hit two boundaries off Vijay, an off-spinner, a treat to watch. But then Anba was given out LBW by the umpire. Looked doubtful from where we were because it was an offspinner bowling around the stumps. Anba tried his usual legside nudge and missed it. The umpire thought it was out. So, I replaced Anba out there. And as soon as I went in, Vijay bowled me a meaty full toss on the thighs and I promptly helped it to deep square leg boundary. We were at 100/3 off 16 overs. Comfortably coasting along.

We announced our batting powerplay in the 17th over. The thinking was that, this was anyway going to go into a stage where a run-a-ball would be required. And automatically the field would be in. Apart from that, they would automatically retain their best bowlers towards the end off whom scoring might have been tougher. So the thinking was that we will call for the batting PP now, rather than later, and finish atleast majority of the quota of their best bowlers. There was no plan to attack anyway! As expected, Pradeep was brought into the attack in the second over of the powerplay. And I took him away for two boundaries in the mid-wicket region. And that was the last we saw of him. Objective achieved! He never came back to bowl in the rest of the innings! We were sitting pretty by the end of the PP, 125/3 off 21 overs. Going at almost 6 RPO. 

The next over, Guru came into attack. And I got out bowled to one of his faster deliveries and was late in getting my bat down to keep it out. That seemed to buoy the Bangalore team up. They made a lot of noises and shouting to charge themselves up. But we always were in sight of victory with Ram, DD, Sankar and Pradyot still to come. At 126/4, 21.4 overs, we were the ones still in control. But the Bangalore team had their tails up. We needed 41 runs off 50 balls. Easy task given the kind of wickets in hand. 

Ram and KK seemed to be going well, with Ram running briskly between the wickets, when another LBW decision came our way. Doubtful again. But atleast this time the bowler was bowling over the stumps. DD replaced Ram. Played a good cameo of 12 off 15 with one lusty boundary and some excellent running between the wickets. We came very close now. We had to make 17 runs off 16 deliveries. With DD and KK at the crease, we never had a doubt. But then, the same cable that snapped in JP's brain snapped in DD's brain also. And he went for a sixer off BK's third delivery of the 28th over. Clean bowled. Now, we needed 17 off 15 with 4 wickets in hand. Game still in our hand. KK still at the crease. Body not supporting him. He just never allowed himself to lose. Hung in there. I wish all of us could atleast have 50% of that resolve.   Sankar went in and got a single of the next two balls. And KK played out the last delivery. We had to make 16 runs off the last 12 deliveries. That's when Sankar came up with a brilliant boundary. He just picked, the 3rd delivery of the next over, a good length ball and deposited it at the mid-wicket boundary. It was a shot played on-the-rise and was a superb execution of one his favourite shots. It was a boundary under pressure. A Straight-batted shot it was. But the next delivery he played a cross-batted shot and ended up skying the ball. Was safely caught by BK who came in from covers to take this. Was a tough one, but he held on to it. Now, we needed 10 off 8. Pradyot to go in.

KK and Pradyot ran a couple of twos like rabbits of the next two balls. I honestly do not know where KK found that resource from. My hats off to his perseverance and stamina. Please teach us how to do it, KK. We might be bad students, but we still want to learn. 

Last over. 6 deliveries. 6 runs. For some strange reason, the Bangalore team had the field spread out the entire length of the innings. Inexplicable it was. But was quite useful to us. We were milking the field well.   

So, with the field spread out - first two deliveries, two singles. Third ball, we had Pradyot on strike. It was a good length delivery, probably a bit on the shorter side. So Pradyot tried to pull it. But it went straight to the man at short mid-wicket. And KK wanted to take strike. So he left his crease and started. Pradyot had not much option but to sacrifice his wicket. Afterall, KK was the guy you would bet on at such a time. And Pradyot played very sensibly. But now, we were at a situation where we needed 4 off the last 3 balls. Murali walked in. KK took strike. He hit the next ball towards long-on. And by the time Viswa, their long-on fielder, could get to the ball, Murali and KK ran briskly and completed two runs. Now we had two balls remaining and 2 runs to be made for victory. 2 wickets in hand. Ponmudi was padded up. 

This delivery was on offstump. KK drove it slightly wide off long-off. The fielder there had to run a bit to collect it. By the time the fielder collected it, our men had completed the first run. And Murali was back halfway to the danger end. KK just had to make his way back safely. But the throw was straight on top of the stumps. Murali was still outside the crease when the bowler, BK, failed to collect it cleanly. Murali got back in and KK reached the other end. RnW Chennai had completed another victory over RnW Bangalore. 


Brilliant persevering innings by Man of the Match: KK. He was the only one who never gave up. He just stayed there come what may! Some brilliant cameos by DD and Sankar. Murali would have been the second Man of the Match if there was any such award, for his bowling as well as selfless running between the wickets to take the team home. We just need to ensure that as batsmen we value our wicket. And make the bowlers work hard to get our wicket. It is not necessary to go for a boundary every ball nor is it necessary to defend every ball to value our wicket. We need to play the ball on its merits giving due respect to the bowler at the same time having trust and belief in our abilities.  

  This victory was closer than what our team is capable of doing. It was a privilege to captain this side. And I am now looking forward to the Bangalore leg of this trophy. Where I expect RnW Chennai to convincingly defeat the Bangalore team and convert our on-paper superiority to convincing on-ground victories. Not that this was a bad game or something: In fact we outplayed them in every department of the game. All I am trying to say is we need to outplay them even better the next time! :-) Let's work towards it systematically. 

It was a pleasure to see families of JP, Anba and Ponmudi there. A big thanks to them for coming all the way. I suspect Ponmudi tried bowling a few bouncers in his 5th over to impress his wife! ;-) And Anba threw in a few dives too while fielding! Any guesses why?! ;-) An equally big thanks to all the other Runwees who turned up there! The presence of each of you matters a lot! Thanks, thanks, and many more thanks for coming!

   I had a great time. I hope everyone had the same experience.