We were to face them again in the new season, exactly 2 months after the semifinal. The preparation had been patchy. Two of the core members – Shankar and Mehkri were coming back after a 6 week hiatus and were looking rusty in everything they did. The captain had had to travel to India to resolve visa issues and was to arrive back in Seattle at 11 PM on Saturday evening while the match was at 10 AM on Sunday. He had made himself available but we had decided to play it safe and pull in another guy. He hadn’t played for more than a month either. The opening bowler had also not played for a month and had not turned up for practice either. The day before the match a key player who was replacing the captain said he was out due to other commitments which meant the captain had to be played now that we were short of one bowler.
The morning of the match:
The morning dawned with a slight drizzle in the air and thick clouds. Seattle drizzles are notorious for lasting for most of the day and also for clearing up in no time. This could prove tricky as you could end up batting in bad conditions and setting a low but competitive score for those conditions except for the sky to clear up and making it easy to bat for the second innings.
I had to pick up the opening bowler on the way to the ground and he promptly announced on getting into the car that this was going to be his last match as his project had been completed and he was returning to India soon, and he had been working like crazy for that and hence the absence for practice. I digested that info along the way and I was told not to tell the rest of the team until the end of the match. Fair enough.
We reached the ground to see the earlier match still going on in the slightly stronger rain. This ground was different from the rest in that the pitch was in the middle of the ground and there were runs and boundaries to be scored 360 degrees unlike most grounds where you play close to a wall and get only 180-200 degrees to score runs. With just 8 players per team and a matted pitch where the ball does nothing on pitching and helps hitting through the line this results in heavy scoring matches. The team playing now was chasing 55 though in 16 overs and were making heavy weather of the target. The ball seemed to be skidding through after pitching at good pace and batting was quite a task. The chasing team eventually held on to win the match by the skin of their teeth!
We went in for the toss, and unusually for us, won it. After much deliberation we decided to put them in and get them out for cheap and chase it down, considering the conditions. The skidding ball and a good bowling attack would definitely help us, and considering the lack of practice for most of the team chasing a low score was also logical.
It started out tamely, them trying to get their eyes in while believing in demons in the pitch, us struggling to get our line right. Short balls and wides were offered at will from one end while Mehkri tried to keep a tight lid on proceedings from the other side. I came in to bowl at the end of the 6th over with the openers still going at a steady rate. I managed to keep it tight and was played out in my first over. But soon they decided to get a move on and the risks taken increased. By this time they had realised that there was nothing scary in the pitch and hitting through the line produced favourable results. My second over produced 7 runs including a boundary as I saw our fielding starting to disintegrate. Soon catches started getting dropped at will, singles got converted to boundaries, overthrows added a few extra runs here and there, in short utter disintegration on the field. But to give some credit to the bowlers they managed to connect only 3-4 balls per over and managed only close to 7 runs per over till the very end. They finally finished at 92 off 16 overs. The last over bowled by me was utter disintegration as the keeper had gotten pissed off with the opening bowler and refused to keep anymore and fielders were throwing the balls at will all over the place and had totally forgotten how to stop the balls.
So at the end we were left with 93 to chase off 16, pretty steep considering the batting attack we had and their bowling attack one of whom was the fastest in our division. We also had to pacify the ‘keeper who was still swearing at and hurling abuses at the opening bowler. In this background, began our chase.
The start was strong. They began with their slowest bowler who was promptly dispatched to the boundary by Shankar. The first over yielded 8 runs and we had begun pretty strongly. The second over produced 9 runs without a single legal ball being bowled as their bowler struggled for control in the drizzle and was taken apart for a four off a no-ball and a wide went way back for a quick two to be run. The third over on they regained control a bit but the run rate kept steadily higher than 6 per over. And then a yorker came in to get Shankar cleaned up leaving us speechless.
Mehkri walked in and shrugging off any rustiness kept the run-rate going with steady singles and twos with the other opener Varun. The ‘fast’ bowler came on and was dispatched for two boundaries in a row as Mehkri realised that on a fast pitch with runs all over the ground all that was needed was a well timed tap to send the ball racing to the boundary. And just when we thought the match was well in our favour Mehkri fell off a slow bowler trying to hoick him but only managing to edge it to the keeper.
Talking to the captain I convinced him to send Kevin, a left hander, in as their bowlers were struggling with Shankar and seemed to have trouble with Lefties in general. Kevin, thankfully played sensibly picking up ones and twos while keeping a steady rate going. And then again, against the run of play, the fast bowler produced a full toss which deflected off Varun’s bat and hit him on the face bringing him down to the ground in agony and blood. The ball had hit his nose and then his left eye, causing some bleeding in the former and swelling in the latter. We had to call an ambulance and send him off on it. Sumit took up the bat and tried to get the game going, but soon he also perished.
During this time the score read 49 off 8 overs which was ahead of their run rate, but the time was now 12:45 PM when the next match was to start. Considering that we were ahead we were hoping that the waiting teams would interrupt the match and have it decided by run rate. They decided to wait for a while more. With Sumit departing I made it into the ground as the captain was waiting by the ambulance which had just arrived. First thing told to Kevin was “Stay till the end!” and he nodded. We kept the scoring rate going with me picking up singles and twos and Kevin getting a boundary in between. We ended up at 68 off 11 overs with 25 required off the last 5 overs when the waiting teams interrupted. Lengthy discussions issued where the umpire and the opposing captain wanted to continue while ours wanted to stop the game as we were ahead. The target was then set to 81 off 14 overs which meant 13 off the last 3 overs required.
The fast bowler got the ball and steamed in, but Kevin managed to push it for a quick single. I stood there facing him now wondering if I’d be able to get the team home. The ball came in fast on my legs. I bent down to do a flat batted deflection to fine leg. The sound of ball hitting bat was pleasant and the ball raced away to the fine leg boundary. 8 off 16. Should be easy now. The next one was outside the off at a length. The fielders were all in and I decided to swish at it as an edge would still yield good returns. It took the edge and went over slips for another boundary. 4 required off 15. The rest were knocked off with ease and we managed to get to 82 in 12.3 overs bringing an eventful match to a close.
Considering where we were mid-match it was a fairly comfortable win despite the disintegrations and sudden dissents. Varun was admitted to a hospital where after numerous tests they decided it was minor and he’d be alright in a week’s time.