Monday, October 5, 2009

Cleveland CONQUERS MichCA!!!


Cleveland won the 2009 Division 1 MichCA League by beating Farmington in the finals!!!

Cleveland - 190/10 (Sujay 40, Ani 36, Pratik 31, Goutam 4/37, Venu 3/46)
FHCC - 164 (Manu 2/13 in 8, Deepak 3/36 in 8, Sujay 3/25 in 8)

It was a glorious day for Cleveland and cricket at the Bloomer Park in Michigan.

The background - The final clash between CLCC and FHCC was perfectly set as the league moved through its paces. Both the teams did great through the season watching each other crush opponents. As the last laps were being traversed, they were rumblings of FHCC’s dislike towards us – cannot be sure why– Nevertheless, we (CLCC) kept the focus and progressed through the playoffs with solid performances. We certainly wanted to square off against them, to prove a point (especially since we had lost to them in the semis last year), and so we were eager for a chance to set the equation right.

We could clearly sense that both teams were converging to a melting point. And only a grand finale could resolve the question of the championship – which team ends up winning it?

Our Support - We encouraged our club mates for support, and we were able to convince our loved ones, better halves and well-wishers to join us on this final journey of the season. And so we went with a good/diverse group of cheering supporters and in the overall context of the season it was only fitting for them to be at the ground as they also had equally sacrificed through out the season, allowing us to be away on weekends and believing in our passion. We truly are indebted to them.

As for the forecast of the day – it was somewhat of an English county day – constant fear of rain, drizzle on and off, and the temps hovering in the 60’s. But thanks to the efforts of the organizing board members of MichCA, the pitch was covered overnight and that was greatly helpful, as the covers did collect a lot of water and surprisingly a snake (yep a rattler). We didn’t know it rains snakes in Michigan!! :)

Playing conditions and toss - The wind was certainly a factor and the outfield, although damp, was not terrible. The toss was going to play a crucial role, as in any such game. The pressure counts for a lot, especially when you are chasing. Add to that the rain factor, and in come the infamous Mr.’s Duckworth and Lewis. No team wants to keep them on their minds. So the toss in itself was a mini-contest so to say. But Ani called right when it mattered most!! And we chose to bat without any hesitation.

Goldy and Sujay opened the innings for us. The moist surface and windy conditions were certainly going to help the bowlers and they did. The FHCC opening bowlers were right on the money. And soon into the game, Goldy fended a ball that quickly came onto him, and it took his gloves (nasty blow on hand) and went to the slip cordon.
Cleveland down 1 with less than 10 runs on the board. Not a start we were looking for.

Viggy joined Sujay and they played out some anxious overs. Sujay was picking the gaps well and Viggy also seemed in control until the moment when he tried to flick one to the leg side, closed the bat face a tad early, a thick edge flies to gully.
That was a big blow and Cleveland in a spot of bother 27/2 from about 8 overs.

Ani walked in with an important task at hand. This was going to be a very crucial phase. The two (Ani and Sujay) had to stick in and work out some stability for the innings. And they did just that. The bowlers obviously were on top and bowled well. The pitch was aiding them as well. They tried bouncers and also were able to swing quite a bit. But both Ani and Sujay played the ball on its merit. It was a good time to see a keen contest. Ani looked solid and Sujay played some very good flicks and drives. They were running well too and the board started to tick.

Sujay and Ani put on a good partnership of over 80 runs …

But unfortunately against the run of play, we lost two quick wickets and that too of the two set men. Sujay played slightly across but made an invaluable 40. And Ani, who played watchfully and sensibly, was on 36, when he nicked one that was brilliantly caught behind.

Devin was the next man in. He along with Pratik was crucial to get us to a challenging score.

Pratik was playing after a gap of over 3 weeks. In fact, hats off to Pratik and Aishwarya - as he came on to play even as they await the arrival of their first baby and it was due any moment. And to drive 3 hours away from home at this point was an amazing gesture.

FHCC was now roaring and shouting all over the place. It seemed they wanted to get under our skins and most importantly under Devin’s, as they must have heard and talked a lot about him. They (FHCC) started to become noisier and behaved like street kids fighting over trial issues. I have seen some childish behavior in cricket alright but FHCC was getting uglier by the minute.

Devin and Pratik played some quite overs and then hit a couple of good boundaries.

Devin was lucky when he hit one over square leg and the fielder - one of their best, John Titus - dropped the catch on the boundary line. And to add salt onto the wound, the ball crossed the line. The umpire called it a six at first, and then changed it to a four after the fielder suggested it was a four. And casually, Devin checked with the square leg umpire and that was enough to incite FHCC. They threw all kinds of tantrums, taking the focus off of the game and got quite vocal with the crowd, with Devin etc. It was natural to have a hard game as it was the final but for a team to behave as this was unacceptable. I wish we were playing a stronger team than this but a sportier one.

We sensed that this was going to motivate Devin even more but unfortunately he played a loose shot and was caught behind. That was a big blow as Devin could normally be able to use such a launch pad to take the game away from the opponents. Chandu joined Pratik to give some sting to our batting.

But it began to rain and the players were called off. This break was utilized to have lunch. Again, thanks to MichCA, food was promptly served and it was delicious too - Mediterranean food (chicken kebabs etc) and Pizza.

As play resumed, Chandu couldn’t show his long handle shots and came back. Sunny joined Pratik. The pair got some good ones and two’s on the board. But both got out to some good FHCC bowling. Pratik made 31.

At 36 overs CLCC were around 170. This was a slightly an under par score but we knew in the heat of final, this was not that bad a score. Gaurav, Deepak and I had the last four overs to get us to some more commanding score. We decided to get at least 20 more runs and then some more if possible. We ended up folding at 190.

190 were slightly short of what we wanted but definitely defendable as we had complete faith in our bowling and fielding.

And we all knew this was going to be one heck of an afternoon….

FHCC began their chase with a left-right opening combination and so did we in Deepak (left) and Manu (right). The lefty got off to a good start playing some good shots through and around the gully area. But Deepak was bowling an excellent line and getting the ball to move. It was turning to be a promising spell.

Third over, right hander Hari (the FHCC captain), facing Deepak. Ball pitches outside off and it seemed natural from a left arm bowler that it probably would go further outside off. Hari sensed that there was width, goes on his back foot to cut but lo and behold the ball comes drastically inwards, takes his inside edge and crashes onto the stumps!

Cleveland roars at the first wicket. Well done Deepak. Manu on the other end was also bowling exceptionally well. He bowled in the right area and with pace, not letting the batsmen any room.

In walks Ricky (heard that he is a South African, a good sign of diversity). He plays some decent shots on the off side, but when faced with Deepak, he had no clues. He constantly mistimed and we knew that this cannot be their one-drop bat. He was quickly getting under pressure to score.

And when Manu bowled one on the good length, Ricky connected but only to hit it high in the sky and Chandu, coming under the catch, made no mistake. Chandu judged it very well and was a relieved man as he knew that if he dropped this, the daggers would be out on him. J..

In came another left hander, and he played a few nervous deliveries from Deepak. But soon, Deepak landed one on the middle and leg, the lefty going for a flick or dab down the leg side, the ball moves away from him, hits nothing but the top of off-stump. BOOM! – amazing delivery that one.

FHCC now 3 down and in trouble.

To make it worse their next man comes in and nicks one straight into my waiting hands.

FHCC 4 down and barely 35 runs on the board.

In came one of the more vociferous of their players. This bandana clad guy was making all kinds of noise and gestures when we were batting. We could have easily given him a like-wise treatment, but as a team, we don’t believe in doing such things. And kudus to Ani, who always kept reminding the team to play a fair and decent game. And I cannot agree more. We kept our heads down and kept chipping away.

Manu gave this guy a tough time, bowling a very tight line and not allowing any width at all. He then bowled one slightly short but with pace. The batsman sensed he could pull but as he played the ball came quickly to take the top edge that went up and behind me… I knew it was mine to take, called it early, and moved back to get myself under the ball – another quick decision I made on there was not to try to turn back as the ball seemed to be quite behind me to begin with – and it paid off as the ball landed perfectly into my waiting hands, and exactly where I wanted. A thrill feeling that.

FHCC were around 40/5. We were now truly on top of them.
Deepak and Manu did a remarkable job. Manu eventually finished with amazing figures of 8-3-13-2. One for his memories, I am sure.

Immediately thereafter, Manu got one to move sharply outside off, a big edge and into my hands as I moved slightly to my right to collect. But we were shocked and horrified to see the umpire not raising his finger. We could not believe and kept appealing. The close in fielders converging to the pitch and the leg umpire suggested there was a nick. But the main umpire kept saying he did not hear anything. His audacity was simply unacceptable as he didn’t even want to consult with the leg umpire. It is human to make errors but it is silly to hold onto your ego, when you have options to correct any mistakes.

I remember that in an important game last season; although the umpire was not sure, Viggy walked when he had nicked one, to applause from all players. But we didn’t see that here and agreed the batsman does NOT have to walk, nevertheless it was one of those times you feel the game could sometimes be so much fun if not for some silly umpiring and characters.

We pushed ahead and the game moved on.

The 6th wicket partnership played sensible cricket and were knocking around to keep the score moving. Our spin brigade (Sujay, Devin and Viggy) came on and we kept our focus on the game, even as FHCC sensed that they still had a chance. And we knew that we had one more danger to tackle – and that was John Titus, one of their main bats hadn’t yet come to bat – and so we kept telling ourselves, it’s not over yet.

Then the guy who nicked but did not walk J, played one to the midwicket area where Devin caught him on second attempt. It was a good wicket as we broke a troubling partnership. Now Titus came onto bat. I was a little surprised that he came so low down the order.

Devin and Viggy ware not at their best yet, slightly struggling to control the line. But on the other hand, Sujay was bowling an exceptional spell. Sujay was rightly rewarded with a wicket.

FHCC was around 70 for 6 wickets!

Titus was joined by the 7th down (don’t remember his name). And the pair played quite well, pushing for singles and twos. Titus then played some good shots all over the park. His timing is immaculate. And another aspect is he picks the right deliveries to hit. For example, when Viggy pitched a tad full, Titus would play full blooded lofted drives clearing the ropes, or when the ball was slightly on the leg, he would whip it to over square leg. He scored at a quick pace and we sensed that we needed to break this partnership at any cost.

Our fielding was exceptional and on the mark so far. And Ani handled the placements brilliantly. We gave all our best and hustled quiet well. But the stand was growing and their partnership was now more than 50. And Titus also crossed his well-deserved half century.
Titus played an exceptional inning and brought FHCC close.

FHCC needed 70 odd from 9 overs. Absolutely doable for them but the silver lining for us was that we needed to get 3 more wickets. We kept trying and finally we were able to break the partnership when Ani caught one in the deep. This partnership had put on 90 plus runs! Next man in and out really quickly and Sujay crashed into his stumps.

Our supporters kept cheering and chanting for us and it was an amazing atmosphere. Every now and then, there would be a dead- silence in anticipation and on occasions there would be shouts from both the camps. Especially when Titus hit some huge sixes or when we were breaking partnerships or hustling hard to stop the runs... it was an environment fit for the finals.

Eventually the equation came down to 27 needed of 2 overs and 1 wicket remaining.

Viggy to bowl the penultimate over and Titus facing. Very first ball, Titus steps out for a big heave and misses. I couldn’t collect it cleanly and a stumping chance missed. The heat is on and what a pressure cooker situation. Viggy bowls the next one that stays low and again misses his bat and barely misses the stumps. Heart rate goes high up.

Third ball from Viggy pitches and moves away slightly, Titus out of his crease, goes for another huge attempt, misses it but this time I don’t. The bails are blown off and we jump in joy!!

A dream comes true for each and everyone of us. Our supporters barge to the middle and we trade hugs and lift each other. A great piece of achievement, and a collective sense of pride. Cleveland wins a trophy after a gap of 11 years. And Michigan gives us a standing ovation.

Ani lifts the trophy and we could sense what a proud moment it was for him. He was then accompanied by Goldy and joined by the team. It was an awesome sight that. And time for some pictures and handshakes all over the place.
A championship to savor and tons of memories etched forever in our minds!!
P.S. – After the celebration, Tahreem and I went to meet one of our close friends, who reside close to the ground. They were expecting their first baby and all was smooth until after 25 weeks into the pregnancy, the mother had pains and went to the hospital only to be told that they have to do the delivery right away. It was a shocking experience. But it’s been now 4 weeks since the delivery, the mom is OK and the baby (Zayd) is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). We reached the hospital in time to able to visit Zayd. And the sight of this small baby, fighting such a tough battle suddenly grounded us into perspective. Only a few hours ago we were on the ground cheering and shouting upon becoming a champion and here we were praying humbled in reality and with moist eyes that baby Zayd wins this battle and comes out like a champion! They are in true sense the real champs.
Here are some pics , courtesy Gaurav...
Here are some more pics, courtesy Chandu...
Here is the scoresheet, courtesy MichCA..

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