The greatest innings of my life - Photos added!
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Abhay Natu & Shashi Chikkanna put up a 52 run partnership for the last wicket to see CSCC as the 2005 KO Champions
FORT COLLINS -- Colorado Cricket League's 2005 Knock-Out Final was scheduled to be played at Fort Collins on October 8th, 2005. Fort Collins had earned the right to host it by winning the regular season championship when they edged past Colorado Springs on the final weekend of regular season. Although both teams had the same record (10-2) and had handed defeats to each other, Fort Collins had simply blown away their opponents while CSCC had to make do with nail-biting, come-from-behind victories. Going into the finals (with two more knock-out matches added to their tally of victories) both teams were 12-2. At home FCCC had a 7-1 record, while Springs were 5-2. On the road, FCCC were 5-1 whereas CSCC were a perfect 8-0.
The last encounter between the two teams had been a real thriller at the same venue. CSCC had come out on top then, escaping a choke-hold by the opposition twice in the same match. Since then, FCCC had gone on a rampage and simply steam-rolled everyone in their wake, winning by huge margins and staking a claim as the premier team in the league. The match this day would be a hard-fought one. The title of Knock-Out champions was at stake, as were the bragging rights of being the team with a better overall record for 2005.
At exactly quarter to 10, the umpires Max Ali of DSCC and Nitin Bhardwaj of CSUCC conducted the toss. Kervyn Dimney called right for Colorado Springs. The decision was to field first. Deciding factor behind this unconventional choice was delayed members of the visiting squad. Electing to bat first and start without their designated openers was not a wise choice. They had tried that before and the results were disastrous early on.
Presently, the CSCC squad arrived with moments to spare and took to the field amid bright sunshine, mild temperatures and a slightly wet outfield. Michael Doig started from the School End and Nadeem Rafiq faced off. The very first ball was a full toss drifting down leg and Nadeem, not one to waste an opportunity, dispatched it promptly to the fine-leg boundary. Another boundary came in that over and Nadeem had taken FCCC to a flying start. In three overs, FCCC raced to 33 on the back of some amazing Nadeem sixes, one such monster somehow not destroying a parked car as it hurtled back to earth. And then came the chances. Doig and his partner, Mehmood Khan adjusted their length and induced balloons from Nadeem. One went to Robert Lezama who sighted it well only to lose it at the last moment. Another one fell between Mukesh Patel and Doig where Patel, racing backwards juggled the ball and yet another got away from Dimney's one-handed grab. Give one chance to Nadeem and he'll make full use of it. Give him two and he'll make you cry. Here we were giving him three chances before the restrictions were over! Visions of 300 fleeted past our eyes as Nadeem continued his assault.
Both Doig and Khan were toiling away with great heart in the face of brutal hitting. Doig's perseverance and variation of pace and length paid off as Nadeem 38(26) tried to loft him over mid-on and the ball simply went up a mile near the bowler's crease. Doig positioned himself under it and called for the catch. Khan raced in from mid-wicket. The imminent collision would have meant life #4 to Rafiq, but Doig held on to the catch and FCCC were 44/1. Ravi Sajjan joined Nirmal Devnani, the other opener who was content watching the fire-works from Rafiq's end. As the batsmen changed ends after the over, Sajjan faced a back-of-a-length express from Khan. Deciding it to be a hittable dolly, Sajjan 0(1) went for the lofted shot and the ball crashed into middle stump. 44/2 and CSCC had gained some lost ground.
Ganesh Sharma, the League MVP of 2005 regular season, walked in. Ganesh has played many a hand in FCCC's victories with his sensible knocks. He concentrated on avoiding further damage and worked himself into a rhythm. From the other end, Khan produced another beauty that took Devnani's 4(20) leg stump behind his pads! At 49/3 the initiative had been wrested back and CSCC were right back in the game!
Gopal Susarla joined Sharma and they concentrated on rotating the strike and making sure they settled in. Sharma dropped one to the right of Ananth Kota Shashidhar and took off for a single. Ananth swooped in and with a single-handed pick up threw the ball to Abhay Natu, the wicket-keeper. Sharma was stranded mid-pitch with no hope. The ball jumped from the 'keeper's gloves, while searching for it Sharma made his ground safely. Sharma is another champion batter and you just do not give chances to the likes of him...
Shadaskshari 'Shashi' Chikkanna was introduced into the attack, but the pair of Susarla and Sharma are nothing if not mindful of the situation. They kept on moving the score along without undue risk. Then Keshav Murthy, 2005 Rookie of the Year, was handed the ball. He induced Susarla to drive uppishly and Ritesh Bhakta at covers thought he had taken it clean. The umpires disagreed and Susarla continued. With both of these dangerous batsmen looking good, the stage was set for the next wave of assault. Shashi then speared one towards the stumps and trapped Sharma 13(26) in front trying to flick. 90/4 but FCCC had no reason to worry. There was plenty of batting to come in the form of Mike Riley, Dipal Patel, Rajesh Idate and the rest. Mike Riley walked in to face Shashi. First ball pitched outside leg and curved in. It clipped Riley's pads on the way to the keeper. A couple of ooh's and aah's followed before ball 2 was delivered and pitched way outside leg to the left-hander. Riley half-shuffled, half-swiveled to get out of the way and perhaps claim a wide. The ball ripped off the seam and cut (rather vectored) in to brush Riley's 0(2) legs and smash into the leg stump. Wide eyed, Riley walked from the crease. 90/5 and another period of consolidation was needed.
Rajesh Idate and Susarla embarked on just that. Finding gaps and putting away anything loose, they motored to 118 in the last over before the second drinks break. Keshav Murthy was bowling and something got into Susarla and he gave Keshav the old two-step charge. The ball shot from his bat towards long-on where Doig, recently named 2005 Fielder of the Year, was patrolling the area. Gopal looked up after hitting the shot, cursed himself, turned and started walking before Doig could complete the catch. Complete he did and CSCC saw the back of a very dangerous Susarla 32(54) who could have taken FCCC to a great score. 118/6 was the score at this point. In recent encounters CSCC had done well to hold FCCC below 140 and today looked like a repeat. But FCCC did not relent. Dipal Patel came in and picked up where Susarla left off. Idate and Patel moved the score briskly to 131 before Idate 23(36) fell to Kalpesh Bhakta, trapped on the crease. 131/7 and 140-all out was still realistic, given FCCC's performance at the tail this year.
At this point, CSCC took their eyes off the ball and coasted through the overs instead of going for the kill. This allowed Patel and Khaleel Razzaq to make merry with the bat. Both hit a few lusty shots and passed 150 easily before Patel 18(25) was well-caught by Mukesh Patel at long on. FCCC were 163/8 when Brendan Allen joined Razzak to pick up more runs. Bhakta claimed his third wicket of the innings by bowling Razzak 21(27) to make it 169/9. Ajay Deshpande, who in this reporter's opinion is a resilient batter, came in at #11 and tried to play out the overs. The re-introduction of Khan from the School End saw Allen 3(6) hoik it deep for Chikkanna to hold on and FCCC folded for 172 in 39th over. A little more tenacity and they might have moved the score along a little more.
A score of 172 is nothing to sneeze at against a Fort Collins attack comprised of Rafiq, 2005 Bowler of the Year, Dipal Patel, Riley, Idate, Razzak and Allen. FCCC has won more games this year on the strength of their bowling alone, shutting out the opposition with a vise-like grip. A few months ago, the vise had almost shut on CSCC's batting until Kalpesh Bhakta and Michael Doig blitzed to a sensational total.
Lunch was eaten in the CSCC camp amid much discussion and strategizing. Earlier in the week some CSCC players had pulled up old scorecards and match reports, it was apparent most occasions Rafiq and Patel bowled 5 overs on the trot to inflict maximum damage on the opposition. Most teams had not been able to recover from these mortal blows the pair imparted. Riley, Idate, Susarla and gang would come on and finish it off. The only teams that had done well against FCCC this year had negotiated the opening salvo as best they could and steadied themselves later. The strategy was clear - play out the dynamic duo and take it from there.
Plans are one thing, reality another. In the third over of the innings, Mukesh Patel 0(2) faced up to Rafiq and tried to go over mid-off. Dipal Patel ran around and caught him easily, perhaps payback for catching him earlier. For the second time that day the scorecard read Patel caught Patel. Ananth Kota Shashidhar joined Kalpesh. Kalpesh 10(17) had started playing the bowlers with growing confidence. Until a signature dipper from Rafiq shattered his timber. FCCC celebrated like half the battle was won, and for good reason. Last time around, it was Kalpesh' 97 that saw CSCC through to a shocking victory. Kervyn Dimney went in to steady the innings at this point and in his company Ananth started to look really good. The score had reached 36 when Dimney 6(24) was done in (once again) by a Rafiq special. This was 4th time in 4 innings that Rafiq claimed Dimney's wicket.
36/3 and the top order destroyed, CSCC played a strategic move. Instead of Doig (prolific run-getter in the last few innings) they sent in Keshav Murthy to join Ananth. Keshav had batted #10 and #11 all season and had gathered 58 runs while being out just once. But he was not yet tested against the new, moving ball. To play the best swing bowlers in the league the first time out, up the order, was certainly baptism by fire! Keshav proved equal to the challenge. Watchful, patient, vigilant are a few words that come to mind when describing his innings. He give the bowlers hardly a sniff guarding one end, while at the other Ananth came into his own. A cover drive was followed up with a scintillating square cut and the runs started flowing again. Gopal had taken over from the opening bowlers and Ananth proceeded to hit him gloriously over covers for the maximum. Gopal found sweet revenge the next ball when Ananth 29(38) tried to glide him fine and snicked the ball to the 'keeper. Ananth had built his innings well and was looking dangerous when he fell. The partnership was worth 28 runs and Keshav had scored just a few out of those.
At 62/4 Doig walked in, determined to up the run rate and keep CSCC in the hunt. He had fond memories of his 58* in his previous outing against FCCC. Looking to continue that vein, he set about stroking the ball around. Idate bowled a short one and Doig took a swing at it, but it got on him quicker than expected. On any given day the ball could go anywhere from deep third-man to mid-wicket off such a shot, but not today. Today, the ball would balloon up for Idate to pouch it in his follow-through. Doig 8(9) walked from the crease and Robert Lezama joined Keshav, who continued to be defiant at the other end. Immediately, the field spread out for Lezama with 3 men patrolling deep. Riley was bowling to Lezama and before you could say 'unfortunate', Lezama 0(2) tickled a shortish ball to Sharma the 'keeper, now 75 runs with 6 men back. Around hundred to get with less than half the wickets in hand. Things were not looking good. Top order gone, all known heavy hitters back. All that CSCC could hope for was a run here, a four there and then lights out.
Around this time, Jarrar Jaffari, the League President, appeared on the ground for the award distribution ceremony. He was able to witness a stunning revival for which we are very grateful!
This is Ritesh Bhakta's first year in the league and had he started earlier, he would surely have given Keshav a run for Rookie of the Year. Ritesh's first two innings belied his abilities when he bagged miserable ducks, one of them golden! Today would be different. He started watchfully, pushing the ball around, missing a few and connecting others. Then he was struck in the groin, doubling up in pain and called for a runner. Before going in to run for him, Kalpesh smiled at the rest of the squad and said that the bowler would pay for it. Sure enough, the next ball Ritesh faced disappeared over the long on boundary! Another few balls later he really opened up, taking all the bowlers to task. Next one came near the pavilion and a few spectators were in real danger of being hit. The one after that went up a mile and dropped a couple of feet outside long off. With every hit, the score was piling up and the target becoming smaller. At the rate he was going, Ritesh could have finished the match in a few overs!
This possibility perhaps forced Rafiq to bring his opening pair back. Ritesh greeted Patel with a monster hit in the fine leg area. The ball, half-swept, half-flicked, landed way outside the boundary and continued on for perhaps another 50 yards. It was a while before the game resumed. With just 2 balls left in his excellent spell of 8 overs, Rafiq pulled out that extra special delivery only he seems able to bowl. The ball looped, although with enough speed, dipped, swung, missed Ritesh' blade and crashed into the stumps, all without pitching once. Ritesh' blockbuster innings of 35(31) came to an end and Rafiq had the prize wicket, his fourth of the day. The score-board read 114/7.
With Mehmood Khan (the rookie), Abhay Natu and Shashi Chikkanna, it seemed like CSCC were scraping the bottom of the barrel. The remaining three batsmen had compiled (more like scrounged) 117 runs in 19 combined appearances for an average of 6-and-change per innings. A hush fell over the CSCC camp. Khan took a single off the first ball he faced. On the change of over, Brendan Allen was thrown the ball. A clear signal from FCCC captain that he did not think too much of the remaining CSCC batters. Allen is a young start with much potential and has performed consistently for FCCC. He produced results right away! First ball from him rapped Khan on the pads. To the batter and a few spectators, it looked like the ball pitched outside leg and Khan offered no shot to it. The umpire did not think so. Khan was ruled LBW much to his consternation. 115 for 8. The bottom of the barrel did not seem to hold much.
Vice Captain Abhay Natu continues with his own personal experience in the middle:
I joined Keshav, it was like deja vu. We are used to batting #9 and #10 together. Except today, Keshav had gone in at #5 and hung on doggedly while things came crashing around him. His innings provided the anchor that's needed to build any big score. With two wickets left, he had no choice but to take charge. Walking in, I told Keshav that since he had been around a while, I'd rely on him to lead the way initially. He started to swing his bat a little and we got a few runs quickly. That's when Keshav tried to chip Riley over mid-wicket and the shot resulted in a leading edge. Dipal caught the offering gladly at mid-off.
121 for 9 down. It was all over but the shouting. Shashi Chikkanna came in. I had made sure that I crossed over so Shashi would not have to face first up. As he walked in, I told him that safety was job #1. Even if we lose, we were not going to go down easy, we would make them work for it. Shashi was his usual calm self. He replied that as long as we did not do anything stupid, we'd be ok. Earlier in the day, Kalpesh Bhakta had lent his 'magic' bat to Keshav and Keshav passed on the Vampire to Shashi.
As we played the first few balls, FCCC persisted with Allen, hoping to prize another wicket for him. Riley was firing from the other end. Riley talked to me a couple of times, trying to start a conversation. In the normal course of events, I'd have enjoyed a slanging match with him, but today was too important to indulge myself. I ignored him, lest I lose my concentration. Shashi and I walked up to each other at every opportunity, between overs, during water breaks, injury time and kept talking and encouraging each other. He kept telling me to take deep breaths and not get too excited. In turn, I told him to take it easy and play one ball at a time. We were almost talking to ourselves, the other guy was just a ruse.
After playing a few balls, I got my bearings and started to judge the deliveries better. Ganesh came up to the wickets for Riley. He collected a ball I missed and whipped off the bails, confident that he had me stumped. I had moved my foot but was back in there in a flash. The umpire thought so as well. Ganesh seemed upset about the call. He joked that I was out and that he had me. I responded to him jokingly that as a fellow 'keeper, I'd have asked for an out as well. Beyond that, I tuned him out as well and did not talk back. Shashi at the other end was striking the ball well. The cordon was in but the fielders were relaxed, and that allowed us to run some quick runs.
Then Shashi hit a beautiful lofted on drive that crossed the rope. Sensing that perhaps we were shifting gears and going for it, FCCC moved the cordon out and posted 4 men on the boundary, leaving huge holes at fine leg, short mid-wicket and covers beyond the 30 yard circle. Taking advantage of this and the kind of bowling, I started pulling anything on middle and leg for singles. Initially, we were a little hesitant converting these, but soon our understanding of each other's running abilities improved and a single call of 'yes' or 'go' would spur a single and a hastily whispered 'come back' on the way to a single was enough for both of us to turn back and scamper through for the second. Watching our frolics, the field moved back in again and the singles dried up for an over or so. I kept cutting the ball to Gopal at gully 3 times in a row. The asking rate was a constant little over 6 and with this dry spell, it went further north.
I had no problem tracking the score with the team counting down balls and runs. Something had to be done. The field was in but Riley was posted at deep mid-wicket. Square leg, mid-on, mid-off were in, there was no sweeper on the off-side nor was there a third man. This would be my chance. As long as I hit the ball hard and went over the cordon, I was assured of two, maybe more. That in mind, I faced up to Gopal. Soon, Gopal served up a juicy one over-pitched. It did not have the width I'd have liked to hit it over covers or straight down-field. Mid-wicket was manned. In a fraction of a second, I let caution to the wind and hit the ball with all I had. The ball flew from the bat and climbed in a beautiful arc. I could see Riley tracking the ball and give up. Shashi came up to me and said good-shot. I saw the umpire raise both his hands and felt very good. Suddenly there were renewed signs of life back at the ranch. Much shouting and hooting followed. Again FCCC moved the field out. Mid-on went back, a deep third man was posted and the cordon moved back a couple of steps. That only opened up more gaps for us. We started the old tip-and-run routine again. Sashi then hit another four, this time on the off-side. We continued to run our runs, whittling down the target one and two runs at a time. From 35 in 25 and 29 in 19, we were looking at 20 in 12!
It was only now that it dawned upon me that we could actually pull this off! And that's when I got nervous. Until now, it was all fun and games, trying to take on the best bowling attack in the league and prove that I too, can bat. Shashi was there to calm me down. He kept talking to me and I to him. Idate was bowling. Earlier, he had hurt his calf and was limping a little. We kept taking singles. Now, the inside-cordon fielders were getting agitated at us, their captain, but most of all, at themselves for allowing this 'silliness' for too long. Shashi got a hold of a fuller ball and smacked it in the mid-off region past Nadeem and the crowd was incredulous.
Last over, 7 to get. I was facing. Umpires changed their ends as we were batting one side only to avoid the setting sun from getting into our eyes. Max Ali stopped at our mid-pitch conference for just a second and said 'You have six balls.' Then he went to his post. I remarked that there were two ways we could win. By waiting for the right ball to dispatch to the boundary or by running the runs on every ball. If the fielders moved in, we would not risk sharp singles but wait for it. If they spread out the field, we would run like the wind on every bat-ball contact. I was sure that Dipal would bowl the last over. Instead, Gopal came on. First ball, I got my bat to it and Shashi rushed a run. Ball two, Gopal stopped midway through his run up, perhaps to mess with Shashi's concentration, perhaps having messed up his own. I walked up to Shashi and advised him to take a fresh guard everytime the bowler stopped mid-stride. Gopal delivered the ball and Shashi struck it directly at Nirmal. We were in each other's creases before he could pick up and throw. Ball three, another sharp single. There were three balls, 4 runs to get. Will Shashi wait for the right one, or will he go for it? Will this be the rear-guard action to end all or will we fall agonizingly short? None of this passed through my head. All I thought was - 3 balls, 4 runs. This was it. Singles were not going to cut it anymore. We needed to pierce the cordon and get two or more. In any case, I had to run if Shashi so much as touched the ball. Gopal delivered the ball and Shashi cracked it over wide mid-off. I took off for a run. From the corner of my eyes I saw Nadeem lunge at it. Good, Nadeem did not catch that. Maybe we can run two. I turn around and see Nadeem give up the chase. I realize the ball's going to the boundary! I look skywards, raise my hands and let out a cry of triumph and relief. Shashi has done it. We have done it. We have achieved the impossible!
I turn around again and see a swarm of people running in. I see their happy faces, I see the spring in their gallop. I choke back tears and join the celebrations. Kalpesh is beside himself with joy. And so is everyone else. Kalpesh tells me to get on his shoulder. I'm carried from the pitch to the pavilion. The next few minutes are a blur as everyone is congratulating Shashi and myself. This was one of the greatest innings of my life.
scorecard | photos
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