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self-christened 'Kings of Kings' woefully fell short of living up to their
claim as CUCC ensured that the handful of their well-wishers
following their fortunes from outside the boundary got a microcosmic glimpse
into the season that was for CUCC. Needless to say, most of the major
architects of the team's landscape over the past five months were there to
revel in the conquest, even if that meant not being able to play in the
eleven for some - well one.
Lakshmanan once again reminded us why the captain never flip-flops on who calls the flip of the coin for his team. What has been suggested, implored, and more recently demanded by Venu was finally honored by his wards in the penultimate match of the league season as all members of the team showed up ready to dirty their whites by 11:15 AM. Commendable as that was in itself, it didn't matter much in the context of this match as the lack of hosting duties meant that they were left to loiter around and even practice their batting skills under the luxurious circumstances of having the choice of dedicated bowlers and bowling styles to hone their skills against - what with their opposition not appearing until 12:30PM. The solitary league umpire appointed for the match reached at quarter to one amidst speculations regarding the presence of ringers among the 'Kings'. By the time Gokul and Siva took their guard and Siva faced the first ball of the CUCC innings, proceedings had well entered the second hour after noon. A showerhead of a sun poured its dampened rays down on VCP4 soon drenching much of the populace that stood under it. Scoring did not appear to be as much of a priority for the openers as did preserving their wickets during the first few overs. The opening bowlers had much to do with this as Findley, especially, moved the ball in the air and off the pitch at will. One such ball, while escaping contact with Siva's bat, hit him on and in line with leg and was duly adjudged as having been prevented from hitting the stump by the umpire. Gokul and Kaustubh got together and looked determined to repeat their heroics from the quarter-final match. Soon thereafter, Gokul played an atrocious shot while self-admittedly attempting to change Findley's line of choice that had been curtailing his hitherto free stroke play. This brought Michael and Kaustubh in the second-most productive partnership of the innings. That it was only worth thirty three runs exposes one of the many 'shortcomings' of the day for CUCC. It ended with Kaustubh, having sweetly timed a couple of boundaries previously, backing himself to do so once more. To his astonishment, he only managed to accomplish the first part of the task as he perfectly timed the ball into the hands of a grateful sweeper. Michael perished to a more ambitious shot as he attempted to test his timing but landed the ball into mid off's accepting palms. Another start had been squandered. Sunil started with his typical stroke play but fell typically as well - LBW, trying to play across the line. Lakshmanan and Venu troubled the scorers inasmuch as not giving them enough time to record their dismissals. Vishnu's run out all but put an end to any CUCC hopes of recovery to a solid score, while Madhura's departure to a controversial caught behind decision meant that CUCC's scorecard cried mayhem. Kings' slow bowlers, Baker and Parnell had distributed the CUCC middle and lower order among themselves to end with four and two wickets respectively. Dileep and Prabhu got together for the last wicket at 103/9 with almost eight overs remaining. The pair played more sensibly that any of its predecessors and put on the highest stand of what turned out to be thirty eight extremely vital runs in the context of the match. Though the Kings' had bulldogged CUCC for the majority of the first innings, the first signs of that familiar resistance came in the form of this stand. Soon they were running out of gas, overs, and ideas as Dileep flogged the bowling around the park a few times before he also ran out of a partner who was, well, run out! CUCC mustered a measly hundred and forty one.
As the team got together for a brief interval between innings, they reminded each other, through what Michael maintains were clichés that ricocheted off his own pachyderm persona, of how cricket has its way of reflecting life's own uncertainty. They resolved to not let all the guts and glory of the season be wiped away from their collective memory and refused to be daunted by the prospect of having to fell the ten Kings. It was no surprise then that all eleven players were on the field well before the umpire could be sighted. With the other brilliant "sun" of the day showering his own rays of warm generosity wrapped in the humidity of team spirit on CUCC, the XI took the field with the security of "safety in numbers" - in more ways than one. What followed over the next two hours was inspirational at worst and miraculous at best. The Kings opened with a left-right combination of Parnell and Lawson, mirroring Venu's own approach to his opening bowlers in Dileep and Madhura. Dileep started in his usual parsimonious vein, but Madhura's first over yielded two boundaries. Venu quickly replaced Madhura with Sunil from the southern end. Dileep looked like breaking the partnership any minute and Sunil, his own shoulder. Both kept their team's hopes alive by drying up the runs, but the key commodity of the afternoon was wickets and CUCC had not started dealing in it ... yet. The seemingly set Lawson, brawny yet straight-batted, was sent back to the hut prematurely by a sneaky display of stumping by Gokul. A Dileep delivery that he missed down the leg side was collected by Gokul - who was standing back - and rolled back onto the stumps to catch the batsman unawares and out of his crease in his attempt to negate the swing. 13/1. Sunil's mini spell was far more threatening than 4-0-15-0. Lakshmanan, who had been searching for his ball-on-a-string line and length most of the season had shown signs of having rediscovered it in the quarter finals. He kept that promise after quickly reversing a shaky eleven-run first over with progressively tighter efforts. #3, Anderson, and Parnell seemed intent upon playing percentage cricket, seemingly well aware of the fact that their required run rate of less than four per over could hardly prove dangerous under said game plan. In the meanwhile Dileep's valiant efforts yielded little more than futile appeals. He ended with another stupendous statistic of 7-2-12-1. Drinks were taken at 54/1 in fifteen overs. The captain, in his unabated pursuit of the Kings' ten heads, brought himself on, after much prodding from his wicket keeper. The move almost paid off in his first two overs when he first trapped Parnell plumb in front of the stumps and then had Anderson caught behind, only to find his appeals dismissed. A resolute Venu came back to do it all by himself as he pegged Anderson's leg-stump back in the fourth ball of his second. 63/2 in seventeen. A developing partnership had been nipped. Baker barely stayed for a third of a dozen deliveries as he was sent back by one of Lakshmanan's bread and butter deliveries - his priceless dipping off-cutter - another cookie-cutter dismissal for the bowler who had regained his form. Charlie Brown joined the pint-sized Parnell at 68/3. He left him in good grief soon thereafter after having edged one, that straightened after pitching, straight into Gokul's waiting gloves. 79/4 in twenty one. A mirage of victory had begun to appear to some of CUCC's members. The resistant Parnell, armed with a solitary stroke, continued along his agenda - expanding the already gaping desert between CUCC and their oasis. It was then that Siva, quite the sandstorm when it comes to fielding, lunged forward and to his left to grab onto an audaciously attempted pull. An effort that most certainly galvanized the team into believers. Parnell ended up top scoring in the entire match with what started out as a regular, but soon turned into a fighting, innings of thirty two. 88/5 in twenty two. Run rate on par; enough wickets left. In walked one of the ringer Kings, Gooden who, after a confident start, fell to a good 'un taken by Madhura at square-leg, courtesy of a mistimed attempt at hoicking the freshly introduced Prabhu. 96/6 in twenty three. #7, Johnson, had showed signs of taking the game back, with a fearsome start that included two boundaries, but had to back-pedal with wickets falling at the other end. Kaustubh had taken charge of the southern end after Lakshmanan's 7-0-38-2 had done its part. As #8, Roberts, and Johnson began calming their own nerves, they managed to have quite the opposite effect on their opponents'. The two took their score, run by deliberate run, closer to CUCC's doom. But the trickle that was the scoring rate meant that the Kings had moved from ninety six to a hundred and nine in four overs. While still sufficiently paced, it had somehow managed to bore the arithmetic and logic out of Robert's head, who decided that a skier over the longest boundary of the ground from a good length, slightly held back Kaustubh delivery was absolutely essential to secure his team's berth in the finals. The resultant catch by Madhura at mid on only secured the birth of a mini collapse as Findley soon followed him back to the pavilion, stumped off Prabhu. 110/8 in twenty seven. Kaustubh plugged the flow of runs at one end while Prabhu screwed the bolts on from the other. The mirage was succumbing to reality. Victory had to be certain for CUCC. #10 Beckford had other plans. He was determined to enable his well-set partner knock off the thirty two runs needed from the next eight overs. Thus ensued the last of the uneasy phases for CUCC as the score was dragged to 133/8. Proceedings were not made any more tolerable for CUCC by a catch dropped at mid off by Dileep that would have switched off the life support of a partnership that was keeping the Kings alive. A few more runs came in a hurry from Prabhu's over via misfields and over-throws - unaffordable errors even on a good day. Kaustubh's effectiveness in constricting the scoring would not suffice. As Venu was contemplating a change from that end, Kaustubh's next over provided the vital breakthrough as Beckford got the dreaded finger. 133/9. The Prabhu-Gokul combination conspired one last time to end Johnson's march, who abandoned caution for desperation. Prabhu's wily wrists had flummoxed the West Indian batsmen even before they reached the crease and CUCC's determined bunch of cricketers had managed to take defeat hostage and extort victory yet again. This particular roller coaster had been operated by the eleven men on the field but also monitored to safety by the twelfth, and probably most important, man, Suraj, off the field. Suraj exemplified the team spirit CUCC has shown this season when he called the captain at 11:00 AM and asked if he could play as the 12th man. He not only showed up with his whites on time, but also took care of the scoring for CUCC which was quite important considering the untoward incidents we had during the season, particularly with close games.
Even as this narrative winds down, yet another team with many Indians and a theoretically strong batting line-up failed at their purported strong suit. But they too defied conventional logic to defend their well below par score against West Indian opponents in a match played in yet another country that is by and large oblivious to the charms of this wonderful sport causing one to wonder, albeit only momentarily, how that could be. The eerie similarity doesn't end there as the one man who turned that match for his team (on the field) turned out to be yet another Indian turner (Prabhu) who stuck around with the bat before coming back to take three wickets and seal the match for his team. Of course, that victory was absolutely essential for his team's entry into their finals as well, which, by the way, is also scheduled to be played on 24th September, 2006 !!