On a clear and warm day, the Optimists 1st XI made their way up to Antwerp for their first encounter against Antwerp CC this season. A fairly boring trip up the motorway was made more than bearable thanks to the entertaining conversation provided by Chris Fry, who maybe, just maybe, spent a little more time studying at university than many people thought. A number of the team had stayed in Antwerp the previous night after playing for the 2nd XI in a solid win against Antwerp CC’s 2nd XI and so were already familiar with Antwerp’s quirky, oblong shaped ground which, much like the Pierre Werner Oval, was a shade of light brown. Nevertheless, clear skies and short boundaries suggested runs would flow. Of slight concern was the lack of neutral umpires, though no one could have guessed quite what an effect this would have on the game to come…
Skipper Vikram Vijh lost the toss and the Optimists had the rare pleasure of fielding first this season. Atif Kamal lulled the opposition’s diminutive left-handed opener into a sense of false security by sending down the first two balls of the match for wides. The first legal ball of the match proved far too good however, and the batsman gloved it behind to Praveen Kuruvalli. The same combination again proved too much for an Antwerp batsman, this time the batsman departing for 17 with the score on 28 after 5 overs. Runs were accumulating steadily, however Mohit Dixit removed the other Antwerp opener in the 11th over with the score on 55. It was around this time that the first controversial moment arrived. The opposition’s best batsmen played back to a ball from Vikram that appeared to take the edge. A huge noise and appeals from every single Optimist player did not move the umpire and with the batsman not walking, play had to continue, much to the side’s disbelief. The opposition began to steadily rebuild and the partnership grew, taking the score past 100 and then 150. It was finally broken in the 37th over by Anshuman Bhadauria’s first ball, the catch taken at point by Girish Venkateswaran. A few balls later Anshuman bowled the new batsman to leave the score on 172-5. Nevertheless, the opposition were well placed to launch a final assault thanks to their wickets in hand. The ball naturally started to find its way to the boundary despite the bowlers and fielders’ best efforts. After 45 overs Antwerp had amassed 249-6, a decent score that would prove a rare challenge for the Optimist 1st XI’s batting line up. Credit must go to the opposition’s Ahmed Niaz who despite a let-off scored a very well-paced 107 not out from 103 balls, the first century against the Optimists 1st XI in a fairly long time. Special mention goes to Vishwajeet Deshpande’s superb spell of 9 overs, 0-26 runs, a terrific effort given that he bowled straight through while the opposition were compiling their 100 partnership.
After tea and some rest, James Barker and Praveen Kuruvalli went out to open the innings against a strong and pacy Antwerp CC attack. Runs proved hard to come by, though patient accumulation meant the score was going in the right direction, with both batsmen contributing more or less equally. The first controversy of the Optimists’ innings came when there was a huge appeal for caught behind against Praveen turned down which the opposition did not take well to. The following overs found the batsmen playing in particularly hostile conditions. Praveen departed caught behind for a solid 21 with the score on 59 after 15 overs. Girish quickly came and went, which brought Vikram to the crease. After a small partnership, James was out for 37 with the score on 93 after 25 overs. At this stage the opposition spinners were proving particularly difficult to score off and the run rate was continuing to climb. Aanand Pandey and Mohit Dixit were unable to boost the score significantly, though Vikram continued to score and find the boundary. Anshuman then joined Vikram and it was at this stage that the runs started to flow more quickly. The return of the opposition’s quick bowlers saw more boundaries, though the run rate was still in double figures. A few sixes for Vikram and possibly the shot of the day by Anshuman (a huge Joost Mees-esque six over cover) brought vocal support from the Optimist team. Anshuman was eventually out for a run-a-ball 35, ending a partnership of 91 with Vikram. At this stage 39 runs were required from 14 balls. Unfortunately, the run rate proved to be too high by this stage and Atif, Chris and Yatin Bhamare were unable to score the remaining runs. Vikram was out in the last over for a wonderful 92 off 73 (9 fours and 5 sixes), with the Optimists all out for 228, meaning victory for Antwerp CC by 21 runs. It was a great effort by the Optimists’ batsmen in unfamiliarly hostile conditions, though credit must be given to Antwerp for one of the best all round performances the Optimists have come up against this season. And it was good to see handshakes after the game.
It can be said that despite the controversy, the standard of cricket was high and that the return fixture promises to be a spicy and closely-fought affair!