The new season began for the Optimists 1st XI with a trip to old rivals Royal Brussels Cricket Club for a T20 double-header. With the start of the season delayed, the BCF has changed the planned 50-over competition to a 20-over competition to allow a greater number of matches.
New OCC 1st XI captain Vikram Vijh lost the toss, but got his wish with the Optimists being asked to bat first in pleasant conditions. A tricky start saw them fall to 22-2 after four overs, with the captain and Saransh Kulshrestha at the crease. Both batsmen batted sensibly, with OCC 37-2 at the end of the six-over powerplay. Boundaries soon started to flow, with Saransh taking charge with some fine cover drives and deft flicks. At the 10 over mark, OCC found themselves at 73-2, with the game finely poised. Saransh reached his half-century, and continued to increase the run rate, with both batsmen finding the boundary regularly. The 100 was reached in the 14th over, and by the 15th over the run rate had reached eight an over with the score 121-2. With the 100-run partnership between Saransh and Vikram being passed in the following over, both batsmen let loose, with Vikram hitting powering a six over the long on fielder. Vikram fell for an impressive 44 off 35 balls in the 17th over, but Saransh carried on the charge, taking the score to 149-3 after 17 overs. Wickets fell with batsmen looking for quick runs, and the innings ended on 175-6 off the 20 overs, Saransh LBW to the last ball of the innings for a superb 88 off 53 balls, filled with flowing drives and exceptional timing.
OCC took to the field confident that a tricky target had been posted, but with the knowledge that RBCC contain a strong top-order batting line-up. This was clear early on, with some loose bowling being put to the boundary at regular intervals. With the score on 55-0 off four overs, OCC were desperate for wickets to stem the tide of runs. The first wicket fell in the seventh over with the score on 75, courtesy of a good catch by Ankush Nanda off the captain’s bowling. Runs continued to flow, but the introduction of Amit Dhingra brought some control and discipline, slowing the run rate. Anoop Simha signalled the fightback, with the key wicket of RBCC’s no. 3 batsman thanks to a fine catch off Anoop by wicketkeeper Joost Mees. Anoop continued to dominate the RBCC batsmen, with two wickets in two balls, including that of the opening batsman cleaned bowled. At 128-4 after 14 overs, RBCC were still up with the run rate, but with the new batsmen struggling to find the boundary, the pressure was building as the OCC sensed a shift in momentum. With 38 needed off four overs, the match was in the balance. Anoop finished with the remarkable figures of 3-19 off four overs, an outstanding spell in a high-scoring encounter. 22 runs were required off two overs, but with a six off the final ball of the penultimate over, only seven was required from the final over, to be bowled by captain Vikram. A single was followed by a dropped catch in the outfield which resulted in three runs, and RBBC looked firm favourites with three required off four balls. Two dots balls followed, and a single left RBCC requiring two runs off the final ball. After some deliberation and field changes, Vikram delivered the final ball outside the off-stump, and as the ball was sliced in the air towards deep extra-cover, all present held their breath. Amit Halbhavi moved to his left and steadied himself under the high ball, with RBCC spectators behind him not shy in making themselves heard. The ball landed in Amit’s hands, only to pop up as he fell backwards to the ground. Much to the delight of the OCC players, he was able to maintain his composure and regain control of the ball, ending up spreadeagled near the boundary line as the rest of his teammates celebrated wildly. A stunning fightback from OCC, with RBCC requiring only 104 runs after the end of the powerplay with all 10 wickets in hand. The season had begun in a truly remarkable fashion.
After the excitement of the first game, OCC had to quickly regain focus and composure for the second match. Losing the toss again, they were put in to bat once more by the opposition captain, with the knowledge that a score of 175 was competitive but not out of reach. A steady start was made by openers Amit Halbhavi and Girish Venkateswaran, with Joost Mees entering at no. three after Girish was dismissed for 15. Amit looked in great touch, dominating the bowlers with some powerful flicks and pulls to the boundary, with Joost rotating the strike at the other end. A 54-run partnership came to an end when Joost was caught at long-off, bringing Vikram to the crease. Amit continued to push for quick runs, but was eventually bowled for a fantastic 48 off just 33 balls. After his dismissal, the run rate quickly dropped, with OCC finding themselves 132-7 after 18 overs. A below par score was on the cards, and the momentum had shifted towards RBCC. Dilshad Mohd, however, played a vital innings in the last couple of overs, sending the opposition captain for two huge sixes in the penultimate over, and though he was bowled off the final delivery of the 19th over, his 11-ball 27 had helped OCC pass 150 and reach a competitive total. A couple of wickets fell in the last over, with the OCC innings ending on 154 all out on the last ball of the innings. Once again a competitive total, but given the first match OCC knew they would have to start the RBCC innings with more disciplined bowling.
OCC captain Vikram chose to open with spin against the RBCC openers, knowing that they had enjoyed the pace on the ball in the first match. This proved successful, with Saransh luring one of the openers into a loose slog, with the skier taken at long on, and a send-off given to the dismissed batsmen who had not been afraid to have a word with the OCC batsmen during their innings. The six-over powerplay was reached with the score 39-1, and the game evenly poised. At 54-1 after 8, OCC knew that a couple of wickets would push the match in their favour, which was exactly what happened when Vikram dismissed the other opener, caught at point by Girish. This signalled a remarkable collapse, with Ankush Nanda picking up a wicket off his first ball, a leading edge pouched at wide mid-off, and Tony Whiteman also picking up a wicket in his first over. Two wickets in Tony’s next over, leaving RBCC on 77-6, left him on a hat-trick delivery, and although this was not achieved, it had effectively sealed the match for OCC. Ankush followed suit, picking up two wickets in as many deliveries, and when Tony bowled the no. seven batsman to leave RBCC 86-9, the match ended, with one of RBCC’s batsmen unable to come to the crease due to an injury. A rather subdued finish, but a satisfying win for OCC, with all bowlers bowling with discipline. Tony was the pick of the bowlers, ending with figures of 4-11 off 2.5 overs, backed up by Ankush who claimed 3-15 off three overs. A super start to the season for the Optimists, picking up two away wins against old foes RBCC, with an inspired fightback and dominant victory to show for their efforts.