Optimists 1st X1 headed out last Sunday to Vrijlpoerk to face Mechelen Eagles, one of stronger teams in the league. With the temperatures soaring to close to 28 degrees at toss time and having played the weekend before at the same ground, both teams would have liked to bat first, considering shorter boundaries and scoreboard pressure.
The toss landed in opposition’s favor and without much of a surprise, they elected to bat first. Saransh started proceedings for the Optimists with some drift through the air, but the Eagles had a simple task at hand, hit cleanly through the line and they did that successfully throughout their 20 overs, with the first over going for 12. Ankush started from the other end and struck in his 2ndover with Khurram Cheema gliding the ball to short third man, Saransh. In came the anchor man, the main stay of the Eagles line up, Ikramullah. He started off with some ecstatic cover drives, flicks and elegant strokeplay. But, Ankush in his 3rd over, with his bowling gathering momentum, outpaced the other opening batsmen, landing it straight to the big hands of Scott and that left Mechelen 55 for 2 at the end of the powerplay. Ankush wasn’t done yet, Vikram let him continue on and in his final over got their number four batsmen cheaply caught at long on for 8. Anoop and Vikram then began to bowl in tandem during the middle overs and at the end of the 13th over, the Eagles were sitting at 113/4, with Tony pulling off an extremely sharp catch at deep cover of Vikram.
From here on, the story isn’t pretty, the next three overs went for 68 for the loss of just one wicket, and the scoreboard now read 181/5 at the end of the 16thover. A game changer you reckon? Definitely a turning point in game when Ikramullah was dropped earlier of Vik’s bowling, and the batsman seized this opportunity and slog swept almost every other ball through the cow corner and over longon punishing hard. After hitting 9 sixes, Vik finally got him caught at long off and this time Scottie didn’t drop him! Enough damage was done though.
Amit D was introduced in the 17th over and gave away just two and in his second over, firing 6 brilliant yorkers, the lower order succumbed to some sharp death bowling by Amit D and Vikram with his variations giving away just 12 runs in the last 4 overs, preventing the crichq prediction of a 220+ score! Bowling figures ended with Vikram grabbing 4 wickets and Ankush 3, with Amit D having economy rate at 3 proving right yet again the skip’s choice in death overs. The chase was a 194 off 20 at 9.7 runs per over.
With the last 4 bowling overs giving momentum to the Optimists, Amit and Vik walked out to bat, but the Eagles were disciplined with the new ball and didn’t gave away any free runs. It seemed like we were batting on a totally different wicket then the first innings, just the perspective! Anyway, the Eagles in no time, chopped the top 6 excluding Vik, who was the long-standing warrior on one end, seeing the rest of the top/middle order collapse to mere 77/6 after 12 overs. Looks like scorecard pressure accompanied with some rash shots and decisions going in the favour of the home team saw Optimists reeling. Vikram however had different ideas in his mind and throughout his innings looked positive and hit some lusty blows straight over the bowlers head for a couple of sixes and over longon and deep square leg. But the with the lack of batsmen on the other end and pressure mounting, Vikram was finally dismissed with a fighting 51 off 36 with 4 sixes and 2 fours and a captains knock going in vain. The rest of the lower order dragged the score past 100 and were meagerly bowled out for 106 in the 18thover. In the course of the chase, Girish unfortunately ruptured his quad diving to save his wicket of a spot-on rocket throw from long-on and was injured.
After the bleak performance in the first game, the team regrouped, self-reflected on individual performances and as a team, but had to show an enormous amount of character and positive attitude in their mind set and body language to show any signs of a fight back.
Vikram finally won the toss and did not hesitate to bat first. Scott and Reinhardt made their way to the center and Scott opened the innings with some aggressive batting, signaled a wave of positive energy flowing through his veins, glad it didn’t stop. Optimists reached 50 for 1 in about 7 overs and from then on, it was all Scott Browne show, playing brilliant attacking T20 innings. With the top order each chipping in 15-20 runs and choosing to give Scott the majority of the strike to take the bowling on, he hit some humongous sixes with timing and raw power. Optimists were thrilled as he painted what Ikramullah did in the first game to us. His innings ended in the 16th over when Optimists were a 144 for 5 and departed for a 43 ball 87 with 9 sixes, absolutely brilliant T20 batting display! The innings had to end well for Optimists to put on a show and in walks in the ‘Iron Man’, Tony Whiteman, he kicked off where he left last week around, and hit 3 sixes, including one over the cover fence and a last ball six to make sure Optimists reached a formidable total of 190. Tony’s 17 ball 35 class act meant Optimists ended on a high. Special mention to Anoop, who, in a mix-up with Scott sacrificed his wicket for the well settled batsmen.
With 191 to chase, we knew they would come out attacking strong. Eagles started with 17 of the first over with 4 hits to the fence of Ankush! Amit Dhingra started with a first ball wicket of one of their 11 big hitters, wrapped in front, for a duck. The in-form Ikramullah walks in and in the third over, ran off a single to Scott at point, who grabbed it and flicked to Ankush who completed the job hitting the wickets with the ball in his hand as hard as he could have! A sigh of relief for the Optimists, but this lasted less than 90 seconds as the next man walked in. Till the 11th over, the pattern was similar, 2 or 3 sixes and then a wicket, with Ankush grabbing 2, Amit D, Anoop, with one each. #5 batsman Kamran looked threatening for a while before Saransh with some intelligent bowling got him bowled for 30.
With the opposition now at 124/6 in the 12th over, Optimists hoped they would collapse like pack of cards. But their captain, Muhammed Ismail, in partnership with his number 8, accompanied with one expensive over from Anoop and below par ground fielding gave Eagles a strong position in the game. Vik, by the end of the 15th over, had only 2 overs of himself and 1 over of Amit D remaining, and after some deliberation signaled Reinhardt from deep cover to roll his arm in the 16th over. He accepted the challenge and obliged with a wicket of the last ball of their captain Ismail, caught at long on by Anoop for a well played 44 with 4 sixes and 3 fours. But with 16 being scored of R. Heyns second over meant opposition required only 12 of 12 balls with 3 wickets in hand. Vik took the ball in his hand and what happened next is best described ball by ball!
The 19th Over
18.1: Vik to #8 Rahim, driven straight to covers, NO RUN
18.2: Vik to Rahim, hit straight down the ground, looked to clear, but Scott covered around 40m and took an acrobatic catch to remove the settled batsmen, WICKET! Still 12 required off 10 with 2 wickets in hand
18.3 Vik to #9, slower ball, cross bat, full Monty, up in the air, Tony at long on, runs sideways and grabs it the Kiwi style, one more WICKET! With Eagles now 179/9, still requiring 12 off 9 and one wicket in hand
18.4: Vik to #10, slower ball, hammered over covers, beautifully hit for a FOUR, 8 required off 8.
18.5: Vik to #10, tanked over long on for a huge SIX, just missed the Yorker by the slightest, but this is T20, finest of margins, now only 2 required off 7!
18.6: Vik walks back knowing he has just one ball more. He runs in, off cutter, batsmen opens up, ball pitches just outside off and cuts in, batsmen swings and misses, hits the top of off. GAME OVER! Optimists win by 1 run!!!!!
A second one run victory this season, looks like these fine margins will prove to be extremely crucial towards the end of the league. Optimists held their nerve once again in an absolute thriller! Great mood driving back.