Rahul’s and Ashok’s vigil goes in vein
October 21 was a day for drumbeats and celebrations for the Millennium C.C. They beat the Indian Engineers by 1 run in what was the most thrilling match in the history of the Kanto Cricket League, if not the Japanese Cricket, thus qualifying for the Division I of KCL in 2002.
Whoever present at the Shizuoka oval on October 21 witnessed cricket at its best. A transfixing contest and a pulsating finish. An electrifying atmosphere, hair rising moments, early and mid-innings crisis with both the teams going “ooh!” and “aah!” at the end of every ball, the solid fight back by the Engineers from a no hope situation to come within 1 run of victory, it had all the ingredients required for a legendary match.
Chasing a target of 104 in 35 overs, The Engineers slumped into a perilous position of 5 down for 7 runs in the 3rd over and then fought back ball by ball, run by run, only to lose by 1 run ultimately. It was cricket at its best.
Millennium won the toss and elected to bat first on a damp pitch. They were all out for 104 in the 33rd over, with Jagan and Rahul claiming three wickets each and Dinesh and this correspondent accounting for the rest. There was no significant contribution from anybody in the 104 that the Millennium scored, except the usual suspect, the extras who, as usual, top scored with 42.
Having lost to the same opposition in a friendly tie two weeks before, the Engineers had brought the best available team for the match and the batting order looked formidable – on paper at least. The main discussion during the lunch was that how many overs the game would last and how many would get to bat – and as it turned out, everyone got to bat, under different circumstances, though.
At the end of the 3rd over the scoreboard looked like this: Target 105. Wickets 5. Runs 7. Overs 3. As wickets kept tumbling, it was Rahul who was giving hope to the Engineers of an entry into Division I without another play-off. In the company of hard-hitting Dinesh, Rahul raised the highest partnership of the innings, 36 for the 6th wicket, which ensured that the Engineers would cross 50. By the time the 9th wicket fell at the score of 78 in the 20th over, Millennium’s nostrils had filled with the scent of victory. Last man Ashok Sharma walked in and what a support role he played! At one point it looked as if a Test match was going on, not an ODI. Calm and composed, Ashok played out maiden overs, put a premium on his wicket and made sure that the well set Rahul got most of the strike. It was plain frustration for the Millennium as they did their best to dislodge the partnership while the two batsmen played sensible cricket. As the target became closer, the pressure was visible on the fielders, the batsmen and in the pavilion. In the electrifying atmosphere, every run was cheered by the Engineers while the fielders threw themselves in the field trying to save runs.
Once the score crossed 100 and as the pressure mounted, runs became a rare commodity and the batsmen seemed to have gone into their shell. With the score on 103 in the 31st over, Rahul uncharacteristically defended the last two balls of the over that were just short of length, which under normal circumstances would have seen the rope. It was evident that the pressure was getting on to the nerves. The two together had raised most crucial partnership of the innings, 25 runs, in 10 overs by this time with Ashok’s contribution being 2.
In the 32nd over, with the Engineers on the brink of an extraordinary victory – 1 to tie the match and 2 to win – off-spinner Andrew pitched one on the middle stump which bounced a bit more than the previous deliveries. Ashok tried to work it on to the on side, but the ball took the top edge went up in the air towards short fine leg. The fielder in the forward short leg ran for it and produced an outstanding running catch which gave the Millennium a well deserved victory and a place in the elite Division I in 2002. Both teams displayed a fighting quality and an understanding of the game.
Although it was a disappointing loss, I guess we played one of the best cricket matches ever played in the tournament. Recovering from 5 for 7 to come within 2 runs of victory is no mean task, thanks to the gritty innings of Rahul and Ashok. I’m sure Ashok’s grandchildren will get tired of their grandpa, listening to the same story every now and then!
With this, the Engineers have to face the British Embassy in the last play-off for Division I, which will be a do-or-die match for both the equally strong teams.
Well Done Millennium!!