“Is it not passing brave to be a king, / And ride in triumph through Persepolis?”. Indeed it is, but it was North West, not Central East, who might have been quoting Christopher Marlow at the end of the U-15 national tournament tonight after their efficient victory over New York, whose star batsmen missed out, allowing the Californians to ease to their third straight championship.
Yet Central East and their coach Sunil Kumar had very good reason to feel themselves, if not kings, then at least princes, riding through New Jersey’s Persepolis tonight, after defending a modest total of 118 with some excellent bowling and fielding, not to mention nerves of steel, to take a well-deserved third place, defeating host region Atlantic by six runs at Watsessing Park, Newark. For the first time in four matches it was not an MCA player who top-scored for CER, but skipper Parth Joshi, whose 31 was the key innings for the Midwesterners; Parth then went on to share the death bowling with MCA’s Rohit Mogalayapalli (whose brisk 19 would also prove to be vital). Parth took 3-23, including the final wicket – that of no. 10 batsman Nazir Mehdi, brilliantly caught by Samvit Tirunnalayi, diving at short extra cover — with eight balls remaining and the hosts just seven runs short of a great rear-guard victory. Cheers and tears were in equal proportions on the boundary as CER players and supporters embraced ecstatically, while Atlantic sought solace.
When Parth won the toss for the third consecutive time, and CER batted for the fourth successive day, there was hope that openers Gordon Makin and Rohit Mogalayapalli could make it four-out-of-four sound starts, but in the ninth over Gordon let his back foot slide out of his crease as he tried to block an off break from Sharma and was stumped for six, ending the first-wicket partnership on a modest total of 22. Rohit batted on, hitting two fours, in a good partnership with Parth, whose own 31 was the highest score of the match. But Rohit was caught off a top edge when pulling, and Parth was yorked, as Atlantic applied pressure with both spin and pace. Among the other batsmen, only MCA’s Ani Mayasandra, who hit two powerful fours in a rapid 12, reached double figures, and CER were all out for 118 in the 39th over. No one was surprised that Atlantic had bowled so well – they had, after all, restricted South West to 130 in a match their supporters felt they had thrown away – and it was equally predictable that tournament Best Bowler Ryan Persaud had the best figures in today’s match – 8-2-9-3. Now the question was – could CER, a team with better batting than bowling in the first three matches respond by putting pressure on the hosts, and, especially, on their best batsman – Persaud and Rishi Patel? As against South West the day before, CER opened with spin – Nauman Khan’s leg breaks from one end, and Vivek Joglekar’s off breaks from the other. An early breakthrough was required, and Vivek duly provided it when he had Patel brilliantly caught by Arjun Ahuja for two in the second over. Medium-pacer Arnav Sridher and leg-spinner Arsalan Babar came on first- and second-change (and bowled equally well), meaning that Atlantic faced no pace at all until the second half of their innings. Kiwi William Gilliard and Persaud scored forty runs between the two of them, but CER consistently took wickets and fielded well enough (their best performance in the field this week) to keep the brakes on throughout the innings. When Gordon stumped Gilliard off Arsalan and Arnav found the ball to dismiss Persaud, whom he had consistently troubled, for 21, Atlantic were clearly under the cosh. Two run-outs told of the pressure, while Parth’s excellent caught-and-bowled – a rolling dive to dismiss Silva under the batsman’s own nose — and Arjun’s catch of Khan, pulling Arnav hard to midwicket, showed that CER could field with the best. However, no. 8 Ghous Agha and Mehdi both belied their lower-order places by hitting out, so that the pressure now told on CER: a missed stumping, a missed run-out, and two drops off consecutive balls in the covers. Even after Agha went for 14, clean bowled by Rohit in his first over (the 36th), Atlantic, nine down, continued to fight, buoyed by raucous support from the boundary. Mehdi pushed on, punishing every bad ball and leaving every wide (which was cheered like a six as Atlantic’s supporters grew in hope), while eleventh man Narayam played out eight dot balls without looking troubled. CER supporters were anxious, Atlantic’s fans ever more hopeful, until Mehdi’s hard drive nestled in the small hands of nine-year-old Samvit, who was immediately buried under a pile of team mates.
At the closing ceremony MCA’s Rohit and Gordon picked up their Man-of-the-match trophies, along with Parth, and Rohit celebrated finishing the tournament as CER’s top run scorer and the only CER batsmen to score double figures in each match. No CER man had the numbers of the top batsmen in the tournament, but some of the highest scores in other matches came under less pressure than had been faced by CER’s leading run-scorers, two of whom were MCA players. MCA’s third player, Ani Mayasandra (top-scorer among MCA youth players in MichCA’s T-20 league), twice in the tournament showed how valuable big-hitting can be, and was probably CER’s unluckiest batsman in terms of marginal decisions. Meanwhile, CER’s bowlers had good reason to be happy – Nauman Khan, Vivek Joglekar, and Arsalan Babar had proved that spin could be deadly early in the match, while Parth, Rohit, and Arjun had all bowled very well in different matches under intense late-innings pressure (today’s death bowling by Rohit and Parth was the final key to the match); Ani’s left-arm pace, so effective this year in Michigan, was used less than might have been expected. In the field, Parth, Vivek, Nauman, Rohit, and Arjun all made major contributions to CER’s improvements, while Gordon’s keeping, although not perfect, was very respectable (and always came after his contributions as an opening batsman, three of which were of significant duration).
Only the most optimistic CER supporter could have hoped that the region would finish in first or second place, so third place, achieved at the expense of the host, was a very satisfying result, not least because only four of the current team are “true U-15s”. They will hope to leave a legacy for next year and the years to come, as CER’s youngest team will aim to rise from princes to kings.
Coach Shyam’s Expert Comments:
“It was a thrilling roller coaster ride all the way to the 10th wicket. Both sides’ weakness in playing spin was exposed, as indicated by the low totals. Also a factor was the ground size, the biggest CER played in so far, as evidenced by the very few fours and no sixes. All the MCA boys scored modestly, albeit making a contribution of nearly 40 runs in the 118 total. It must be admitted that the day belonged to Chicagoans in the CER contingent for the first time in the tournament. Nauman Khan and Arsalan Babar were great finds for CER, and are sure to do well in future. Vivek Joglekar did great as well, but it was Parth Joshi who performed as a true all rounder, not to mention his captaincy under a pressure situation on the field and confusing communication from off the field. Arnav, Arjun and Samvit executed their roles admirably. Near the end of the match there were some signs of frayed nerves on the boundary, but there were plenty of sporting gestures from the supporters of both sides as the two teams left the field.”