Eight games into the season, we (Challengers) were all set to face off against the reigning champions (read Spartans), and the whole team was pumped up and looking forward to a good game. The weather on the day seemed to suggest that the cold/damp/windy conditions were a thing of the past. As a bonus, it was heartening to see two umpires show up when we were expecting to see only one neutral umpire for this game. Spartans won the toss and had no hesitation in electing to bat first, given the way our season had progressed so far. Even with 7 wins behind our back, we were completely wary of the litmus test that lay ahead.
Navaneeth got ready with the ball to face off against the Spartan openers. Rajat Sar did not spare any time in throwing the first punch while showing why he is among the top run getters this season by a clean pick that sailed over midwicket for maximum returns. However, Navaneeth came back even stronger to cut short the dream start with one that held its line to make enough contact with the bat for the umpire to raise his finger. 7 for 1 after the first over, and what followed was an impeccable bowling display in tandem with some sensational catching. Jayesh bowled a peach to lift off from that one spot which makes it difficult for any batsman to play or leave, and Dilip could not get out of the way in time. Yours truly did the rest behind the wickets. He helped himself to another wicket when he managed to rearrange the furniture to get Jaimin out bowled. Nitin joined the fun by claiming Chirag's wicket, courtesy of a stunning low diving catch by Karthik in the slip region. Having had the best seat in town over the course of many games to witness his heroics at first slip, I can only say that his catching has to be seen to be believed. Nitin then added one more to his tally by bringing down not one but all 3 stumps to get Badal out bowled. A wonderful sight if you are a bowler, not so much if you were the batsman. Jayesh added to his tally when he got Rinal out caught behind.
With the Spartans at 12 for 6, we were clearly in the driving seat, with Amit joining Anal who was waging a lone battle for the Spartans. A small partnership ensued, and helped by some generous extras and extremely cautious batting by Anal and Amit in the face of some amazing spin bowling by Divesh, Spartans founds themselves at 24 for 6 at the break. Challengers realized the game was there for the taking, and were eager to go for the kill. First over after the break, Ajith delivered with a one handed catch at short point off Divesh's bowling to send Amit back and altering the scorecard to read 25 for 7. Navaneeth came back to remove Prasad and Prithvi off consecutive deliveries, thanks to good catches by Karthik, again in the slip region, to make it 29 for 9. Vishal negotiated the hattrick delivery without much difficulty. After watching all the wickets fall at the other end, Anal finally tried to free his arms only to find Ajith come under the ball to pouch his second catch of the game. 32 for 10 with Navaneeth scalping 4 and ably supported by Jayesh (3/3), Nitin (2/7) and Divesh (1/8).
Spartans are the reigning champions for a lot of reasons and their bowling is definitely a big part of it. Rohit and Vidya went in to kick start our response against some determined bowling and Rohit made his aggressive intentions clear from the start. It was an eventful first over which produced 5 runs and a difficult chance off Vidya's bat that the fielder could not hold on to. It was not long before Spartans drew blood when Prasad held on to a firm drive from Vidya's bat. 9 for 1 after 4 overs and reason enough for Spartans to become more vocal. The in-form Jayesh joined Rohit, but some accurate bowling by Rajat and Badal kept them from troubling the scorers much. The pick of the bowlers however was Jaimin who hit the right spots at a very good pace to trouble the batsmen time and again. He eventually claimed Rohit's wicket by having him caught behind. At 14 for 2, I joined Jayesh in the middle to negotiate some purposeful bowling by Jaimin. A few 2's relieved the pressure a bit before Spartans struck again to claim Jayesh's wicket. He got out trying to up the ante, and at 23 for 3 after 9 overs, Spartans still sensed a chance to put some pressure on us. Karthik had other ideas as he ensured that no more wickets fell and finished the game in style with a magnificent six over long on. Challengers surpassed the Spartan total in the 12th over. It was a low scoring game, but the scorecard would not reflect the intensity with which it was played.
Both teams probably sensed the importance of coming out on top after this game, given the potential psychological brownie points to be gained if we were to meet again at a later stage. It so happened that we were able to put on a stunning bowling and fielding display when it was needed the most. A bad day on the field for Spartans but as the saying goes, a wounded Tiger is a lot more dangerous than a healthy one. So trust them to bounce back all the more stronger in the games to come. As for us, we will savor this win as a testament to the importance of strong team effort against a good opposition.