A few weeks ago, the Mad Dogs were having a challenging but mediocre season, and were 83 for 7 in a must-win WSL game at Westchester. That day at Peekskill something clicked, and the Dogs' astonishing rearguard action begun by Santhanam and Simon carried over to the bowlers that day and infused the rest of the club with a little of the competitive edge and ruthless efficiency that has been lacking for some of the year, as we scraped into the 2011 WSL final after an up and down regular season of 4-3 and 3 washouts.
Over the last ten years, MDCC have contested a lot of WSL finals, and won some of them convincingly after being clear favourites all season long. The early 2000s Mad Dogs teams were built around the batting of Lawrence, Coates, Quirk and Prasanna, while the late 2000s teams were mainly driven by outstanding bowling from Boyke, Simon, Quirk, Chavan, Harrison, and many more, often rolling teams over for small scores in the finals. This season we have faced new challenges, not least the difficulty of competing in both the SCL and WSL, sometimes on the same day! So as a consequence, a lot more players have experienced League cricket this year, and the result has been a stronger club and a more battle-tested group of players. Nevertheless, Staten Island CC has been the dominant team in the WSL this year and have given us two sound spankings, home and away, so we traveled to Walker Park as distinct underdogs on Saturday. Walker Park has been a graveyard for our bowlers over the years, from the 2002 "Spartacus" game to more recent flayings by Mr Habib Rehman and friends.
Santhanam won the toss on a cool and overcast day, and for the Sultan of Swing there can have been only one choice, as his shoulder was surely already twitching to bowl. After stalling to allow umpires Clarence Modeste and John Moore to don their coats, and Keith and Deadly to arrive at the ground, the Dogs took the field. In the league fixture the week before, SI had begun cautiously and then used late whackage to win the game. In the Final, on their home track, which is usually a batter's dream, they took a more positive approach, relegating Charu and Shaffi to 9 and 10, and loading the top half with talented and aggressive ball-strikers.
Bert Simon steamed in from the top end, and soon bowled the opener Jason with a screamer that kept a tad low, a great start for MDCC. Kevren Fraser, who had made 50 at MDP, joined Prashant, and the two batted positively, mixing some quick singles with aggression at the very few loose deliveries offered by Simon and Santhanam, operating from the Bay End. Tight bowling from our openers and pressure paid off when Prashant drove at Sanjay, sending a skyer to mid off where Aidan Snee misjudged it but then took the catch over his head falling backwards, the first of several fine efforts on the day. Sri Lankan Kodi entered the fray, a native of Kandy who was once skipper to Muralitharan in youth cricket. Kodi and Kevren batted solidly and with great technical ability, capitalizing on a few wayward deliveries from Nikhil Puri who had replaced Bert from the top, 85 for 2 off 17. SICC clearly on top at drinks.
The score advanced steadily until Sanjay finally picked up the wicket of Kevren, stumped on the charge. Harrison replaced Sanjay and settled in after an indifferent first over. Anand then struck, removing Majid, trapped lbw hitting across the line. The new batsman heaved his first delivery from Harrison to cow corner and then attempted a heave over mid-off, where he was nicely caught by Aidan Snee to leave SI at about 98 for 5. Salim Khan entered and started to get after it. At this point there were a couple of interesting incidents. Kodi seemed to have nicked Deadly to Keith, but Clarence declined the appeal, despite Kodi looking as guilty as a fox after a night in the chicken coop. In the following over, Salim drove Harrison to the mid-off boundary where Aidan backed up to the fence, baseball style to take a splendid catch. However, Clarence correctly interpreted the Walker Park fence as a boundary rope, Salim was reprieved and the bowler suffered a six. Fielders were dispatched to the boundaries for Salim, who peppered the tennis courts for a while, but then inside edged a quicker ball from Deadly on to his stumps. 110 for 6 off 22, with the talented Kodi still at the wicket, and plenty of batting to come, as Shaffi came in.
At this point Kodi was batting with ominous ease and we were looking at 200+ as a target, but two Miracle Moments intervened. Harrison delivered a few flighty off breaks in the middle and leg region, Kodi picking him up to mid wicket for ones and twos, until a slower ball bit slightly and the next shot sailed out towards Deadly at cow, but surely landing short of the tall left-arm spinner to be caught. As Deadly prepared to field the ball on the bounce, a body flew out of nowhere and clutched the ball with two hands. Adarsh had run 25 yards from deep square leg and flung himself into the air to take a catch of professional standard, Jonty Rhodes, meet Adarsh Shah. Kodi shook his head in disbelief as the Dogs celebrated. Still at seven down, we feared the fearsome power of the appropriately named Rohit. Sanjay brought back Bert from the top end, and the first ball was nicked, only to be held one-handed by a flying Keith Lawrence at full extension. As the Dogs engulfed the keeper, Keith lay on the floor giggling in amazement. It was that kind of day. SICC 145 for 8.
Still there was work to do. Shaffi and Charu are a crafty and experienced pair at 9 and 10 and fully capable of dinking it around for 50 or 60 off 12 overs, and they added a few against Anand and Neil. Harrison closed out his spell and Sanjay turned to Aidan Snee from the Bay End. Aidan promptly struck, Shaffi inside edging on to his off stump to bring Glen in at #11, who is a true bunny with the willow. Bert returned for the clean-up and uprooted the timbers to end the SI innings at 168, and crucially several overs short of the 35 over allotment. This was great team cricket by the Dogs side - the bowling was uniformly tidy, captaincy thoughtful, the catching superb and the ground fielding saved 20-30 runs, with Adarsh tireless, and excellent efforts contributed by Amit, Snee and Harrison, with Nikhil Puri outstanding throughout. 168 is far below par at Walker Park, which might be 210 (6/over), but we have all seen much much bigger numbers put up there in the past...... still, it was 168 and we still had to get them somehow!
Amit and Keith opened, Keith playing very correctly and steadily, aware of the 4.5/over target and the importance of wickets. Amit looked in good touch, as indeed he has been all season in WSL games where he has been almost ever present. The two set out steadily and completed a 50 partnership in the 13th over, Keith driving straight for singles and Amit picking off wide balls with a series of well-timed cuts and forcing shots to outpace his partner. At drinks, MDCC were 74 for 0 off 17, and in good shape. This was vintage opening batting, an object lesson in how to retain wickets in hand when chasing a moderate but not insignificant total. Hardly an incorrect shot was played, and neither player forced it, simply taking the runs that were on offer.
Amit's elegant innings ended soon after drinks as he was bowled for 41, and Lawrence continued in the anchor role, as the youngsters came in to play aggressively around his steady presence. Adarsh flashed his bat briefly but effectively for 11, and then Varun came and went quickly but not before playing two back foot shots of tremendous style and power for four that had even the SICC spectators purring in appreciation. Goodier came to the wicket and a steady accumulation continued, mainly 1s and 2s, until Keith was out for 44 and Rich was caught at cover for 19.
At this point the Dogs needed about 27 off the last 5 overs to win, with youngsters Aidan Snee and Nikhil Puri coming together, and a little tension in the air as SICC sensed a possible collapse and an opportunity to close the Dogs down. But with Nikhil leading the way, the two batsmen made the chase look easy, turning pushes into singles and 1s into 2s with straight bats and athletic running, finding gaps all too easily in the field at Walker Park until with nine balls to spare, Nikhil finally clipped one down to fine leg for the winning runs and the Dogs celebrated as a slightly shell-shocked SICC team remained on the field for the post-match inquest for a few minutes.
This was an excellent and well-contested final against a very strong SI team. In order to beat our illustrious opponents on their home turf, the Dogs had to deliver an almost flawless game, and under the insightful and inspiring leadership of Sanjay, produced an all-round performance of team cricket that we can all be very proud of. Umpire Clarence Modeste presented the WSL trophy to skipper Santhanam, and the younger Dogs (who were enjoying their first taste of silverware) proceeded to quaff sparkling water from the receptacle, alcoholic beverages being prohibited in NYC parks.....
To everyone who played or supported MDCC cricket this year, a big thank you - this win was for all of you !