By Kristofer Bayne
This square-off had been a long time coming…. Arch-rivals Chiba Sharks and Tokyo Wombats had not completed a match against each other since 2008, with the 2009 game abandoned en-route to Fuji and this year the plug was pulled (without effect) early in our very waterlogged innings. The Wombats, naturally, claimed ascendancy… after all, we had never beaten them… There have been a lot of line-up changes, but also there has been a feeling that the Sharks were getting closer and closer, but didn’t have a chance to prove it. Now was that chance. With the highest stakes in the Land of The Rising Sun: the Japan Cricket League Division One Crown.
A fear was that bad weather would once again be a factor, but Tatebayashi, mercilessly hot in our recent past, turned out pleasant conditions for the game. There was a palatable calmness of purpose. Shark eye met Shark eye. A quick smile with firm a nod. There was a feeling of steely resolve and determination as we set up camp – table, chairs and corporate box – under the apple tree. One of us had played some of the greatest names in the modern cricket era, another was on the verge of launching his international career, others were happy to touch a cricket ball: but today we were Chiba Sharks, all, and on a mission. We knew that this was our chance to create both Shark history and repay the efforts of many, many past and present Shark veterans with a double win – a JCL 1 Championship and a Wombat skin. Quietly, many also wanted to send Levi homeward-bound with the biggest cricket high in Japan.
Our opponents, Tokyo Wombats Cricket Club, had had a mixed season, losing some solid players and even some games, but they still finished atop the JCL table and probably fielded their strongest team of the year. Chiba Captain Chris, bearing the weight of history and expectation, squared his broad blacksmith shoulders and strode to face his Wombatian counterpart for the vital toss. He lost. We were invited to bat as the Wombats fancied their chances of chasing runs. (Shark Fact File #77, Footnote (b): never under-estimate a shark.) We had intended to bat anyway…
It was one of the deeper Shark batting line-ups for a while, with no less than four potential openers and a bevy of genuine all-rounders through the middle. Nick and Ashiq opened under blues skies inhabited by a virtual menagerie of clouds (many of them sharks eating wombats, according to Kris…)
To much hooting, sighing and guffawing, Goold sent down a maiden. What we thought was a cautious start turned out to be otherwise. With the score on 12 in Over 4 Nick departed caught, revealing he could not even see the ball. Pat settled in, content to get his eye in, but after a flurry of runs Ashiq was also back under the apple tree. At 2/23 in Over 7 the Wombat tails were a-quiver, the tongues less restrained. Prashant, burdened by a cold and expectation, walked out to join Pat, the Sharks camp silent with the realization that two shot-makers had gone very cheaply. It soon got worst as Prashant, who looked in good shape with one drive for no run, swung at one from the veteran Laidler for a duck, the ball arcing neatly to Mid Off who took his regulation catch and the field went ballistic. Ten overs gone. Three power-hitters gone. Sharks gone? Although anatomically impossible, the Wombat tails, not to even mention chin music, were well and truly ‘up’. Colonel joined Pat and we realised that this was probably ‘it’. No offence to the rest of the batting line-up, but we were probably one wicket away from … well, no one was saying. But, these were two hardened, determined, experienced and skilled cricketers. The Wombats were probably thinking of the aesthetic arrangement of the after-game sausages, but Pat and Colonel had other marsupials to fry…
The opening bowlers had taken the wickets and kept a tight length and line, but as they tired and the second string came on, the batsman started to find their range and settle in. It wouldn’t be called a barrage of runs at any time, but they kept the scoreboard ticking over, picking up the pace as they grew in confidence. Wombats realised they had hooked a shark that would not go quietly. At 3/76 and drinks (20 overs) the talk was to set a total that would at least make the Wombats have to work. Four an over was good at this point and 200 had a nice ring to it.
Ten off the 11th and several other juicy overs with some wides saw us up the rate, both Pat and Colonel finding the short boundaries more regularly. Things started to quieten down on the field. With these two out there 200+ was a possibility, but on 144 in the 30th Colonel (54) middled one at square, catching the fielder rather than him catching it. A fantastic innings-saving partnership of 113 came to an end. Dave, who was enjoying a good year with the willow, was the new batsman. If the Wombats thought they were into the tail, they were sorely disappointed as Dave picked up right were Colonel had finished. The meaty, ginger-tinged hams of Lollback slammed a better than a run-a-ball 28 and energised Pat (61) as they added an even 50 partnership in quick time. Both fell in the 38th over with score on 192.
The ‘tail’ of Chris (3), Kris (3) and Nikhil (n.o. 1) did their small bit to get the score up the psychological total of 200. It was a fine effort from the middle order, one of bloody-minded application, sensible shot-making and an understanding of the persona of the opposition. The whole mood of the game had swung from the field to the apple tree. Although we knew it was not an unassailable total, it was a competitive score, we had a very good attack, we had fielded well all year, and WE CAME TO WIN. Chiba Sharks 8/200 off 40 overs.
|N. Creece||c. Stride||b. Laidler||7||11||1||0|
|A. Hussain||c. Shearer||b. Goold||15||23||2||0|
|P. Giles-Jones||c. Shearer||b. Turner||61||97||7||0|
|P. Kale||c. Walker||b. Laidler||0||4||0||0|
|A. Kamal||c. Beath||b. Stride||54||61||6||1|
|D. Lollback||b. Turner||28||23||3||0|
|C. Thurgate||c. Rony||b. Beath||3||6||0||0|
|K. Bayne||Run Out||3||4||0||0|
|N. Deshpande||Not Out||1||1||0||0|
|N. Jinasena||Not Out||0||0||0||0|
|Extras||nb 0 w 21 b 3 lb 4||28|
|Total||For 8||200||40 Overs|
The Wombats were no doubt feeling that they had let us off the hook. But the 2010 Sharks had made sticking around a habit – out of all games completed we had only failed to bat out 1.5 overs (against Paddy Foley, which we won). The Wyverns debacle aside, we have been very competitive, especially in the field. We could always improve our catching. Our only bowling issue was wides and we had done well to address that in the semi-final. Even missing bowlers of the calibre of Coovre and Sancheti we had plenty of good options. Chris used this and pulled a surprise by opening with Pat and Navin. The young man has made good progress this year with the ball – and what greater honour or recognition is there? The Wombats had to make a smidgen over 4 an over so they could not be too extravagant in stroke play. The first 4 overs went for just 11 as Pat beat the bat with some searing pace while the accurate Navin kept them very honest. Key Wombatsman, Beath, with a ton under his belt in the semis, was taking things slowly. Our great start spiked when Pat had the Wombat barometer, Shearer, touching one back to the ‘keeper in his 3rd over. The ‘Big Man’ was on his way and we had the crack we needed to prise open the Wombats.
The first bowling change saw Prashant replace Pat (1-6 off 3) and Levi, back after a long spell on the sidelines injured, replace Navin (0-21 off 4). Prashant started with a maiden and Levi was in good nick despite his long absence. He was in even better humour in his second over, castling a shaky Ferris. 2-47 after 10 overs. This saw Wombat captain, Turner, join Beath. One could sense that both camps saw this as the ‘make or break’ pairing. Could they do what Pat and Colonel did for us? Our fielding was once again of very high standard and the recent rains has slowed the field somewhat to at least give fielders a chance. The bowlers were very disciplined in line and length. Still, the batmen were experienced and began to settle down to putting on some runs. The wily former-Bangladesh international, Colonel, replaced Levi, who suffered a recurrence of his knee problem, and Prashant continued steadily. It was a great arm-wrestle between bowlers and batsman of equal determination, all of whom had something to prove.
But, they were not the only ones in that respect … Captain Chris had had a mixed season behind the stumps, from the sublime to the forgettable. Now, Colonel is a great one for working batsmen out. His over to Turner in the wash-out game was simply superb. The Wombat pair knew they had to start having a go so when Colonel sent down one right in the slot to hook, Turner couldn’t resist. He succeeded in getting some on it, but Chris, unfortunately could not hold on to it. Rubbing sledge into the wound was Chris’ opposite number, Shearer, station on the hill, who declared to Gunma, “I would have caught that!” Chris’ response was… well, we know what the first instalment was (Wombat readers will have to wait for Chris’ memoirs). The second instalment will live in Chiba Shark lore and probably swung the game massively in favour of the Sharks. Colonel served up another juicy one and again Turner had a crack. THIS time a fired up Thurgate launched himself to leg and pouched a screamer. Pictures tells a thousand words: here – have a coupla grand…
Many Shark thanks to Paul Shackleford of the Wombats for these iconic and timely photographs and also to Jarrad Shearer for both the inspiration to Chris and his colourful contribution to the seismic moment. Rest assured we will never forget it!
The sound of dropping Wombat heads was drowned out by the under-stated din of wagging Shark tails. Dave was brought into the attack just before drinks. The vicious rumours that the Ginger Typhoon “used to be a good bowler” (Shark Fact File #23: Sharks have ears) are greatly exaggerated as the ‘Lollback Sleeper Hold’ met the ‘Shark Doughnut Squeeze’. We were pretty satisfied at this half-way point.
At 3-90 and drinks the scorecards were looking very similar, but did the Wombat have the cattle? Probably only former-Wyvern, Gavin Beath, who accounted for the bulk of the Wombats score, stood between us and victory. While the first twenty overs had seen the batsmen out at the wicket, the Sharks field came into its own for the next. The bowlers and the field were determined to make life as difficult as possible as it was expected the Wombats would try to break the shackles. Nikhil (0/20 in 4) with some spin joined Dave in the attack to tempt them. Some hitting and a bit of luck early after the break saw the score over a hundred, but Pat’s reintroduction immediately paid dividends, with Goold hoiking one straight into Colonel at square leg for a wicket-maiden. Dave, already stingy, followed with another maiden and the two scoring worms met (Sharks 3/110 @ 25, Wombats 3/111 @ 24). He was also desperately unlucky not to have a wicket. But, the game was about to take a dramatic turn. The fielding had been of high standard with players cutting down the runs and putting their bodies on and in the line. But if Chris’ catch was game-defining, Dave’s snare split it wide open. Beath was the one we wanted and as he searched to dominate he absolutely laced one at Dave. He latched on to it and hurled it skyward in glee – Beath gone for 67 and at 5/122 it was our game to win or lose.
We opted for the former and in the very next over a great chase and return from Nick saw the ball back in Pat’s hand, the stumps devastated and Stride doing just that back to the hut, run-out. 6-129. In an evolutionary first, the Sharks grew some legs. We felt it was now only a matter of time and concentration and the long, long, long awaited satisfaction would be ours. This reporter couldn’t help but feel that for our veterans, beating the Wombats was more the point than lifting the JCL title – but to have both in one game, sweeeeeeeeeeet.
But we still had some gnarly, snarly, fighting Wombats to deal with. New batsman Rony suggested his stay would be brief but frustratingly defied both the bowlers and at times the laws of Newtonian physics. Levi was brought back for one last burst and we got it as he induced a growingly desperate Laidler to lift one directly to the waiting Prashant on the boundary. At 7-145 with seven overs left and 56 runs needed you could say we were ‘safe’, but this was a small ground and it would only take some lusty blows for the equation to be evened up. But Pat, having a brilliant end to a wonderful season for the Sharks, finally did for little lucky Rony as Chris put up the neon sign that he was coming up to the stumps and whipped off the bails for the stumping first ball. 8-172. Wombat Walker had a small victory for his team, depositing our match ball into the undergrowth for arguably the best shot of the day, but it was academic.
Tokyo Wombats 8-172 off 40 overs and the field ran riot! Chiba Sharks Cricket Club win the 2010 JC1 Championship by 20 runs (Readers, insert wild cheering)!
|J. Shearer||c. Thurgate||b. Giles-Jones||8||18||0||0|
|G. Beath||c. Lollback||b. Kamal||67||82||7||2|
|R. Ferris||b. Thurlow||2||10||0||0|
|G. Turner||c. Thurgate||b. Kamal||18||20||3||0|
|N. Goold||c. Kamal||b. Giles-Jones||12||25||1||0|
|M. Stride||Run Out||5||6||0||0|
|R. Laidler||c. Kale||b. Thurlow||7||7||0||0|
|Rony||St. Thurgate||b. Giles-Jones||25||17||2||0|
|P. Walker||Not Out||18||10||1||1|
|A. Koolhof||Not Out||1||2||0||0|
|Extras||nb 2 w 11 b 0 lb 5||18|
|Total||For 8||180||40 Overs|
It was a terrific effort to fight it out and although a couple of names were prominent with both bat and ball, the team never hung their collective heads and continually backed up the bowlers and each other. We never got carried away and realised once we got a grip on the Wombat throat we needed to hang on. All bowlers played their part – Chris swung them around a aplomb – and there was one telling statistic: we only bowled 11 wides in 40 overs (Wombats bowled 21). Partnerships and catches aside, that was a key. The field also did their bit. Some catches did go down but considering the difference between the teams was only 4-5 boundaries on a small ground, the second efforts, chase downs, back-ups, and general hustle buoyed everyone and showed our intent. But, one game does not a season make and we can only have 12 men in a team. Other players that contributed to getting us into the JCL finals were Alexis Coovre, Gurjinder Saggu, Varun Sancheti, Anshul Bahl, Ankit Shrimal.
As one would expect from the most serious rivalry in Japanese cricket, the game was tense but played in great spirit. Wombats captain, Grant Turner, was very gracious in defeat and two Sharks were awarded their match awards, Pat (61 runs & 8-3-18) and Chris for his catch.
Meanwhile, back at the apple tree… Chris let the nicely chilled champers go (everywhere!) and we forced down some congratulatory beers. Those who knew the team song struggled through some lines between the smiles. There was many a back slapped and a Shark hugged.
Eventually, we packed up our gear for the happy ride home, but there was one piece of baggage missing…. As Anton astutely observed, there was no longer a Wombat on the Shark’s back.
The victorious 2010 JCL Sharks team.
Back L-R: Prashant Kale, Pat Giles-Jones. Dave Lollback, Ahmad ‘Colonel’ Kamal, Chris Thurgate, Anton Lloyd-Williams, Levi Thurlow
Front L-R: Nick Creece, Kris Bayne, Nikhil Despande, Navin Jinasena, Ashiq Hussain
(Many thanks to Paul Shackleford of the Wombats for permission to use some of his excellent photos)
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