Sharks vs ITCC, Koiwa, 13.10.12.
by Anton Lloyd-Williams
Having spent most of the season playing at the newly established “glamour” grounds up in Sano, it was with something of a bump that we returned to the grandmother of them all – the old Koiwa ground, still sinking slowly into the banks of the Edogawa river.
It’s possible to be critical of the undulating batting track, with its cracks and divots that that can be seen through the holes that pock mark what was once a carpet covering. One might equally be tempted to raise an eyebrow at the 45 degree slope of the outfield behind the keeper, where fine leg also has to negotiate a tricky looking flight of steps. It’s all too easy to sneer when play is held up for an old dear who is walking her dog through the slip cordon, blissfully unaware of why everyone is standing in such strange postures, doing nothing.
Undoubtedly, it is possible to be critical, but as is the way with grandmothers, it won’t change anything and actually, people like it that way, because……it’s unique and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. What you get is what you see and what you see is pretty rough. The challenges thrown up by the ground only add to the surrealism of playing the great game, under the gaze of skyscrapers just 10 minutes train ride from Tokyo station before a bevy of bemused and bewildered locals who are certain, absolutely certain, that you are playing baseball all wrong.
To this venue it was then, that 11 Sharks made their way on a beautiful, fresh early autumn morning. For most of the Sharks this was their first time playing on this legendary ground and many were a little edgy, having heard horror stories of cracked chins and bloody noses from balls rearing off the disintegrating pitch. This had been alleviated recently though, by the ingenious expedient of moving the stumps up to the middle of the batting track and taking your chances there. The main danger of injury had been thoughtfully passed to the bowlers whose popping crease had been moved down into the outfield and had the look of a child’s sandpit.
The first order of the day was to finally hand over to the enormously patient Rockey, his Sharks shirt and cap for which he had been waiting the whole season. Well, some things are worth waiting for.
The Indian Tigers arrived, resplendent in their sky blue uniforms and the toss was made. Captain Lollback called Heads correctly and elected to have a bat. It was then agreed to reduce the match to 30 overs a side as we were a little late getting underway. Volunteers would be needed to open the batting so Anton and Taka duly raised their hands, possibly exhibiting a bit of the stoicism with which dentists appointments are made – it’s better to get it out of the way sooner rather than later.
They need not have worried themselves so much though as the only demons in the pitch were keen to take a chunk of foot rather than face. Anton watched the first couple nip past as wides before having to jam his bat down on one that barely got off the surface. Ominous signs. He took his chances off a widish, fullish one for a boundary and plundered a single off a thick edge.
Taka then took guard and straight batted a few back to the bowler but also found himself taking emergency action to a grass skimmer that came from a pretty short delivery. More of the same in the second over. It was quickly becoming clear that the Tigers knew very well how to bowl on this pitch. It has a Bermuda Triangle between short and short of a good length where bounce is known to sometimes simply…..disappear. It was into this area that Parthi medium paced the ball, Anton offered a straight bat defence and was rewarded with sound of crashing timbers and joyful Tigers. In what would be one of the days more regular themes, the ball just went under the bat.
Sumon went out to join Taka but could do little with an excellent, rising outswinger other than edge it into the gloves of wicketkeeper Sujit. Things went from bad to worse as Taka was Bermuda’d in almost identical fashion to his opening partner.
This brought Charles on deck and there were high hopes that his agricultural sweep would reap rich carnage around the straight boundary but … well, there was some contention here; Charles maintained he was Bermuda’d as how else could the ball have snuck beneath his immaculate defence? He was supported in this conjecture by some who had suffered the same fate. Other more seasoned watchers suspected the 45 degree angle of the bat, which would have allowed a football through his gate, was the culprit. Whatever the case, his stumps required resurrecting as did the Sharks batting hopes with four back in the hutch and just 17 on the board after 4 overs.
Enter Sayeed. His swinging bat had created merry hell amongst the Wombats bowlers in his last outing and a quickfire 20 or 30 would do very nicely here too. However, he also struggled with the fickle nature of the ball as it came off the pitch but managed to get a few singles and doubles away with some powerful looking blasts. Looking to attack, he picked an unlucky ball to hit. It popped up and took a top edge up and out to square leg, where Pauly completed the formalities.
With the score on 25, Rockey came in next to join Captain Dave and we went back to the tried and trusted combo of tall and short: The master stroke maker and the plucky apprentice. Someone had clearly mixed up the scripts though because while Dave set about dot balling his way through to some kind of rhythm, Rockey was in fiery mood, blasting, swatting and driving with abandon and making the pitch look as dangerous as a just-fed puppy.
Puppies have teeth like needles though, and Rockey was given a sharp reminder as one scooted through and hit him plum on the inside of his ankle causing a halt to play as he needed time for the pain to subside. Any sensible man would have started playing a little more coyly after such a chastening. Pah! Not Rockey, He hooked his next ball back over deep square leg for 4, wore a brute of a delivery on the chest a couple of balls later, shook it off and then belted another boundary.
Dave on the other hand was still struggling to get out of the blocks. While he looked assured, the timing of the bat from which about a third of our entire runs have come this season, was never quite there. Drives went to fielders or made nasty sounds off the toe of the bat. However he did a good job of chaperoning young Rockey who was clearly in the groove. A few dot balls in a row got Rockey fidgeting at one that he might have let go. It found the grateful hands of square leg and the Tigers’ fielders were heard to say “At last!” – Surely no greater compliment could have been paid. 54 on the board.
Chris Molloy took the crease next and entertained the scorers’ knoll with some very attractive looking off drives to fielders and masterful cuts to the boundary. His was a classic, patient “punish the bad ball” approach and his 3 scoring shots all cleared the rope.
Captain Dave decided it was time to hoist anchor and chance his arm a little more if he was to make his customary impression on the scorebook. Unfortunately his next notable entry was under Method of Dismissal – bowled, or more accurately Bermuda’d, driving massively at thin air as the ball skidded along the deck to its three pronged wooden destiny. Chris Malloy’s valiant stand came to an end not much later as he joined the list of victims of “the one that stayed low”.
Imran came in for his Sharks debut and followed the most excellent Sharks tradition of starting with a duck so with the score now at 69, it would be left to Kris Bayne and Dave Rear, ( who was looking to cash in on tired bowlers and short boundaries and score his first Sharks runs) to see us past 300. It started quite well with some good straight bat blocks and drives and the Sharks on the boundary could smell that Dave R’s first run was close. Tiger’s bowler Pauly, smelled a wicket though and sent through possibly the best ball of the day, a pacy rising outswinger that nipped off of Dave R’s edge into the keepers mitts. Unlucky there Dave.
|A. Lloyd-Williams||..||b. Parthi||5||9||1||0|
|T. Morimoto||..||b. Parthi||0||8||0||0|
|M. Haque||c. Sujit||b. Chetak||0||3||0||0|
|C. Steinhardt||…||b. Parthi||0||2||0||0|
|U. Sobhan||c. Pauly||b. Parthi||4||8||0||0|
|S. Mehmood||c. Pauly||b. Ravi||19||24||2||0|
|D. Lollback||…||b. Joe||4||29||0||0|
|C. Molloy||…||b. Pauly||12||18||3||0|
|D. Rear||c. Sujit||b. Pauly||0||6||0||0|
|K. Bayne||not out||…||0||0||0||0|
|Extras||…||nb1 w22 b6 lb1||…||…||…||…|
|Total||74||all out||…||…||Overs 20|
Thus came to an end a proper mauling. All gone for 74. The Tigers had used the pitch well while we had learned its peculiarities the hard way.
After a drink and a bun it was time for the Sharks to set about the Tigers. We’d seen the areas in which to bowl and the importance of line on this super slim track. Chris Molloy was thrown the cherry and found his mojo from the get go. The first 3 deliveries all produced edges. Sumon got his fingers on one, Charles got near one too, but they were screamers.
Dave Rear kept the pressure up with some tight lines and the Tigers didn’t look very happy at all, nudging here and there but generally finding fielders. Molloy continued in his rich vein and sent down some beauties. However, the Tigers’ batsmen were pretty adept at jamming their bats down on the grass cutters and gradually looked to settle in.
With just 9 on the board after 3 overs the Tigers started looking for runs. Chetak pushed one out towards the gully and set off. Sayeed swooped down like hawk, and in one fluid movement picked up and threw the ball to Charles who administered the rites on Giijo.
Captain Lollback brought himself into the attack and his pace ruffled a few Tigers feathers and injected some lifelessness into the scoreboard. He was aided in no small part by the athletic fielding of Kris B, diving all over the square leg region like a French soccer player, stopping certain 4s on two occasions.
Sayeed had done a passable impression of a bowler in the warm up so Dave gave him the nod and he duly delivered. A good slingy action and testing line had the batsmen fretting and digging out the low ones. The last ball of his over seemed to move a little off the pitch and sent the useful looking Sujit’s woodwork to a more horizontal position.
The quality and sharpness of the Sharks fielding was beginning to cause some concern so it was corrected with a comedy catching moment involving Anton spilling a dolly off Rockey’s bowling, knocking Taka over in the process and inviting Dave Rear to the party resulting in a half of the off side field lying in a crumpled heap near a ball.
Rockey followed the oft trumped Shark maxim that if you want a wicket in this team, you have to take it yourself and promptly castled Tigers skipper Abraham with a nasty skidder that didn’t get above ankle height.
Although we were taking wickets fairly regularly, wides, singles and doubles made their way into the scorebook to bring the Tigers steadily closer to their modest target. The Sayeed and Charles show worked well again to concoct another run out but a couple more boundaries meant the writing was on the wall. Imran bowled a testing line as did Kris B who was rewarded with Anil’s wicket courtesy of Charles running all the way to silly mid off to pouch the catch. (Anton meanwhile ran all the way out to extra cover to avoid it.)
The winning runs came in the 19th over for the loss of 5 wickets. Pick of the Sharks bowlers was Chris Molloy. There were some real pearlers during his 4 over spell that would have accounted for many a skilled bat on these shores.
And so came to an end what we hope is just the first of many future friendlies against this excellent Indian Tigers side on this challenging pitch. Rockey was given a Man of the Match award by the Tigers for his explosive batting and his fighting spirit. Well done Rockey! Your teammates are very proud of you.
Many thanks to Dave Lollback of the Sharks and Abraham Thomas of the Indian Tigers for organizing the match. We hope to make it a regular feature of our cricket seasons from now on.
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