Japan Cup: Chiba Sharks vs Tsukuba CC
Aug 2nd 2020, Sano 1 – By Dhugal Bedingfield
There was talk around town that Tsukuba had improved so much in 2020 that they may have taken on the unofficial title of “Best T20 team in Japan right now”. Indeed, their 157 run walloping of the Tokyo Rangers was enough to strike fear into the hearts of most captains. Not so Marcus Thurgate, who confidently strode out to the middle of Sano 1 on a steamy Sunday afternoon, won the toss and sent Tsukuba in to bat. “Why would you do that?!” 10 Sharks players screamed silently. Little did we know, the former Japan U19 skipper had plans in mind on how to dissect the Tsukuba batting line up.
The Sharks team for this particular Japan Cup tie was a typical hotch-potch of old and young, 1st XI regulars and 2nd XI stalwarts. Dhugal Bedingfield, Neel Date, Navin Jinasena, Ibby Takahashi, Vipin Sukhwal, Leon Mehlig and Mairaj Qureshi were joined by two Thurgates and two Siddiques.
Bedingfield was entrusted with the new ball and his innocuous off breaks were rewarded with a caught and bowled which seemed too easy to be true. Some tight bowling from Mehlig and Muneeb was enough to induce a direct-hit run out, Ash Thurgate somehow stumbling over at mid wicket and throwing down the stumps at the same time.
The Sharks looked sharp in the field and Hammy Siddique was able to hang on to a sharp chance at mid wicket off the bowling of Mehlig for the Sharks third wicket.
The skipper sensed that spin might be the best option to test the incoming batsmen and the introduction of Takahashi reaped instant rewards, the young off spinner taking two wickets in two balls, one a sharp catch from Marcus, the other a diving catch at first slip from Bedingfield.
“Wait a minute? What’s the score? That can’t be right! The worst team in Japan right now surely can’t have the best team in Japan right now 39/5??”
The Sharks sensed blood in the water. Time for a swift kill.
Most batting teams tend to go into their shell in this situation. Not Tsukuba. Each incoming batsman decided the best way to dig themselves out of this hole was by hitting every ball for six; or 12, which one of them did.
The Sharks set five fielders on the fence to counter this plan and sure enough Mehlig held onto a nice catch right on the rope off the bowling of Ash Thurgate. Jinasena followed suit by holding onto another one. This brought the dangerous Tsukuba captain Yapabandara to the crease but the young Sharks keeper/captain sent him on his way by clinging onto a one-handed screamer off the bowling of Mehlig.
Marcus wins the Dr Wheatgrass Play of the Day for the diving effort and also puts himself in the running for “Sharks Catch of the Season”, an award that doesn’t actually exist but most definitely should, in the humble opinion of this journalist.
Takahashi and Ash Thurgate mopped up the tail with one a piece and, unbelievably, the Sharks had bowled Tsukuba out for 64 inside 13 overs.
Of course, this would be an easy chase for the Sharks, right? Well, Bedingfield and M Thurgate made things look pretty simple by knocking off 22 runs in as many balls but, just to make a game of it, they both decided to miss straight ones and give some of our other lads a bat. Date looked solid before offering up some catching practice before Muneeb decided to test the arm of one of the Tsukuba fielders. Turned out he had an arm. Takahashi departed for a second ball duck having been adjudged to have feathered a ball to the keeper and the Sharks were now 35/5.
It was up to Jinasena and Ash Thurgate to put on an gritty 22 run partnership to get us within sight of victory. The two battled through some early season rust and communication difficulties to nudge the ball around and scamper between the wickets.
With the finish line well and truly in sight, we somehow managed to lose three quick wickets and Leon Mehlig danced out to the middle to swing the bat. As fast bowlers do, the Mehlig swang hard and missed The keeper also missed! Four byes and game over, the Sharks were winners by two wickets.
The final scores looked more like a rugby match than a cricket match but in fairness to both teams the post-rainy-season outfield at Sano 1 was painfully slow and both teams bowled beautifully.
Thanks to Tsukuba for an entertaining game of cricket, as always. Thanks also to MIB umps Abhishek and Dixit who did a fine job.
So that was our first win of the season. Let’s hope it can be a turning point in the Chiba Sharks’ 2020 campaign. We’re now 1-1 in the Japan Cup with matches against the Tokyo Rangers and Tokyo Falcons to follow. Another win should put us in the East Kanto semis. Go Sharks!