Simply Irresistible: Sharks Win 2019 JCL Div. 1 Championship!

JCL Division 1 Grand Final – Chiba Sharks vs MAX
SICG 1, 5 October 2019, by KB

The Chiba Sharks have enjoyed some great wins in 2019 but none was as polished nor as satisfying as our defeat of MAX in the JCL Div. 1 Grand Final. It won us our long-awaited second JCL Championship, but it also it won us redemption and justification.

Some background…
We had a big MAX-shaped monkey on our backs going into this game. They beat us too easily in both games in 2019. In Rd 3 they rolled us for 82 and while we bloodied their nose, 5-86 got them the win. In Rd 9 our 132 was soon reached with 3-132. MAX thumped us in the 2018 Grand Final, 6-233 to 10-141, on the back of an opening stand of 173. And there was the small matter of 2019 being the fourth time in five years that MAX had reached the Grand Final, winning three out of four until 2019. MAX has been a very stable team over a number of years. They have welcomed a number of very skilled senior players in that time. They boast the leadership group of the Men’s National team. They won the ‘Battle of Takahashi’, luring the young Japanese gun away from Sano and probably us. They have had quality and experience and confidence right through the team over several years.

We last won the Grand Final in 2010. Our first and only. It will stand the test of time as our best win, I think. The monkey on our back used to be Wombat-shaped. The 2010 GF was not only our first title: it was the first time we had ever beaten our rivals in any game. But since that 2010 win we have had to look on as others reached the summit:
2011, 2018 Runner up
2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 Semi-finalist

In that time the cricket landscape has changed, too, as more teams that could draw on large numbers of players entered the JCL. A small group of good players will not win you a title in Div. 1 anymore. A number of years ago Dhugal recognized this and plotted. CT’s dedication to the MyYs and junior cricket saw many players progress through those ranks, then the Seconds and Firsts, so as a result, we have by far the youngest XI, probably in any of the divisions. We have become the national ‘cricket factory’! Even better than that, we grow our own product and skills, but we also grow a team spirit. The great Australian Football coach, Kevin Sheedy, said of his Grand Final team of 2000: “They have moved past the boundary of playing alongside each other and into the dimension of playing for each other in order to fulfill individual and club ambitions.” We are a team and we play like a team. But we are also a very, very skilled one.
As it stood in the 2019 season, MAX had lost twice, both times to Wyverns, and Sharks had lost twice to MAX, but we had beaten Wyverns twice. MAX had to draw as deep as possible to get past Alpha in the semis while we won the arm wrestle with the Tigers.
Under hot blue skies, Dhugal won the toss and we batted on the turf pitch that did not look easy. The wicket was dry. The line-ups were packed with quality spinners. It may be a question of who handles who best.

Dhugal and Neel opened for the Sharks against Hagihara and Takahashi. The Cap looked in tremendous touch and hammered a number of fours square through the off side. Neel was soon off the mark with a solid boundary but in the 4th played too far in front and spooned a gentle catch to mid-on (1-16).

You can almost script Clampa’s starts – pat a few back then slam one down the ground for 4. On cue. The pitch was keeping low so our two most experienced campaigners were very watchful. The outfield was lightning fast so anything that got through was generally to the rope and the pair was starting to find it. Clampa lived dangerously at times but that is his way, and you could almost feel MAX’s desperation for one of these guys. In perhaps his softest dismissal in memory Doogs obliged, hitting the gentlest of return catches to Tanveer (2-54 in 11th), and MAX were jubilant.

It was unseasonably hot and puffs of dust had begun to appear at ball-fall. Clampa was joined by Ueda but it was not a pitch for him, rather it was one for survival. But that is what is needed against MAX. ‘Kazu’ kept it out and the pair moved us up to 71 before dangerman, Taniyama, sent him back. At 3-71 in the 18th and with Taniyama and Iyer operating (they would bowl their 8 overs on the trot) the game would probably be decided here. Marcus faced the same struggles as Kazu, but importantly kept the bowlers at bay. At the other end, you could see Clampa was concentrating hard, looking to stay in and find gaps and runs, which he did. Surprisingly it was Clampa who was the next to go, playing over the top of a Taniyama ball to be bowled. 4-84 in 22nd. Takady, who was having his best season had even brought his No. 1 fan and if ever we needed him to impress it was now. Marcus had taken one ball to the rope but he was never comfortable and we were soon 5-89 (25th).

Our innings was at a critical point. Taniyama still had plenty of overs. We were going at just over 3 an over. It was starting to feel like it was slipping away but the lower order were no mugs with the bat on their day.
And this was their day.

The strategy would now seem clear – see off the threat of Tani-Iyer, don’t lose any more wickets, get this back on our terms, and then deal with the scoreboard.

Takady built a wall, scoring 3 off his first 22 balls. New batsman, Rui, was a little less hesitant and they took us slowly but at least surely to the 30th and 5-112. Around here, things started to happen.

Rather than drop his toolbox on every ball, Takady now opened it up and showed the whole range of his equipment! Having hacked through the spin chains, he cut, hooked, hammered, nailed and power-drilled to all parts of the ground. Rui added runs and they started to put the screws on the new and now tired bowlers. In the 32nd Rui was gone but he had set the mood (6-135).

Asala got stuck in right away, and although his timing was a little off he found empty spaces and scampered runs. Takady was still in DIY mode (his second 22 balls went for 37 with 8 fours). His driving was glorious. Almost anything on his hips went fine or square to the rope. He was in a loading zone and it read ‘Takady Parking ONLY’! Asala was stumped looking for runs (7-152) and made way for Muneeb.

We had filled in our hole, somewhat, but if our hole was less deep, MAX’s batting wasn’t. We would need more runs. We had five more overs.
Takady had begun to run out of tools (but not entirely). Muneeb put on his dancin’ shoes!! Over 36 went for a sedate 5. Over 37 for 10. Over 38 for 8. Over 39 for 18! Over 40 for 10! Takady planked a 6 to bring up his 50 (fourth of the season) and counter sunk it with a 4. Muneeb – and Sharks have seen him do this any number of times – took a dislike to dot balls, scoring off 10 of 11 deliveries, including two massive sixes. They smashed a 51-run partnership in five overs, got us to the psychological 200 and put the game back in our favour. Takady was out off the penultimate ball. Yugi calmly saw us home.

It was a great batting performance against a side that had a good attack and great spinners on a dry, turning pitch. We started reasonably well, but the middle order had to battle and scrounge to set up a chance of a decent score. Clampa held us together there. We looked in trouble at 5-89 but did not give up wickets in bags meaning each batsman knuckled down. The lower order, led by Takady and ably supported by Rui, Asala and Muneeb mounted a devastating counter-attack. MAX probably expected a sub-150 total, but in the blink of an eye-hand-coordination faced getting 5 an over off the best bowling attack in Japan on a temperamental wicket. The Shark tail was up and the boys were hungry!

Rui and Muneeb set us off with a good line but loose balls were put away through the bone-dry field. MAX skipped away until Muneeb got us on our way, a thick outside edge from Vinay flying straight into the safe hands of Asala at point (1-23 in 6th). One was two when in the next over Rui rapped the new batsman in front and up went the finger 2-27!

Taniyama looked rock-solid and was joined by Supun. This was a key pair and we wanted them gone. Dhugal knows his quarry so with Supun’s arrival came Mahesh and Clampa. Mahesh would send down his usual mystery mix, but Clampa was given a mission – bowl pace off, wide of the crease and pin them down. It worked a treat! After six overs Supun finally popped. He got under one from Clampa. Kazu at deep square steamed in off the rope. As the ball dropped he dived forward and clutched it clean as a whistle. A brilliant catch and a huge blow to MAX. Kazu rightly got the adoration of his teammates. 3-44 in the 14th Over.

Then Mahesh struck in the next over! Takahashi lobbed his very first ball from Mystery to short leg. Marcus exploded out from behind the stumps to take the catch centimetres off the ground! 4-48 at drinks and we were satisfied but there was still with work to do.

Post-drinks brought no joy to MAX as Clampa, Mahesh and then Dhugal and Yugi kept up the pressure. Hanif had joined Taniyama. Dhugal had set the field perfectly and the bowlers bowled to it. It was either singles or over the top. Hanif tried the latter and sent the ball hard and high deep into cow corner where Muneeb took another classic. 5-61 in the 19th we could start to sense the growing confidence that this was a game for the taking. Nonetheless the last five wickets would not be given up easily. You could almost stand this MAX batting on its head and they know how the fight it out. But now so do we.

The bowling and fielding were irresistible. There was no respite from either. The bats simply could not get it through the field without risk, and with the required rate rising and wickets falling at regular 3-4 over intervals, risks were what MAX had to take.

At 99 Dhugal removed Kobayashi with Marcus taking a knick behind (7 for). The field then claimed one for themselves. Kazu at deep square had been impassable all day. He gather yet one more smoothly and rocketed it back to the bowler’s end to catch the batsman short (8-111). Each celebration of a wicket went up a notch or two. Yugi had been his usual accurate self all day without luck so when he put an end to Taniyama’s long, long resistance the Sharks went nuts. The ball was top-edge over the ‘keeper. Clampa ran in and had to stretch low to take a fine catch at his ankles. 9-fer.

Prabath, who pulled of the heist of MAX’s semi-final win had taken the long handle over coming in at No. 10. And No.11 Hagihara could stick and hit. But there was to be no miracle win this time as Clampa again accepted a catch off Muneeb, this time a gentle lob. MAX all out 148 in the 36th over.
Sharks rushed from all points of the field, setting off a massive ‘Sharknado’ of a rolling maul in celebration.

It was a magnificent team effort in the field. All the bowlers shared in the wickets. The lines and lengths strangled the very strong batting line up. Dhugal set near impregnable fields all day and the field were sublime in supporting him and the bowlers. Some terrific catches were held and MAX had to earn every run. With the bat the runs were made by Doogs, Clampa, Takady and nice cameo’s by Rui and Muneeb. But even though they did not score much, Marcus and Kazu survived a difficult period in the middle overs. Everyone batted with intent.

We have been in the mix for so many years. Now we have our second Championship with a very young team that will only improve (many are World Cup-bound!). We could be celebrating a lot more often than nine years.

Thanks to the Selectors for the astute decisions over 2019. We backed our youth and they stood up.

Thanks to Dhugal for captaining, coaching and mentoring as always. Best captain in Japan.

Thanks to the WAGS, players and supporters who came all the way to see our win.

Thanks to Mihindu (Sano) and Sabaorish (Tigers) who did a wonderful job as umpires.

And thanks to MAX – a quality side and it makes beating them in the final all the more sweeter and satisfying.
Chiba Sharks Cricket Club – JCL Division One Champions 2019.