Chiba Sharks vs. MAX, Sano International Cricket Ground
April 2nd, 2016 by Paul Grant
To the untrained eye and to most outside observers, the words ‘cricket’ and ‘Japan’ are not exactly two words that go together in most cricket pub talk around globe. Cricket usually associates itself with Ashes, Tests, T20 and gone for a duck, while when one thinks of Japan it’s usually synonymous with Mt. Fuji, Pokémon, Sushi and Cherry Blossoms. If you were to show to your mates a photo of cricket played during cherry blossom season it would probably get a “Whoa! That’s pretty nice!” or a “That looks like something I would love to do”. To the lovers of cricket and Japan it’s probably a match made in heaven (in every sense of the word).
2016 is the year that cricket lovers in Japan have waited and hoped for a long time. With the addition of practice nets and the renaming of ‘Tanuma High School’ to the “Sano International Cricket Ground” (SICG), cricket is coming of age in Japan and what better way to mark the arrival of these two landmark events in Japan cricket than a JCL clash of league heavyweights.
MAX are a side that are dangerous if left unattended. Like a pot of boiling potatoes, if you pay no attention to them they boil dry and become pretty hard to get out. Additionally they are the reigning kings of the JCL and will do anything to anyone who tries to steal their crown. Chiba is a side still stung by a narrow semi-final loss to arch rivals Wombats last year and are hungry (for boiled potatoes?) for a fair dinkum crack at MAX’s title on the JCL’s biggest stage. Could there be no better match to christen the Sano International Cricket Ground than this?
In the corresponding fixtures last year MAX won both but were pushed a little. Neither side would want to kick off 2016 with an ‘L’ in the head to head column. Both sides had a few personnel changes for this game with MAX missing their crack wicketkeeper Supun and their reliable seamer Yuuta Obata. Sharks had two of their key regulars missing with 2015 ‘diamond in the rough’ Vivek on sabbatical, and ‘cult hero’ Takady unavailable, which opened the door for three new/young faces in with Gaurabh, Marcus and Muneeb all making their JCL division one debut.
Captain Dhugal won the toss and elected to make use of the daylight.
Prashant and Navin kicked off our 2016 campaign watchfully and tentatively with both batsmen struggling to pick up the pace of the wicket. MAX began the game minus new skipper Taniyama who was ‘traffically’ delayed. Dhugal seized upon the advantage and had Vicky throw the pads on potentially as a pinch hitter in the event that either Prashant or Navin would be dismissed to make the most of being a fielder short. Which is exactly what happened.
Prashant misjudged a lofted drive to mid-off which sent Vicky to the crease as an early statement of intent. Although the SICG is the international home of Japan cricket with a great training facility, it is yet to acquire an electronic scoreboard with instant replay but those at the ground could be forgiven for thinking that it was an instant replay when Navin followed Prashant to the sheds with a carbon copy dismissal two balls later. This sent Dhugal to the crease and with the Sharks in familiar territory at 2-12, and the belated arrival of Taniyama to the ground almost ready to bowl, made things a little more grim for the Sharks.
Despite losing the two wickets, and with now a full opposition in the field, Vicky was still in the mood for runs and as he and Dhugal successfully saw off Hagihara and Shukla to begin their business of making some runs. Runs were coming fairly easily (five an over for the next 12 overs) with former captain Kobayashi and current captain Taniyama setting different fields for the same ball. Taking the score and the partnership past fifty the sharks players were starting to breathe a collected sigh of relief as the dreaded early collapse was somewhat easily negotiated.
After a few overs of fairly pedestrian bowling, Vicky and Dhugal both looked comfortable and set for a long stay until Thilina flighted a ball for Vicky to play all over and lose his castle for a well compiled and well-timed 33 bringing an end to a 76 run partnership. Perhaps the biggest partnership for the Sharks first XI in a few years. Murad joined Dhugal at the crease and as MAX sensed an opening they brought on their two key spin options into play which proved successful as Murad found the going tough and found his castle besieged and toppled not too long after. This brought to the crease Marcus who was in no mood be dictated to by the two MAX bowlers and made a statement of intent by sending Taniyama to the boundary for four. (Perhaps a sign of two of Japan’s brightest future stars facing off in what could be one of many, many fierce battles between the two. One could draw comparisons to a young Shane Warne and a Young Sachin Tendulkar… Watch this space…)
Sadly, for Marcus he was perhaps a little unlucky to have been adjudged LBW to become Vinay’s second wicket for an exciting and entertaining five from five balls. 5/112 with still 18 overs to bat the Sharks looked to Asala to steady the ship and stick with Dhugal who was going rather nicely passing his 50 in the process. Asala, began cautiously against the imperious and always dangerous pair of Iyer and Taniyama and looked to get some runs on the board with a nicely timed boundary back past the bowlers ears. He could perhaps feel a little aggrieved at being given LBW to Hagihara who was brought back to extract some middle order Sharks wickets. Muneeb, another first XI debutant, looked to be a little nervous in his stay at the crease but he scored his first runs for the Sharks with a double which would have helped his confidence. Unfortunately, it seemed his nerves may have gotten the better of him as he looked to get off strike with a quick single. But as a general rule Hagihara, who is not to be trifled with as he is one of the sharper fielders in the MAX outfit, threw down the stumps and brought an end to Muneeb’s stay. At 7/135 and 16 overs to go the score was nowhere near enough against a side with a quality top five batsmen.
But the Sharks have a long batting order and PG in at nine showed just that. Sensing that there were still plenty of runs to get Dhugal put the foot down and accelerated the run rate with a lot of great running between wickets through ones and two’s and the Sharks were back up at seven runs an over. It’s a lesson in cricket for anyone that quick smart running (risk free) can take the momentum from a bowling side to a batting side in the space of three or four overs (a lesson sharks should be looking to use throughout this season) Then in the 32nd over a landmark event in Sharks history occurred when Dhugal nudged a ball down to a rather portly gentleman at fine leg for a single to bring up his second 100 for the Chiba Sharks Cricket Club. A true captain’s knock against some of Japans best bowlers AND when his side needed him.
With a ton under the belt, eight overs to go at 7/180 and PG looking rather untroubled it was just about time to light the fireworks, and sensing this Dhugal attempted to put Vinay over the ropes for a maximum but again found Hagihara trolling the deep mid-wicket boundary. A very well made even century was well received by the Sharks members on the boundary. 8/181 and Yosuke coming out meant that there was still runs to be made and the young Japanese maestro did so with a brilliantly timed cover drive for four. Yosuke and PG were busy being nuisance value to the MAX bowlers, seeing off a wicketless Taniyama (perhaps something you may not read very often this year) and putting on 27 runs and taking the score past 200 for the 9th wicket. PG, then looking for runs in the dying overs, got a top edge to third man where the injured Kobayashi took the catch to end the Aussie-battler’s innings for a supportive 19 which brought the third debutant to the wicket Gaurabh. Gaurabh can be forgiven for being a little nervous, as a batsman it’s always hard to come in at 11 in the dying overs and be expected to score as many runs as possible. Unfortunately he fell when setting off for a single and was run out without troubling the scorers but the Sharks can be confident in him as he impressed in training and looks to be a real handy addition to the middle order. Sharks all out for 208 with Yosuke not out on 12. Would it be enough? We will know in about 1000 words.
208 on the board meant that MAX would have to work hard for their runs. They do have the batsmen to get them there, however the Sharks have the firepower and the fielding skills to stop them. Either way SICG was going to host a thriller.
Looking for variation Dhugal threw the ball to Yosuke to open the innings against the canny Amigo Kobayashi and Vinay. It’s fair to say that there were some off season cobwebs in the early overs as Yosuke and fellow opener PG found it hard to find range with swing and length. After only three overs MAX had gotten the score to 34 fairly rapidly.
The first break would come when PG finally got one of his in-swingers on target and dismissed Kobayashi for 15 from 7 balls. The Sharks didn’t have to wait too long before they were in again with new skipper Taniyama tickling one through to Marcus for a golden duck ending a not a good day for the skipper. (Lesson two for the day, momentum for a bowling side can change in the space of a few balls) PG on a hat-trick with Hanif in to face the hat-trick ball which PG will be the first to admit wasn’t one of his greatest (A long hop outside off stump). Hanif, although looked seriously dangerous and threatened to take the game away from the Sharks. He was soon to go, with Vicky taking his wicket for the umpteenth time in the seventh over and a rout was potentially on with three of MAX’s best in the shed with still 150 runs to get. There was some resistance with Vinay looking solid and Rawat proving stubborn and at times rather frustrating resistance for the Sharks.
Gaurabh was bought in for his first spell with the ball for the Sharks and really impressed with some nicely controlled outswing bowling. He was desperately unlucky on numerous occasions, beating the bat and encouraging edging through the vacant second slip region. At this point the runs were still flowing and rather more concerning for Dhugal was that the wickets were too drying up with the run rate at 7 (3/91 from 13). It was time for Muneeb to bowl his first ball for the Sharks and what a first ball it was. Fast, full and straight and for the batsmen it was a “WTF” moment but luckily for him he was able to jam down on it and keep it from rolling back onto his stumps. It was a battle of nerves for young Muneeb as he found it a little tough against Vinay and couldn’t quite find his range, but there were some very promising signs for the Sharks as he was able to bowl with some good pace and swing. A real prospect for the future.
Vinay and Rawat took the runs to get under 100 with plenty of overs to go. The pair were looking set until the ever reliable Vicky took Rawat’s wicket with some patient bowling. 4/125 and the game in the balance and if I was a betting man I would have been very cautious (especially with Vinay approaching his 50) laying down my hard earned on either side.
However, “runs on the board” are always the fielding side’s extra man. MAX’s number six batsman proved very frustrating for the Sharks as he looked to be batting like a millionaire (no lid, no technique and no care for the situation of the game) and made some valuable runs, proving to be a good steadier. It took a brilliant piece of fielding from the deep by Yosuke to dismiss this thorn in the Sharks’ side with a direct hit with one stump to aim at.
Dhugal played the tinker man role in throwing the ball to Navin and Prashant for overs to try and extract a wicket from the part timers who both chipped in with an over of mixed fortunes.
Vinay was slowly running out of partners as the Shark’s bowlers made some more inroads into the middle order. Shukla provided some stability for Vinay and sensing this, Vinay started playing more shots as the run rate was coming down and the light was fading.
PG returned and delivered almost immediately, removing Shukla’s middle stump and then in his next over dismissed the solid and safe Vinay for a patient 68 who spooned a catch to Gaurabh for his first catch for the Sharks. This wicket just about brought the end of the MAX resistance but Hagihara still harbored ambitions to pull it off and made some daring singles to put the Sharks on the backfoot but when Thilina sent a catch to ‘fielder of the day’ Yosuke from Dhugal’s bowling it was all but over. Hagihara then followed the slow procession back to the sheds as he was caught at point by PG.
At nine down and still needing 14 runs it was left to the 10 and 11 MAX boys to do it but hope was quickly extinguished as Dhugal quite rightly capped off a great day by taking the final catch off his own bowling to send the Sharks into celebration. This was a great win for the Shark’s boys and proved that patience is the key in both batting and bowling. It was also a great show of depth being undermanned in the bowling department as they were the Sharks bowlers and fielders stood up.
Dhugal took best on ground honors with 100 and 3/15 was well supported by Vicky with 33 and 2/27 and PG with 19 and 4/41. Yosuke toiled and was patient with 12 and 0/41 while Gaurabh went luckless with a great spell of 0/24 from six. A great even battle to kick off the new era in Japanese cricket and one thinks that there could be more in the very near future between these two sides.