This year Crusaders won the toss again, but decided to bowl, inserting Saracens onto what was believed to be a green seaming wicket. Aditya Kanthan and Damian “K-dog” Kelleher opened the bowling, and sound found themselves being pummeled by Saracens Shroff and Barkat. This season we have opened strongly in every game, and once again Nigel and Waqaz got us off to a flyer. Nevertheless, they did give a couple of chances, which were badly missed. This would be relevant at all times, but it had extra resonance when Saracens came to bowl…
The opening stand was 66, and put us in a great position. Waqaz departed C&B for 37, and after Matt Collins was unable to reproduce last year’s bludgeoning innings, a hamstrung Peter Wooden limped out at number four. Playing well within himself, Peter nudged the ball around while Nigel continued his swashbuckling assault on the Crusaders bowling. There was one particularly imperious swat of an Aditya delivery – a crunch over mid-on – that had the spectators purring. He was finally run out for a superb 65, as he and Peter looked to push the run-rate up in the final third of the innings.
Saracens then lost a couple of quick wickets before Tim Parkinson came in; he and Peter gorged themselves on a labouring attack. Peter was out just before stumps for a crucial 48, Tim finished not out on 36, and Saracens registered a healthy 208-6 in their 35 overs.
As we went out to field we had our usual quick chat about how we play cricket. Critical to our success this year and last has been, I firmly believe, a team spirit which shows itself in genuine support when things go badly. It is easy to be happy and chirping when bowling sides out cheaply; a team truly shows its mettle, however, when things are non-linear, on the downswing, when a couple of fours have whistled through the ring and a partnership is starting to form.
Teamwork also comes through pressure, regardless of who gets the actual wickets. Kunal Parwani exemplifies this ethic. Last year he took a wicket with his first ball; this year, he bowled 6 overs for 13 runs. A team needing to score at six an over facing that sort of metronomic accuracy is going to have a hard time; at the other end Nigel Shroff was bowling quick away cutters and both Crusader openers, succumbing to this dual pressure, tried to attack him. First, there was a regulation chance to steepler-specialist Zubair Nizami; running in, he misjudged it a touch and spilled it. Two overs later, the same pressure caught out K-dog, and he chipped over Nigel’s head, where the captain dropped a straightforward chance. This was utterly galling for the two fielders, and for the rest of the team (notably Nigel, of course, who should have had both openers out). Instead of quiet despondency, however, Saracens responded by simply continuing to play tough cricket – the balls were bowled in the same place, the chirp on the field continued, and the next chance – a much tougher one to Ming Li – was snaffled brilliantly and Nigel had his deserved wicket. Next ball he pinned the other opener, and then KP destroyed Crusader number three’s stumps with the first ball of his next over. Three balls, three wickets. Superb, resilient, tough Saracens cricket.
Crusaders never recovered from this start, and were always behind the required run-rate. Saracens, however, never allowed them a moment’s respite, and just kept the metaphorical foot on the neck. Ming Li came on to bowl his leg-spin, and absolutely bamboozled the Crusader middle order. He picked up three wickets as the opposition looked to smash their way out of trouble – you simply can’t do that to top quality spin bowling (as the world has found out about Graeme Swann). The captain came on after Nigel’s magnificent 3-35 spell and, despite getting dumped for six during the Crusader captain’s cameo, picked up three late wickets. One of those was a sharp snick to keeper Ritesh Jhaveri, who continued his faultless season behind the stumps.
It’s easy to write, “this was a team performance” after any game. But this is no cliché. Regardless of runs scored or wickets taken, each player was a full part of this performance. The captain was particularly struck by the fielding attitude during Ming Li’s spell: any attempts to break out of Ming’s pressure were back foot shots through the off-side. But Matt Collins at point, Saumil Shah at cover, and Peter Wooden at extra cover simply blanketed the whole area. When the throws came in, the leg side field of Shiroy Vachha and Zubair Nizami were backing up, doing further inglorious but totally necessary work for the team.
This match was one of the three needed to decide the destiny of this year’s Vachha Shield. Saracens currently hold the trophy, and will be looking to retain it in the decisive match v Tartars later in the season. For today, however, we should luxuriate in the warm afterglow of a magnificent performance, one of which the captain was utterly proud to be a part. We are the Saracens.
Saracens were: Waqaz Barkat, Nigel Shroff, Matt Collins, Peter Wooden, Ritesh Jhaveri (wk), Saumil Shah, Tim Parkinson (c), Zubair Nizami, Kunal Parwani, Ming Li, Shiroy Vachha
by Tim Parkinson