To say the outfield was lush is understating it: vegetation and other herbaceous matter were abundant, and from the outset even the sweetest shot along the deck would struggle to reach three-quarters of the way to the boundary. Wooden and Collins kicked things off, and the astro wicket immediately showed uneven bounce and pace. Wooden fell C&B to a ball that stopped on him, and Collins – after some trademark bludgeonry – was caught in the deep. Enter Ravi Sujanani.
Ravi scored 44 runs, sincerely worth more than a century on any other ground. As Saracens fell around him, he was steadfast and resolute, punching shots around the wicket with class and elegance. Dawood, Parkinson, McAnulty, Nizami added a handful of runs in brief stays at the crease; Ravi stood firm and held us all together. Robin Gill came in at 8, and his experience showed as he shepherded the tail after Ravi’s eventual demise. Together with Chan, Ebrahim, and new vice-captain Kunal Parwani, Rob helped us inch towards 119 in our 35 overs (a large chunk of that coming from extras, it has to be said).
Mainlanders started like a house on fire; but we knew they possessed an enormous threat in captain Najeeb. He smashed Parwani and Dawood around, and Mainlanders racked up 40 without loss after 7 overs – the lush outfield matters not if you are going to dump it out of the ground…
The single element that most impressed the captain was the calm resolve of this Saracens outfit. We knew Mainlanders had the Hong Kong captain, we knew he alone could win them the match, but we stuck to our own game and it paid off. In Kunal’s final determined over, he induced Najeeb’s leading edge and the chance was snaffled by Wooden at short cover; the height he threw the ball in celebration revealing the importance of the wicket.
Despite being somewhat off-colour, McAnulty had grittily toiled through three overs when he and Parwani were replaced by the spin twins of Wooden and Sujanani. There followed sixteen overs that were a cricketing form of strangulation: increasing and relentless asphyxiating pressure on Mainlanders. Their runs dried up, and wickets came with frequency: a catch from silly mid-off Parkinson, a fine athletic pouch from Dawood, an amazing C&B from Sujanani (a full-length dive for a one-handed super-grab), a calm pluck-from-the-skies effort from “extreme” Azeem Ebrahim, and a classy stumping from Gill (plus one cruelly denied by the lack of referral ability at Mission Road).
Saracens kept pressing all the time, and at the end of the twins’ spell, only three wickets remained to be taken, with Mainlanders needing 35 off 9 overs. Ebrahim, after just taking his catch, came on to replace the unplayable Wooden, and proved just as unplayable in his single over: a first-ball stumping as he lured a young Mainlander out of his crease, then a fifth-ball LBW. 1 over, 2 wickets, 0 runs. Dawood had replaced Sujanani, and skittled the last man in the next over.
Saracens in the field were outstanding. Under the cosh from the outset, there was no wilting, no petulance at luck or decisions not going our way - just utter grit and resolution. A magnificent performance. Gill was calm brilliance behind the stumps; Wooden was completely bamboozling with his left-arm tweak, but man of the match – for both his batting and bowling – was Ravi Sujanani.
Saracens were: Peter Wooden, Matt Collins, Ravi Sujanani, Waqar Dawood, Tim Parkinson (c), Chris McAnulty, Zubair Nizami, Rob Gill (wk), Louis Chan, Azeem Ebrahim, Kunal Parwani.