The day did not begin that auspiciously. 2010-11 Saracen player of the year Peter Wooden pulled out with fever just before kick-off, and super vice Kunal “KP” Parwani, stepped in despite being only 80% fit with a foot injury. Tartars then won the toss and decided to bat.
The seventeen overs until drinks were completely extraordinary. KP and Nigel Shroff would bowl their full allotment of 8 overs each, and Azeem Ebrahim came on for the last one with his devilish twirl. I hope readers will understand if I put down the stats for these players. KP: 8 overs, 4 maidens, 14 runs, 2 wickets. Shroff: 8 – 2 – 28 – 2. Ebrahim: 0.4 (drinks taken at the fall of a wicket) – 0 – 4 – 1. The stats do not tell the full story, but give an indication of the colossal pressure exerted, similar to that at full ocean depth. As Lyle Tate, marine biologist in the brilliant film Submarine puts it, “Any human who found themselves at that level, well, they would die immediately; they would implode, they wouldn’t stand a chance.” Exactly.
KP and Shroff bowled dot ball after dot ball and the pressure of having nothing at all to hit caused predictable results. KP sent back opener Usman Manj from his sixth delivery of the match (KP has the rather fantastic habit of lethal opening overs), aided by a superb diving catch from Waqaz Barkat at second slip. Shroff and KP then asphyxiated Ravi Lulla and Babar Hyat; after four overs Tartars had scored 1 run (and that was a wide, one of only seven extras given away in the entire innings).
The run-rate then accelerated as Ravi took two Greek-debt-risk-level singles, surviving only because the throws narrowly missed the stumps. Hyat then attempted to smack Shroff around, but you can’t do that to quality pace bowling, and he found Tim Parkinson at mid-off. Tartars were now two down for three runs in six overs. Kinchit Shah came in and slogged a couple of sixes – the run rate rising to nose-bleed levels (two per over) – before KP cleaned up Lulla with a sharp C&B in the ninth over. At the fall of the wicket Tartars were 16 for 3.
Afzaal Haider came in and he and Kinchit set about repairing some of the damage, raising the score to 46 as drinks approached. But Afzaal could not resist another Shroff leg-cutter, and edged a tough chance to Vikash, who snaffled an excellent catch at second slip. Saracens rightly gave standing ovations for the superb opening spells of KP and Shroff, and the captain turned to “Extreme” Azeem Ebrahim for the last over before drinks. Kinchit, perhaps relaxing his guard (but more likely simply mesmerized by the hypnotic twirl of Extreme) slapped his fourth ball back to the bowler: C&B, gone!
At drinks the captain was naturally ebullient and delighted, but urged continuing vigilance and pressure: we had got ourselves into a superb position but Tartars are dangerous opponents and yet had the potential to wreak havoc, especially with a cavalier batsman like Devang Shah replacing Kinchit.
Robbie Bacon came on for his Saracens debut, and continued where Nigel had left off, with a great dot-to-dot maiden. Devang Shah looked like he might indeed cause some pain, smacking Azeem for 10 in two balls, but then the earl of twirl looped one of his mystery balls enticingly into the off-stump area (the captain, from mid-on, could hear various fizzing and crackling noises as it arced through the air) and Devang hoisted it high in the region of Zubair Nizami. You simply don’t give steepler-specialist Nizami these kinds of chances: he is AAA-rated under the high ball, and he back-pedalled away in delight after taking the catch. Tartars were now 56 for 6 in the 19th over.
Make that 67 for 7 in the next over, as Bacon thudded a leg-stump yorker past the next Tartar’s bat for his first Saracen wicket. Parkinson then came on in place of Azeem, and took two in two balls – in-ducker through the gate and then a sharp nick to flawless keeper Ritesh Jhaveri – to leave Tartars on the brink at 68 for 9. Keen cricket watchers know that the tenth wicket can sometimes be problematic; Australia, for instance, last week made 55% of their runs from the last wicket stand (admittedly going from 21 for 9 to 47 all out) so the captain was a bit hectoring in urging continued effort. Bacon did not disappoint, instantly inducing a chip from Shamal Perrera to mid-off where the captain himself scooped it just above the turf.
Tartars were 68 all out in 21.1 overs. I urge the rereading of that sentence. This was the best fielding performance of which the captain has ever been a part. It was simply unrelenting pressure, and all the time backed up by crisp fielding, fine catching, selfless backing-up. It was not perfect – three catches did go down and we did bowl three wides – but it was pretty close to it. Nevertheless, Saracens have had an ugly habit of making a hash of run chases, and just a week earlier we had been skittled for 67 ourselves against Kai Tak; the captain, while delighted at the fielding performace, urged resolution and responsibility from the batters to get us to victory.
Vikash and Nigel opened the innings, and it was evident the mood and talent that they took out to the middle. Haider and Mustapha came steaming in at them, but balls onto the pads were swatted imperiously to the boundary, and after two overs the Saracen run rate was close to 15. The intensity of the pressure revealed itself in the Tartars extras count: they would bowl 17 in the 8.2 overs it took Nigel (22 not out), Vikash (20), Waqaz (10) and Robbie (1 n.o.) to get the runs.
This was a delirious, delicious, and even quasi-linear performance. Saracens are sometimes accused of being a one-man team; but as the captain pointed out, we are an eleven-man team, and teamwork – one of the modern world’s most easily abused corporate clichés – exists precisely in what we did today. It was demonstrated, for example, in the selfless fielding of Nick Brennan and Simandeep Singh, who didn’t get to showcase their batting and bowling skills but were always where they needed to be, backing up throws which were never misfielded, tirelessly presenting the Tartars with a wall of white which proved impossible to scale or penetrate, except at extreme risk.
The captain took proud possession of the Vachha Shield for 2011-12, and dedicates it to Saracens past, present, and future. He also appreciates very much that he was able to accept the shield, named in honour of her husband Jungu Vachha, from Mrs Mani Vachha in the presence of her sons Shiroy, Shiraz, and Yarman – Saracens all.
Saracens were: Vikash Vaswani, Nigel Shroff, Waqaz Barkat, Robbie Bacon, Simandeep Singh, Ritesh Jhaveri (wk), Nick Brennan, Tim Parkinson (c), Zubair Nizami, Azeem Ebrahim, Kunal Parwani
By Tim Parkinson