I left from home at 930 am yesterday and came back at 730 pm as part of the Renaissance Education Foundation Cricket Tournament winning team. The tournament was played by 12 teams over two days. The 8 over games were played with a taped tennis ball, and each team had 8 players. And that's where the simplicity of the rules ended. The first wide in an over cost 1 run but every wide after that in the same over cost 2 runs. The same rule applied to no-balls as well. And to kill the MCC's rule book even more, free hits were awarded for waist high full tosses (and the usual over-stepping).
Our two group games took place on Saturday at the Travis County Cricket Grove (a picturesque ground that we share with another league team). The ground was split into two so that two games could take place simultaneously, and so when I was fielding at deep square leg in our side of the ground, I was also standing at cover point on the other side. Yes, the division of the ground made it a run fest, and we scored 134/2 in 8 overs in our first game. My services were not needed with the bat but I bowled a couple of overs for no wicket. The next group game was against our traditional taped tennis ball rivals (who for some reason changed their name to 'Old Pods'). We had not beaten them in the last 2 games that we played and so we were not a 100% confident that we would win convincingly (but, as a wise man in my team said "win win hai").
We picked up an important wicket early but we weren't consistent in our bowling. In such a small ground, anything slightly short or full was going to be hit for a boundary. The first ball I bowled was a flat off-spinner that was just short of a good length and it was pulled away for six. I then bowled a couple flat yorkers that were played back to me. The next ball was swept away for a four that I felt should have been stopped (I guess the Austin heat did the fielder there). I then took my time for my last ball, and decided to change the pace a bit. I bowled a slow, loopy off spinner, the batsman played early and I got an easy return catch. It felt good, considering I was not required to do anything with the bat. They scored 98 in 8 overs (par score for the size of the ground) and we finished it off in 6.4 overs, for the loss of one wicket. It did turn out to be a convincing victory in the end and we were through to the semifinals.
The semifinal turned out to be more eventful than we would have hoped for. We were playing on the actual matted wicket and against a team that did its bit in pissing us off. They batted first and after about 4 overs, their opening batsman could not run fast anymore because of his lack of fitness. He called for a runner and I told him that he was tired and not injured, and that he could not call for a runner. The umpire over-ruled our Captain's decision and allowed the runner for the batsman. Soon they were running for everything and our bowlers and fielders were getting frustrated. I came into bowl in the 5th over and the first ball I bowled was a full toss on the middle stump that the batsman cheekily paddled away to fine leg for four. He then played a stupid reverse sweep to the point fielder. Following that, I bowled a couple of quicker ones that he confidently picked twos off. I decided to vary the pace again, tossed a loopy off spinner on driving length outside the off stump and he drove it uppishly straight to covers. Their main batsman was out of there.
At the end of the 8 overs, they had reached 79. It was clear that our team was angry and there were talks of sending in a runner with the opening batsman just to spite the opponent. Luckily, better sense prevailed (for the time being) and we started off slowly in what was a much larger field. Soon, the chaos started again. A cameraman from a local news channel had come on to the field to cover the Cricket and both teams were not happy with this. A compromise was finally reached and we played three balls that would not be counted on the score-sheet. Trials, as we call it in street cricket. This seemed to affect the batsmen's concentration and the first legal delivery after that got rid of our opening batsman and we had our captain, PK, and NZ at the crease.
NZ called for a runner almost immediately and we could see that the fielding team were getting incensed. Shouts of 'run, run' from our team seemed to really anger the guy from the opposing team who started all this runner nonsense in the first place, and he showed the finger to one of our guys. My valiant attempts at making my fellow team mates see that Cricket was a gentleman's game failed and now there were quarrels happening almost every other ball. NZ played and missed and was given out because the umpire got intimidated by the appealing bowler. He gave the umpire his two cents before leaving the crease, and PK fell soon after to an accurate yorker.
This meant that I now had a chance to bring my team to safety with the bat. We were 5 down and we needed 23 of 14 balls. I missed the first ball and then took a single off the next. The first ball of the penultimate over was a chest high full toss and I pushed it to covers and started running. I looked over at the square leg umpire for a no-ball call but I saw no signal and so I made the foolish mistake of going for another run to keep up with the required run-rate. The throw was accurate and I was run-out by a distance. The umpire then extended his hand to declare a no-ball. I felt so terrible - I had just put so much pressure on the last batsman.
M walked in and I was to later find out that he said this to our much more accomplished batsman, D, standing at the other end - "When you bat, you do your thing and when I bat, you tell me what to do". The first ball he faced was a free hit and he picked a couple off it, but here's the kicker - it was another waist high full toss and so we got another free hit. The next free hit was a wide and the following ball was another waist high no-ball that was hit for another two. The following free hit was played over square leg for four by M and at the end of the over we needed 4 off 6 balls. 18 runs came off that penultimate over! In the last over, a single and the 2 run wide rule won us the game and we couldn't believe how we pulled off that win.
We then sat for about two hours as another eventful semifinal took place and it had its fair share of disagreements and quarrels. The final began when the afternoon sun was its peak and we batted first after losing the toss. We lost two wickets in the first over and it was clear that we were sluggish after sitting around doing nothing for two hours. It was then damage control time and PK and NZ played off an over cautiously before deciding to tee off. PK smashed a six over square leg and NZ pulled a bouncer over the fine leg fielder. It was great to see two attacking left handers flaying the tired bowling attack. We were cruising at 15 runs/over at a stage but then both PK and NZ got out. We lost some more wickets soon and I went into bat in the last over. I was not in there for long as I played the first ball I faced onto my stumps and thus ended a disappointing tournament for me, personally, as a batsman. We ended up with 106 in 8 overs and we were very confident of pulling off the championship win.
I was asked to take up the wicket-keeping duties since our last keeper had struggled a bit in the previous two games. I took up wicket-keeping in the 8th standard because there was no other way for me to get into the playing 11 of my school team. I love wicket-keeping because you are always in the game and you do get to understand the wicket and the batsmen much better. Oh, and I also like to show off a lot. While the bowler marks his run up, I stand up to the stumps and start practising moving left to right, right to left and act as if I'm stumping the batsman. This act was so successful one time in school Cricket that the batsman thought that I was the Tamil Nadu State Wicket Keeper.
I wasn't required to bowl and I was glad - my head was aching due to the incredible heat and the fact that I hadn't eaten anything but bananas and gatorade did not help my cause. The tiredness did make me drop a catch and then subsequently miss a run-out chance. The batsmen were stranded in the middle of the pitch watching me drop the catch and my shy at the stumps, standing merely five feet away from the stumps, missed the leg stump by a whisker. It didn't prove to be costly as we took the game and the tournament with a convincing 30 run win. And to make it extra sweet, we beat the same team we had defeated to clinch our Twenty20 championship last year.
My Cricket coach in India used to tell me that there is nothing better than to win a tournament with your mates. As usual, he was right.