November 20, 2007

Israel relegated to European Division 3 after narrow loss to Croatia

Herschel Gutman sweeps during his innings of 44 against Croatia © Israel Cricket
The historical first game of cricket to be played in Israel couldn't have been a better advert for the game. There was atmosphere, buzz and tension throught the day, which reached it's peak as the final over began with Israel requiring six runs to win with one wicket in hand. It was a battle of David v Goliath proportions; the towering Croatian fast bowler Philip Siljeg with ball in hand, 20-year old Yaniv Razpurker, the pride of Israel's development program, with the team's hopes on his young shoulders. Razpurker had slammed a magnificent straight six a couple of overs earlier and more of the same was required. However a pin-point yorker off the second ball of the over flattened Razpurker's off stump, dashed Israel's hopes and gave Croatia a place in European Division 2.

Having won the toss and decided to bat first, the Croatian openers, brothers Paul and John Vujnovich, safely negotiated the first few overs, although Israel should have grabbed the breakthrough when Paul Vujnovich edged left hander Sanjay Gupta to slip but the chance was grassed. With the score on 32 after 10 overs, the first wicket finally came with Isaac Massil's first ball pulled firmly by Paul Vjnovich (16) to mid wicket where Danny Hotz dived forward to take a stunning catch inches off the ground. By now the runs had almost completely dried up for Croatia, with Gupta having settled on a perfect line and length. He bowled his nine overs through without a break, returning the remarkable figures of 0 for 14.

Just like with the first bowling change, the second bowling change brought immediate success for Israel with Christopher Pivac (8) playing back to Steven Shein's first ball only to be trapped LBW. Herschel Gutman then got amongst the wickets, taking a sharp return catch to remove Jeffrey Grzanic (0) and got Anthony Govorko (0) leg before to leave Croatia at 63 for four. John Vunovich was playing the anchor role perfectly, but needing to force the pace he was lucky to survive two chances - the first a relatively straightforward catch to long on and the second a missed stumping. With Gutman (2 for 25) and Shein (1 for 18) completing their spells, the last few overs were in the hands of Isaac Talkar and Massil, and when Talkar picked up two wickets in two balls - Pero Kastelan (17) and Vujnovich for a well played 51 - Croatia were 106 for six. But Craig Sinovich (13) and Siljeg (27*) added invaluable runs off the final few overs, using the extra pace of Talkar to score predominantly behind the wicket. Massil was brilliant in taking two for 27, but Talkar proved expensive, picking up two wickets but leaking 57 runs. Israel would have settled for a target of 153 before the innings started, but having bowled brilliantly for almost all of the innings, should have restricted the visitors to even less.

Israel are all to familiar with top order collapses, but even by their standards what transpired in the minutes after the lunch interval was a disaster. Both openers, Shalom Rubin and Dovi Myers edged to the slip cordon without scoring, and 5 for two became 9 for three when Gupta (6) was leg before to the impressive John Vujnovich. Croatia may have been thinking Ceaseria golf course by three o'clock when Gutman played uppishly to mid on, but the chance was not taken. Not for the first time over the last decade, Isaac Massil was left to rescue Israel's innings. He was rattled by two blows to the helmet by Siljeg, using his height to get sharp bounce with the new ball. But Massil began showing his class and experience, playing himself in before starting to unleash his wide array of shots. The highlight was a straight drive for six. Gutman may not have the elegance of Massil, but makes up for it with good shot selection, concentration and patience. He found the boundary a couple of times through the off side, but otherwise was mostly content nudging into the gaps for singles. The partnership of 62 was finally broken when Massil (29) was bowled by Paul Vujnovich.

Hotz was fortnuate to survive his first ball, which clipped his leg stump but did not dislodge the bail. Thereafter he played very responsibly, adding 29 with Gutman to take the score to 100 before falling for 14. Captain Stanley Perlman strode to the wicket with 53 required off the last 11 overs, a situation tailor-made for his style of play. He did not disapoint, coming down the track and smashing Siljeg through mid wicket for two boundaries. However going for one big hit to many, he could only sky Sinovich up in the air and was caught for 12. Needed to switch gears with the required run rate over five an over, Gutman's excellent innings of 44 was ended by a good catch at mid wicket where Pivac held on to a firm pull. Shai Bangerra (8) and Razpurker pushed the singles aggressivley but when Bangerra was out, Israel were 130 for 8 and in serious trouble. Talkar and Razpurker refused to throw in the towel, adding 16 for the 9th wicket, including Razpurker's six which sent the crowd into pandemonium. But elation turned to despair when Talkar (4) was run out, and last man Shein joined Razpurker at the crease with Israel needing seven off 12. They couldn't do it, falling five runs short.

Despite the huge disapointment with the result, the day was a huge success for Israel cricket. Both teams can be complimented on playing the game in exactly the right spirit. The weather was perfect. Over 50 youngsters came up by bus from the South and loved every minute, making plenty of noise in cheering on their team. The facilities and logistical organization were up to international standard. The visiting teams and officials had only compliments for their hosts. The challenge now for the ICA is to continue marching forward with their development program, to ensure that the future generation will be able to play as well as they cheered.