September 11, 2010

The Maritime of our lives

An epochal weekend, on which Newfoundland & Labrador lost both their games but took a hat-trick and picked up a Man-of-the-Match prize

Two weeks after it took place, I'm sure you've heard enough about the major cricketing event of the weekend of August 28th-29th. It's not as if there was anything else going on in the sport that could have distracted you. Still, just in case you don't know what happened in the Maritimes Twenty20 competition in Fredericton, New Brunswick, here's a quick run-through of the key moments.

I'm pleased to say that Cricket Newfoundland & Labrador managed to get the four players needed to turn our seven into an XI. To the men immortalised in the last postcard were added two more Newfoundlanders, Steve Brown and Dave Murphy, and two scholars from the University of New Brunswick, Jeff Mott and Abhishek Kar.

Less pleased were the umpires when they saw us lining up. The plum-coloured Walmart t-shirts with ironed-on provincial flags were one thing, but wearing shorts was deemed unprofessional, and I was told that John, Dave and Sujay had to cover up their legs. Unfortunately Sujay's nearest trousers were 177 kilometres away, so Dave had to dash home and retrieve a spare pair. Suitably redressed, the umpires decided we were in an acceptable state to play.

The round-robin mini-league began with us against the hosts, and we won. The toss. On a moisture-covered artificial wicket of uncertain bounce, which we'd never batted on before, I did the only sensible thing and asked Aditya, the NB captain, to have first use of the new ball.

Jeff and Gurman strolled to the crease, and NB's opening bowler, Dunu Eliaba, marked out his run-up. Gurman took guard, Dunu steamed in towards him, launched into his bowling action, and promptly served up a delivery that barely hit the plastic strip. So the first ball ever faced by a Newfoundland & Labrador batsman was a wide. A historic moment indeed.

The second delivery was inauspicious for different reasons. Gurman played a checked drive into the covers, set off for a quick single, and watched in consternation as Jeff failed to make his ground at the other end. Team NL 1 for 1 off 1 ball, and an opener trudging back to the pavilion without having faced a ball.

It quickly didn't get much better. Having just struck Cricket NL's first four, Gurman cut a shot straight to point, Abhishek became the second run-out victim, and I played all round a straight delivery, leaving us 14 for 4.

Cometh the collapse, cometh the man, and Rakesh spared our blushes with a fine 34, including two sixes and three fours. In the determined company of Ashwin, he managed to get us over the half-century mark, but once their partnership was broken, the innings fell away: 61 all out wasn't much of a total, but we could at least console ourselves it was the highest score ever made by a Cricket NL team.

Pulling rank as we took the field, I opened the bowling from the Aberdeen Street end, which seemed appropriate, given that my last match had been in north-east Scotland two years ago. Aberdeenshire's leading geological bowler will be reassured to know I have retained my ineffectiveness. It was left to Rakesh and Ashwin to double up again, claiming a scalp each, but the game was soon over as New Brunswick's batsmen overhauled our score for the loss of just those two wickets. The umpires lauded Rakesh's all-round efforts, however, and presented him with the Man-of-the-Match award, which quickly lifted us out of any post-match funk. One game played, one trophy - there really wasn't much to this provincial cricketing malarkey!

We had no more matches on the first day, so as the sun pounded down we were able to retreat to a shady spot and watch Nova Scotia defeat PEI, and then New Brunswick, before everyone headed off to a downtown Indian restaurant for a slap-up buffet.

Next day, to fit in the three remaining matches, the fixtures began with us against PEI at the disturbingly early time of 8.30am. Even more disturbingly, our entire XI was at the ground before the gates had been unlocked. Our keenness was soon rendered redundant, though, as the umpires inspected the pitch, found it dangerously dewy, and halted the start by an hour, reducing the match to 13 overs a side.

Having lost the toss, we were asked to field, and I finally bowled a straight ball to claim an lbw. Well, Rakesh was having none of this, and promptly bowled the other opener with the first ball of his spell. The No. 3 came in, and Rakesh bowled him too, and when PEI captain Nishant Grover was rapped on the pad for the hat-trick ball, we appealed in mad unison. And the finger went up!

This was the Never-Neverland of wildest dreams, and we should probably have left the field of play right then, just danced our way to the boundary and out through the gate. To sustain such form would be impossible, and despite some fine bowling from Ashwin, PEI's middle order bounced back to post 92 for 6. Our batting never got going, and we lost by 23 runs.

After New Brunswick's win over PEI in the next game, it was time for us to do battle with the undefeated Nova Scotia in the tournament's final match. Batting first, our only double-figured contribution came from wides, as the champions-elect skittled us out for 38.

It was a salutary lesson, and Nova Scotia knocked off the runs in five overs, but not before a very special moment for Newfoundland cricket. With the opening ball of his second over, our left-arm swing bowler Rob Butler pinned his Halifax team-mate Anirudh lbw to become the first Newfoundlander ever to take a wicket for his own province. The celebration was on a par with that for Rakesh's hat-trick.

So, with a 100% record, Nova Scotia were the 2010 Maritimes Twenty20 champions. New Brunswick's Rohan R Bandekar was voted bowler of the tournament, Nova Scotia captain Amit Joshi the top batsman, and the overall player of the competition was Hari Raghuraman (Nova Scotia), who was invited to join the Canada A squad.

Sincere thanks go to Aditya, Dunu and the rest of the Cricket New Brunswick guys for organizing such a great weekend. The 2011 tournament will take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and, assuming we can get out of a tough Atlantic qualifying group that includes Greenland, Nunavut, and St Pierre et Miquelon, we'll be back.

Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowling

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