By Lakshminarayanan Kaushik Rangaraj (17S06P) and guest writer Aahan Gopinath Achar (17S03J). Pictures by Liu Xin Yu (18S05A) and the Raffles Photographic Society.
ACS(I): 110/6 in 20 overs (Anirudh – 39)
RI: 81/10 in 17.2 overs (Karthik – 24)
Rain had plagued the whole A Division Cricket season. Keeping with the theme, the finals too were marred with foul weather. Due to unrelenting showers, they took place over 2 days, 15th and 16th May 2017.
RI played in the A Division finals against their perennial rivals ACS(I), having smashed VJC by 9 wickets in the semifinals to book a berth in the final. Although the Rafflesians lost their group stage game by a mere 9 runs, they were hopeful of pulling off an upset and beating favourites ACS(I) to clinch the gold. However, they entered the finals missing star all-rounder and vice-captain Laavanya Kejriwal (17S07B) due to illness, and with several players battling injuries. On the other hand, ACS(I) headed into the game having convincingly beaten every team that stood before them and ultimately ran off as clear winners, winning by 29 runs in a stop-start game due to rain.
The game started with RI captain Aahan Achar (17S03J) miraculously winning the toss. He elected to bowl as planned, sticking with the strategy of restricting the opponents to low totals and chasing it down with a power-packed top order. The Rafflesian opening bowlers got off to a good start, with Mustafa (18SO6Q) and Dineru (17SO6C) pressuring the ACS(I) openers with tight lines and good variations. However, eventually Yuvraj (ACS(I)) broke his shackles with an assertive six over mid-wicket off Mustafa.
Looking to make a change after the pacers were unable to make a breakthrough, Aahan turned to fellow left arm spinner Karthik Mohan (18SO6Q). Karthik got Yuvraj stumped as he charged down, looking to hit. What followed was a mini-collapse by the ACS(I) batsmen. Karthik had ACS(I) captain Somil caught, and bowled brilliantly after he punched the ball straight back. Shardul was dismissed by Dineru trying to drive through the covers. ACS(I)’s middle order then dug deep to survive until drinks, happy to pick singles and punish the rare loose delivery as the ACSians headed into the break at a threatening 47-3. While things looked even at the mid-innings break, ACS(I) had the upper hand as they had a deep batting order filled with capable hitters. They looked to push for a score in excess of 125.
After the break, RI employed a pace-spin combo of Aahan and Akshay (17S06O), who kept things tight and built pressure on the ACS(I) batsmen. Akshay expertly varied his pace and probed outside off while Aahan bowled with good flight and dip. The runs dried up for ACS(I), leading to their player Suyash going for a panic run and getting run out by Muhsin (17S06R) from square leg. Muhsin himself had an eventful few overs before that, with the batsmen picking him out perfectly on some occasions. However, once the duo completed their 4 over quota, ACS(I) capitalised on a poor over from Karthik as he saw a couple of half trackers disappear over the roped for 6s.
Dineru and Mustafa returned and kept their lines tight once again to restrict ACS(I) to 110 after 20. Dineru saw 2 deliveries sail over the ropes off the blade of Vikas (ACS(I)) but struck back with 2 well-deserved wickets in the death, showing immense calm under pressure. It was an applaudable performance by him, especially as he was playing with a sprained ankle. The injury had ruled out him out of the group stage games, and he had not completely recovered by the finals.
Initially, RI seemed to have learnt their lessons from previous games. They started off cautiously, having lost their key one down batsman Laavanya. Rahman (18S06R). Mustafa slowly ramped up their scoring as they spent more time on the crease, resolved to chase down the tricky total. However, Rahman found himself caught behind on 10 looking to force a shot off a length ball from Anirudh (ACS(I)) which kicked up. Karthik’s introduction to the crease saw RI engage in a cavalier approach to the chase. With the rain pelting down and the thoughts of their depleted batting order and the DL target at the back of their minds, the dynamic batsman swung for the fences, clearing the rope on several occasions with ease.
ACS(I) firmly stuck to their strategy, knowing that their risky approach could potentially spell the end of Raffles, given their lack of batting depth. Eventually, Mustafa was caught at mid off by Shardul after looking to launch another six. Captain Aahan followed him in the next over, out for a duck after edging a ball from Nick Singham (ACS(I)) which kept low to the keeper, his hopes of orchestrating a winning captain’s knock similar to the one against VJC dashed.
With the lower-middle order now with him and the DL target climbing, Karthik reverted to launching boundaries. The Rafflesians were hopeful, but he fell off Yuvraj’s bowling, with Shehzad (ACS(I)) taking a phenomenal catch to dismiss him. The target and stakes were simply too high for the remaining batsmen to chase down. Despite some encouraging shots from Vaishob (18S06H) and Dineru, the Gryphons folded for a meagre 81 as ACS(I) marched to a comfortable victory in the finals.
Ultimately, the difference between RI and ACS(I) was in the application by their respective batsmen when the wickets were falling. RI was left ruing missed opportunities, having not had the advantage of a fully fit team, but could find solace in the steady improvement they had made throughout the season, having started out as a small and relatively inexperienced squad. With five of their top eight batsman being Year 5s, they hope another season of training would help them garner enough experience to unseat ACS(I) next year to bring the cup back home.
Team (according to batting order)
Mustafa Anis Hussain,17, 18S06Q
Abdul Rahman Bhadelia, 21, 18S06R
Anandaselvan Karthik Mohan, 7, 18S06Q
Aahan Gopinath Achar, 3, 17S03J
Vaishob Anand, 9, 18S06H
Dineru Priyalal Premasinghe, 11, 17S06C
Prittam Ravi, 19, 18S06J
M Muhammad Muhsin, 8, 17S06R
Akshay Babu, 18, 17S06O
Mustafa Kaed, 14, 17SO3J
Lakshminarayanan Kaushik Rangaraj, 23, 17S06P
Laavanya Kejriwal (VC), 10, 17S07B
Taran Singh Bhogal, 6, 18S06O
*Scorecard format: [School]: [Runs]/[Wickets], (Top batsmen – runs scored)