Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Super Story

This article first appeared in my column "Seamstress" for Wisden India.

One over.

Twelve runs to get.

 Five wickets down.

Gouher Sultana bowling for the Railways, the defending champions. Shweta Mane and Devika Vaidya batting for Maharashtra, the hosts.

We believed. The odds were against us, but we believed. 


Five days earlier:

It was the first game of the Elite Group ‘A’ T20 nationals, a tournament that rumours had suggested may not happen at all. My team, Maharashtra, needed 26 off the last two overs to win our first match vs Odisha, in front of our home crowd. We got 15. We lost.

I was disgusted with myself. After bowling a tight first three overs, I had given away two boundaries in the last over. We had lost, and we now had an uphill task ahead of us. We still needed to beat a strong Delhi, minnows Gujarat, and defending champions Railways, to give ourselves the best chance of finishing in the top two. And even that may not guarantee us the result we wanted: qualification for the Super League phase. 

I set the tone in the match vs Delhi. After bowling two maidens, I dismissed both openers in my third over. Devika Vaidya, who was the top run getter in the U19 season, was now showing just how valuable she is with the ball. Her leg spin claimed four wickets, and we contained a strong Delhi batting line up for 82.

After an initial scare, where Amita Sharma hit our opener Priyanka on the head with a bouncer (in a spot very close to where Phil Hughes was hit), we chased the total with a few overs to spare and 9 wickets in hand. But more significant, was the fact that our 18 year old captain got some valuable runs. Smriti Mandhana had had a horrible one day season , with a top score of 28. To see her get some quick confident runs, and anchor the chase, brought joy to her well wishers and lifted a load off her shoulders. 

The next day, Delhi did us the favour of beating Odisha, which opened up the group. Net Run Rate was definitely going to be a factor, so we kept that in mind as we made short work of Gujarat, chasing their total of 63 in the ninth over, with Smriti making 36* off 27 balls, without hitting a single ball too hard. As we hung around to watch Delhi play Railways in the next game, we almost saw our chances diminish. 

Delhi put in a spirited batting performance, with Latika Kumari (who had scored 79* in the previous game vs Odisha) making a run a ball 51. But the real fireworks came from old war horse Amita Sharma(27* off 17), who reverse swept Gouher Sultana for four, not once, not twice, but thrice in one over! The third of those shots was especially spectacular, a switch hit that sailed over the head of a helpless short third man! Delhi ended up with 129.

A Railways win would improve our chances, so we cheered every shot their batsmen played, but watched as the match seemed to slip away from them. When Mithali Raj was bowled with  91 still  needed, we thought Delhi could pull this rabbit out of the hat. But Harmanpreet Kaur and Shravanti Naidu kept Railways in the chase, barely. When Shravanti fell in the penultimate over, it left Railways needing 11 off the last over, with Harmanpreet stuck at the non strikers end.

Harrman had bailed Railways out of trouble in their previous game. Gujarat had Railways reeling, at seven for the loss of four wickets in four overs, when she walked in and stamped her class on the match, smashing 81* off 47 balls, with four sixes. So if anyone had the panoply of shots to get Railways home against Delhi, it was Harman.

As the shadows lengthened, and the odd bird of prey made a swoop at the ground, Reema Malhotra began the final over. Shubhlakshmi swung and missed at one ball, and was out the next. We could see how desperate Harry was to get on strike. Poonam Yadav obliged, but that left her 10 to get off three balls. 

We watched open mouthed and dumbstruck as Harry smashed Reema's quicker delivery over long on for a huge six! She ran two off the next ball, but got only one as Yadav was run out at the other end. Three needed off the last ball, two to tie. But Harman had no intention of tying this match. She smashed the last ball straight where long off mistimed the slide and the ball rolled over the fence for four! Railways rejoiced, Maharashtra breathed a bit more easily, and I reflected on the coming of age of Harmanpreet Kaur. 

As we arrived at the ground the next day, we knew we had to beat Railways. Only that would guarantee us qualification. A loss may have allowed Delhi to slip ahead on run rate. After their openers fell Mithali and Harman kept taking singles and caressing (Mithali) or smashing (Harman) a boundary ever so often.

 When Mithali holed out to long off in the 17th over, we knew we could keep build some pressure towards the end. Devika delivered yet again, dismissing Harman an over later. We had kept them down to 113. And we backed ourselves to go for the win, and not take the easy run rate option. 

Smriti continued where she had left off against Gujarat, smashing Shubhlakshmi and Kavita Patil for three fours in the first two overs. Railways pulled things back through Ekta Bisht, who dismissed Tejal, Smriti's opening partner. Thereafter, Smriti and Anuja Patil milked the strike, and kept us close to the asking rate. 

By then, a sizeable crowd had gathered to watch, comprising mostly of students waiting for their evening coaching session to start, plus former players and families of the host team. Shadows were creeping along the ground as surely as the required run rate was creeping up. In the dressing room, the countdown had begun, and outside the boundary, the crowd were vociferously getting behind us.

 Shubhlakshmi dismissed Anuja in the 12th over, and Smriti fell in the 14th with 49 still needed off 41 balls. I joined Shweta Mane at the crease, and we ran like hares for every run, I even ran one run short, which I shrugged off, as we tried to reduce the widening gap between runs required and balls left. 

When I was dismissed, I was asked to wait as the umpires checked for a no ball. I hoped against hope that luck would somehow grant me another shot, that I could still affect the outcome of this match in some way. Little did I know that fate would grant me my wish in dramatic circumstances.

One over. Twelve runs to get. Five wickets down.

 Gouher Sultana bowling for the Railways, the defending champions. Shweta Mane and Devika Vaidya batting for Maharashtra, the hosts.

A world class bowler against a well set batsman. We believed. The odds were against us, but we believed. 

Shweta helped the first ball to fine leg for four. Eight off five needed. a two, a run out and two singles meant that we needed three off the last ball.

Shweta slogged to deep mid wicket. The batsmen ran two, and the match was tied! It would go into the Super Over!

A mixture of adrenaline, wonder, and pure joy and excitement coursed through me. And amidst all this, a sillage of regret as I thought back to my one short run! 


The Super Over. The crucible in which small quantities of the chemicals are mixed together and a fire is set beneath them, provoking them into a reaction. The ultimate condensation of the game's evolution in pursuit of a result. It doesn’t get smaller than this. Or bigger. 

I have only been involved in two matches featuring Super Overs previous to this. In the first, for India vs England Academy in 2011, I remember Harmanpreet smashing an off spinner for a six over mid-wicket to win the game. We knew she would be batting. So we went decided to go with pace for the super over. I was to bowl it, and the match had once again unexpectedly pulled me into its fabric, like a hurricane sucks in an unsuspecting feather. 

But first we had to bat. And Smriti and Anuja did not disappoint. Smriti creamed Shubhlakshmi for two boundaries, and Anuja one. Helped by two wides and one no ball, we notched up 20 runs!  

But we could not relax. None of us had forgotten Harman's heroics against Delhi just a day ago. She was the key, her six hitting ability elevating the danger she posed our attempted upset. So when she was caught at cover second ball, off a top edge, we knew we had a foot in the door of the Super Leagues. Despite Mithali sending the last ball to the point boundary, I conceded 10 of the entire over, and we erupted in an outburst of celebration. Our team mates and the audience streamed over the boundary line towards us! We had just handed Railways only their second ever T20 loss since the tournaments inception, and had sealed a place in the Super League. 

We had believed. 

Our celebration after the match. 


In the Elite Group ‘B’, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh qualified for the Super Leagues and will join Maharashtra and Railways. In the Plate Division, Karnataka, Goa, Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra and Assam qualified for the Knock out Phase. 

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