The leadup to game #3 of the Palm Beach Titans 30 over regular season was relatively muted. The team had essentially seen first hand the top two opponents in the league come to our home ground and dismantle our plans resulting in two lopsided losses. Having to travel to Port St. Lucie and knowing the challenges of that venue with their contingent of spectators, a notorious sticky wicket and ultra large boundaries meant the team was realistically facing down the barrel of a 0-3 start. Especially considering that the player availability revealed that 4 of the regular top order batsmen would not be suiting up that Sunday (Chuck, Praveen, Prateek & Andre were all unavailable). That said, the mood on the emails and in communications during the week was cautiously hopeful.
The carpools and the hour plus drive up though provided a welcome respite with jokes and laughter reigning supreme. This mood was carried into the warm-ups with a sense of loosened nerves and calm prevailing. The Skipper and his players had already spoken one-on-one during the week...and the plans had been laid out in those calls and the strategy email leaving very little to be said at the ground itself. With conditions and circumstances favoring both batting and bowling, the Skipper mused that “it would be a good toss to lose” and proceeded to do just that. Interestingly, his opposing number opted to insert the Titans to bat.
Suraj and Rocky strode to the crease, two new Titans, having been asked by the team to see off the shine and set the mini 5 over target to simply not lose a wicket. Four dropped catches in 5 overs showcased their luck as well as inexperience against the new ball in windy conditions. Having made it through that period of play...the scoreline of 49 without loss after 6 overs was pleasing, with the batsmen mudding the bowling figures of former Barbadian Olympian Louis and former Canadian International LM bowler Dutchin. Rocky’s was the first wicket to fall in the 7th over...out to a sharp low catch by the keeper when he played for the off-cutter to one of former US player Reid’s deliveries that instead held its line. For the next 12 overs a beautiful 86 run partnership between dogged LH batsmen Avinash Pooran and extravagant opener Suraj Karusala saw the team to 136/1. Suraj was then caught trying to bludgeon slow bowler Samson out of the park. This sparked a mini collapse of 4 wickets in 4 overs as pinch hitters failed in succession to clear the long boundaries. Funny enough the captaincy group was still left to bat at that point and they (Atif, Bharat & Paul) were able to ensure the last 6 overs went at 5+/over to bat out the innings with minimal fuss. All said, the solid start should have meant another 30-40 runs, but the stutter in the middle overs resulted in a solid score of 189/9 after 30 overs.
Taking the field, the players commented that the Skipper seemed in a “happy” mood and bets were being taken on how long that would last. Turns out it lasted all the way through the 15 over break as new ball bowlers Maruthi (6 overs, 1 wicket, 19 runs), Leju (6 overs, 1 wicket, 1 maiden, 13 runs) and a solid first change of Akash and Suraj led the team to a dominant defense of the target with the opposition tottering at 38/4. Dutchin at this point had remained defiant at the crease having seen the other opener and the #3 bogged down and eventually dismissed by the new ball bowlers. Suraj clean bowled (up and coming star youth player) Elton Tucker, Jr. with one that jagged in sharply at good pace, and Akash produced some magic in concert with an unorthodox field setting/move by the Skipper and a blistering catch by Cai at short mid on to dismiss the opposition’s most prolific batsman Tony Reid. The Skipper’s smile then became a grimace as Louis started to bash the bowlers to all corners on his way to a quickfire 32 off 14 balls before he mishit one that dipped and swung late off Cai’s bowling...a steepler taken at extra cover by Suraj. The grimace became a glare as Dutchin began to accelerate and show his class along with big hitter Elton Tucker senior. Louis, Dutchin and Tucker had managed to turn the game on its head by taking the score from 38/4 at 15 overs to 110/5 after 24 overs...that’s 72 off 9 overs...8 runs per over with only the loss of one wicket. The team had willfully opted to give Cai some match exposure, but some bad bowling and listful hitting off all the bowlers in that period (except Atif), meant the time for experimentation was at an end. Suraj then was able to get Dutchin to sky one to extra cover where the Skipper took an important running catch and then the game was handed over to the experienced bowlers to wrap things up. Atif our Vice Captain had bowled beautifully amid the mayhem from his end finishing with figures of 6 overs, 1 maiden, 19 runs. Skipper Paul put the skids on the other end bowling 2 overs for 8 runs and Suraj finished the game with a maiden over. PSL finished on 137/6 a good 52 runs short of the target.
All said, it was a somewhat surprising victory in the sense of how dominant the team was throughout most of the game. The batting card even without the missing firepower found a way to post a challenging total. The bowling was dominant for 24 of the 30 overs bowled...and in truth had the team not opted to experiment a little from the south end...the feeling at game’s end is we could have restricted them to 110 or less. To corroborate that sentiment is the fact that, had we followed the usual attack plans frontline bowlers Akash 2, Suraj 2 and Paul 4 could have put an end to proceedings much earlier as they still had a combined 8 overs in hand. At 1W and 2L a crucial game looms with the best remaining team to play in the regular season, Tropics, coming to visit on 3/1. Go Titans and congratulations on the epitome of a team win!