As the sun set, the atmosphere started to intensify. All the non-seriousness of the soap soccer that was staged there a while back started to wash away. If you didn’t get the feeling there was a final to be played, you sure as hell started to feel the storm coming now. Players started to arrive in two varying shades of blue. The lighter ones were ACF and BBA-4 supported the darker one. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this was the IBA Olympics 2015 Cricket Final being played at IBA National Stadium – the only floodlit university cricket ground in Pakistan!
The floodlights slowly but surely started to brighten the ground. A flick of the coin and probably the only chance event in the game of cricket followed. ACF Skipper Zubair Arif didn’t hesitate to take advantage of batting first after winning the toss in a big final. From what my sources have informed me, this was the 5th consecutive toss loss by BBA-4.
If you still didn’t get the feel of the final, we had our very own commentary team and a DJ to keep the game alive and keep the audience entertained. The star-studded commentary line up boasted none other than IBA’s multi-talented Hammad “Roy” Ather and Hassan Bukhari. The DJ duties for the day were given to IBA’s middle order batsman Muhammed Omer.
Players ready, scorers ready, commentators ready – “Play” called the umpire. Aman Jafri who have featured in my reports as a part timer took the ball for the first over. He has been the pick of the bowler for BBA-4 throughout the tournament and is a threat with the ball. Five uneventful balls to Jaiwishal and Rasik to start with. Flighted delivery, Jaivishal hesitates but tries his luck on the sixth one. It hangs in the air for almost eternity, the commentators and everyone at the field had their hearts in their throats. Haris Khan back at long on, settles under it and swallows it. A big wicket, as Jaiwishal walks back to the pavilion. The men in dark blue celebrate as if the plan had just materialized. ACF 2-1 at the end of the first over.
A determined Zubair Arif walked into bat at first drop. A tight and sound over by Saad Sangani from the other end followed. The next two overs just fetched 4 runs. Some brilliant pressure was applied by the ring fielders of the BBA4 players. They must be the senior most in terms of age, but were really showing how to choke a team into giving wickets. Choke they did, a tight call from Zubair Arif off the bowling of Saad and Rasik seemed to be struggling to make ground. Pick up, aim, throw. A direct hit resulting from pressure from the ring fielders leaves ACF 8-2 in the 4th over. Who was behind the throw you ask? Who else but Haris Khan! What a wonderful feeling it must be to make a difference with ones fielding that too earlier on in a final. ACF’s fresh inductee with the gloves, Taha Zahid walked in next. Zubair must have been rethinking his decision to bat first at this moment.
The same over yielded 10 runs however. Taha didn’t hesitate and held back his game; he mustered two flourishing shots back past the bowler. One resulting in a boundary and the other was muscled for SIX over the sight screen on Hyderabad end. The commentators were all praise for the new lad. He was surely making his presence felt. This gave ample confidence to Zubair who freed his arms when Hammad Iqbal replaced Aman Jafri from the UBL end. First ball was creamed through covers for 4. After a single Taha rocked back on the backfoot, waited and cracked the shot of the innings thus far for a SIX over midwicket! Oh wait, the commentators thought it was a six as they felt it hit the sand on the full but the umpires decided otherwise and signaled a FOUR. The runs, it seemed, had started to leak from all ends. The fielding was still looking energetic, but the bowling looked lackluster at best. BBA-4 Captain Ali Fazli brought on his left armer Abbas Jafar replacing Saad. The last over of the power play, the batsmen may look to chance their arms for one last try before the fielding restrictions are lifted. The shot was on, Taha shuffled across to work it away on the leg side but an arm ball from Abbas found his leg stump first. BOWLED! A promising start and what was looking to be the counter offensive by ACF was now to be started over. Taha made 16 off 11. ACF 32-3 at the end of the powerplay.
The wicket eased up the BBA-4 Skipper and Hammad continued. Farrukh Abbasi had now joined his captain to initiate the rebuilding of the innings. He straight away started to look busy, working the ball easily and forcefully off the back foot. Zubair looked stagnant for a bit as the next few overs fetched 7 runs but it seemed as if he was settling into a rhythm before he lashed his way back. Lashed he did! The pair easily milked Hammad Iqbals third over for 12 runs which included a lofted off drive for four from Zubair. Abbas Jafar, who had conceded just 6 runs from 2 overs was not spared either. Zubair leaned into 2 elegant drives for FOUR fetching 12 runs off the over. ACF 64-3 half way through the innings.
To put a lid on the run scoring, Ali Fazli returned to his opening bowler Aman Jafri to get him a breakthrough. I don’t know what was happening with these bowling changes but it did seem to be working well for BBA-4. A hack over mid wicket for FOUR was followed by a charge down the wicket by Farrukh, who was amply beaten in the flight leaving Bhojani with a clean stumping. Mind you, Bhoja (as he is called) looked very neat behind the stumps in this game.
The over energetic, “HOO HAA”-chanting ACF dugout almost fell silent. As if their defending cup had slowly started to drift away. Yet they had reason to believe. A half centurior in the semis M.Ali walked in next and with him walked in a glimmering shade of hope, probably the last ACF had.
Meanwhile the crowd gathered as news made round on social media (im guessing) that ACF had collapsed.
An interesting change from both ends followed, Skipper Fazli was to bowl his slow left arm orthodox from Hyderabad end while Hashair “Harry” Ahmedani was to bowl his off break from the other. 5 singles followed in the following two overs as M. Ali started to settle himself at the crease. Zubair Arif took advantage of a loose one and dispatched Ali Fazli for a FOUR. The mood in the ACF dug out was neutral at best. Their hearts were still hanging in the balance. A low full toss in the 15th over by Hashair Ahmedani was duly clubbed for a huge SIX over long on by M. Ali. Now the ACF boys were starting to make some noise from the sidelines. The commentators were left in awe with that hit. But was that a sign for things to come? Fazli’s next over may decide that. This time it was Zubair freeing his arms and lofting a SIX over long on. Hashair started off really well, he settled into a good rhythm but that last six in his previous over disrupted his calculated line and length. M.Ali took full advantage of some ordinary deliveries and clobbered 2 more gigantic SIXES. The hand eye coordination, the swing of the bat and the follow through was immaculate. When M.Ali is on song, it’s a treat to watch him play. 18 runs coming of the 17th over! ACF 124-3 and were looking to finish on a high. The partnership was worth well over 50 by now. A huge credit to both the batsmen, they came together at a tough time, they dug in and now they are reaping the rewards. But will the final score be enough? More importantly, what will be the final score?
Aman Jafri came to bowl the 18th over to restore some sanity. I’m just amazed by one decision at this moment. Abbas Jaffar conceded just 18 off his 3 and picked up a crucial wicket, yet he wasn’t called on to bowl his 4th over. Aman tried to dart in some dots but M.Ali and Zubair had gone past that phase 4 overs ago. They milked a few singles and doubles before launching a SIX over mid-wicket to end the over at 135.
If there was ever an over that could decide a fate of a final in the first innings, this was it. Hammad Iqbal ran in to finish his spell. Little did he know that he may have wished it to have ended already. First ball, M.Ali on strike, a yorker gone wrong and he picked it up and dispatched it over long on! This one cleared the sightscreen. The ACF dugout chanting “MALI MALI” and by now the fielding and tight bowling of BBA-4 that we saw in the first 10 overs was almost invisible. A single and the strike rotated. Hammad charges in, Zubair backs away, one knee to the ground and launched a power drive in the air. As Dean Jones may put it, going…going…GONE! A massive SIX from the captain! M.Ali is on strike now after a single. As if it was a ping pong game where both players were taking turns in hammering sixes. M.Ali gets a low full toss and he dismissed one last SIX off the over! 22 runs coming off the 19th over. A tight over by captain Fazli finished the proceedings for ACF at 164 for 5. Zubair Arif playing a true captains knock finishing not out at 62 off 50 while M.Ali also scored a half century and finished with 52 off 32! This score would not have been possible if M.Ali didn’t hold up an end and took charge from the other end. The whole ACF dugout lined up to congratulate and appreciate the monumental effort by their teammate and skipper. The momentum was definitely with ACF at this time.
After 15 minutes break in which thankfully there was no “Mahiyaa” songs by Princess Annie, the players assembled for the final round. Mind you, BBA-4 shouldn’t be taken lightly as they boast a pretty solid batting line. The elegant and technically sound Haris Khan was accompanied by Kumail “Manager Sahab” Habib as the individuals responsible for the initial onslaught. ACF speedster Ahsan Khan was given the new ball duties from the UBL end. Kumail didn’t wait for more than 3 deliveries and he launched into a power drive over long off for a huge SIX! 10 runs coming off the first over. Kumail seemed to be carrying from where he left off in the semis against Computer Science, where he clobbered 4 sixes of a single over to ensure the berth in the finals for BBA-4. Jaiwishal Keswani was Ahsan’s new ball partner. This was the second time he was opening the proceedings for ACF in this match. Previously his mistimed shot found the long on fielder when he came as an opener earlier in the game. Jai seemed to have put that behind him and he charged in harder with every ball and squeezed a 3 run over with a couple beating the batsman comprehensively for pace. Zubair Arif showed great confidence in Ahsan, and decided to continue with him. Kumail once again didn’t let the score slow down and drive another full ball over mid-off for a boundary this time. A cautious start by BBA-4 but they meant business at 19-0 in 3 overs. Jai continued to trouble the batsman with raw pace directed at the stumps. His second ball of the over ended up uprooting the stumps of Kumail! Sadly the in-form Kumail departed for 9 off 13 and BBA-4’s chase had received its first blow. BBA-4 21-1 at the end of 4 overs.
Osama Khan now joined Haris at the crease with his team needing a further 144 off 16 overs. Ahsan resumed his third over and this time his in-swingers didn’t let the batsman off the hook. 4 runs came off the 5th over with BBA-4 slowly drifting away from the required run rate. The doggedness of the batsmen prompted Zubair to bring himself on. To everyone’s surprise his part timers did more than what was expected. Just a solitary run came from his first over. Haris and Osama were really under the pump now, as BBA-4 finished the powerplay at 26-1.
Another bowling change at UBL end this time and it seemed to me as if Brett Lee was at the start of the run up. A slightly bended start, just as Lee, straightening out as the bowler approached the crease and from a tall height let it rip. The ball skidded and disappeared into the keepers gloves. This could be none other than ACF Express Daniyal Muhammad. His 5th ball was a well-aimed short pitched jaffa, which was nudged into the air and wicketkeeper Taha Zahid initially misjudged the trajectory but ended up taking a one handed catch. ACF being rewarded for some tight bowling. BBA 29-2 at the end of the 7th.
Off spinner Ramis Bukhari replaced Zubair. Ali Fazli, the BBA Skipper had made his way into the middle. With his team reeling way behind, it sure as hell needed a Fazli special! One must not forget the lone soldier effort he pulled off last year when he scored 22 off the last over to give his team the victory. Fazli quickly obliged to his reputation and cover drove Ramis Bukhari on two consecutive balls to beat Asad Abbas at deep extra cover for fours. Daniyal followed that over up with a wayward one, where 5 runs came as extras. BBA-4 didn’t care how they came as long as the runs were coming. Osama pulled one over mid-wicket for a four to make his intentions known. A flighted delivery on the next ball from Ramis that gripped into the surface found Osama Khan playing a bit early and the leading edge was gracefully accepted by Ramis to send the third wicket packing. Senior-most player Aman Ashraf Jafri walked in next with everything to do.
If you were to have missed everything that had happened thus far and you entered to watch just this over, you would have every bit of an idea of ACF’s domination in the match. Daniyal Muhammad tested Fazli with some ferocious short pitch bowling. I started to reminiscence the spell Wahab Riaz bowled to Shane Watson at the recent world cup. Fazli responded by a typical Fazli shot over long on for 4. It seemed that the senior pair out there will change the fortunes for their respective team. The next ball was a bit fuller, Fazli wanted to swipe it on the backfoot but before he could , the ball cannoned into the stumps! Daniyal took off like an airplane in celebration and why wouldn’t he? ACF was soaring high to another title! Fazli departed on 17 and BBA-4 were 57 for 4 in 11overs.
Zubair Arif brought himself back and this time Aman managed to score a boundary of the over. Talha Azher had joined Aman in the meantime and started to settle in a good rhythm. Daniyal continued to finish off his spell and bowled the 13th over for just 3 singles. The express pacer gave away just 17 runs and took 2 vital wickets from his 4 overs. It was a treat to watch his short pitch bowling
In the following over Zubair was hit for a massive SIX. Talha Azher this time made his intention clear. After a single Zubair bowled a quicker one and Aman tried to push it over long on but it was top edged. Zubair took an excellent backward running catch to complete a fine day for him. The elation in his celebration showed what it meant to him.
Daniyal’s quota of overs being finished meant Ramis Bukhari came back on. A tidy over of 2 runs from him meant the pressure kept building. Hashair Ahmedani had now joined Talha to chase the target of 164 in the remaining 5 overs. Hashair, who is known to be a good finisher, slogged two boundaries over mid-wicket and long on off Ramis. One sailing over the fielder for a SIX and the other fell just short for a one bounce FOUR. However Zubair got the better of Hashair in the next over as his slog behind square leg was taken very nicely by a running Faraz Rizvi. An all-round effort was certainly on display in the field by ACF.
Faraz Rizvi was introduced into the attack to wipe off the tail. He went for 11 runs but did what his captain had asked him to do. He managed to clean bowled Talha Azher for 18 and had Saad Sangani stumped off the last bowl.
The last over of the final was to be bowled by Jaiwishal Keswani. After two toe crushing yorkers to Hammad Iqbal, the third one found the furniture and BBA-4 lost their 9th wicket. A dot ball finished the final that was thoroughly dominated by one side. BBA-4 managed to score 121-9 off their allotted 20 overs in pursuit of 165.
A team that dominated the group stages and didn’t lose a single game in their second consecutive tournament deservedly took the title once again. Amazing spells from Jai and Daniyal, brilliant rear end fighting innings by M.Ali but the Man of the Match went to the one who lead from the front and instilled the resilience in the whole team – Zubair Arif.
The final was the first time an IBA Olympics game was played under the newly fitted floodlights. It is a sign of great things to come for IBA Sports under a new set of coaches and teams.