Despite forgettable fielding, Kollywood heroes lift the Celebrity Cricket League 2012 cup in a nail-biting finish

Butter fingers flooring sitters. Fumbles resulting in stolen runs. Erratic deliveries piling up extras. The Chennai Rhinos' bowling and fielding hardly inspired hope in their supporters on Sunday at Uppal Stadium (Hyderabad), where they squared off against Karnataka Bulldozers in the finals of Celebrity Cricket League (CCL) 2012. After setting up a competitive target of 162, the Kollywood heroes appeared to be scripting a meek surrender to the Sandalwood stars. The twist came in the very last over of the match.

When Vikraanth got into his stride to begin that fateful over, the Bulldozers were 152 for 3. Well-set batsmen Dhruva (58) and Karthik (51) were in the middle; given the dominance of these players as they put on 118 runs for the fourth wicket, the required 10 runs in six balls was no tall order. Few anticipated the drama that was in store.

The first ball ended in Dhruva's unexpected dismissal — the Bulldozers' most valuable batsman heaved at the ball, missed the line and was castled.

Faint glimmer of hope

For the Rhinos, this offered a faint glimmer of hope. Captain Sudeep walked in — with a runner — and hammered the second ball of the over, over mid-on for a boundary. It was now down to six runs off four balls. Vikraanth was bowling a tight wicket-to-wicket line, but Sudeep threw his bat around, and managed two runs off each of the next two balls.

Two runs required off two balls, and the pendulum had clearly swung in the Bulldozers' favour. Of a good length, the next ball was missed completely by Sudeep. However, his runner took off for a cheeky single, and an agile Ramana — who kept wickets — threw down the stumps.

Two runs off one ball was required as Rahul joined Karthik. The camera zoomed in on the tense faces — some of them well-known — in the stands. The excitement was palpable as Vikraanth got into his stride to bowl the last ball. Before going through with his delivery, he stopped and dislodged the bails at the non-striker's end — Karthik had backed up and was found short of the popping crease. The batsman had to leave.

Assuming the match was in their pocket, the Rhinos began to do a victory jig. They were in mid-celebration when the umpires told them the last ball had to be bowled anyway. Vikraanth bowled it outside the off-stump, and Rahul missed it. He and the non-striker T. Chandra scurried for a run, when Ramana gathered the ball, ran and broke the stumps down to dismiss Chandra. From the jaws of defeat, the Rhinos had fought back and won by one run! Considering the Bulldozers were a more rounded team — good in all departments, it was sheer fighting spirit that had carried the day for the Rhinos.

There was no question about who deserved the ‘Man of the Match' award. Besides bowling a brilliant last over, Vikraanth had scored an unbeaten 95 off 69 balls (14 fours and one six). With controlled aggression, he had helped his team recover from 37 for 2 to post a fighting total.

It is tempting to attribute the victory entirely to Vikraanth, but others played commendable supporting roles. During his 20 off 22 balls (three 4s), Prithivi ably rotated the strike and helped Vikraanth put on a crucial 99-run partnership for the third wicket.

When Jiiva and Vikraanth, who opened the bowling attack, conceded too many runs in the early overs, Shiva and Shantanoo made up for the early setbacks by effective quick blows and reduced the Bulldozers to 34 for three. In a wicketless spell, Arya bowled some good deliveries that kept the rampaging Dhruva and Karthik quiet — he was unlucky, in that, two catches were dropped off his bowling. Wicketkeeper Ramana played a critical role in the last over, running out two players.

If the Kollywood bowlers had been supported by the fielders, the match might not have gone down to the wire. To a question from Charu Sharma — at the presentation ceremony — captain Vishal admitted that the team should have had more catching practice.

When asked if he thought Dhruva and Karthik would take away the match from the Rhinos, Vishal nodded but quickly added: “But let me you tell you this. These guys in yellow always perform under pressure.” A roar of cheer went up from his teammates.

VIKRAANTH ‘S WINNING STREAK CONTINUES

The undisputed star of CCL 2012 finals, Vikraanth believes Chennai Rhinos' captain deserves much of the credit for the victory. “From the beginning of the CCL season, Vishal made the players feel they were part of a family,” explains Vikraanth, who excelled with the bat and the ball, and helped the Rhinos to a thrilling win against Karnataka Bulldozers.

Dissecting the cliffhanger of a finals, Vikraanth says Vishnu was missed when the Rhinos went into to bowl. “The injury Vishnu sustained while batting meant he would not take the field, and we had to look for someone else to bowl his four overs. Vishnu is a great player, and it is difficult for anyone to step into his shoes. Only the previous day, he saw us through the semi-finals against Telugu Warriors at Chepauk, scoring 45 runs off 25 balls and taking three wickets,” he explains. “Luckily, Arya solved the problem. He was brilliant with the ball — he beautifully read the bastman-friendly pitch, bowled at the right spots and did not try to generate speed. If the two catches off his bowling had been nabbed, his figures would be more impressive. Considering Arya concentrated more on his batting at the nets, his performance with the ball was awesome.”

Vikraanth thinks Shiva's natural in-swingers are deadly, as was witnessed in the finals. Shantanoo's dismissal of left-hand batsman Pradeep was brilliant too. Vikraanth believes the team was hard-working, practising for around three months for the tournament. “Jiiva is an epitome of dedication. He seldom misses a practice session. He's a reliable player. With the bat, he's effective as a sheet anchor, holding one end up. With the ball, he regularly makes early breakthroughs” he says. “If you look at performances through the season, you'll notice that everyone has contributed in some way, at a crucial juncture.”

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