While Morgan’s innings will long be remembered as an exhibition of sublime timing and power hitting that included seven 6s and four 4s off just 53 deliveries faced, it was in stark contrast to a personal fielding display the Penguin batting hero will undoubtedly wish to quickly forget.
Boasting full strength squads and introducing a ‘super-sub’ element to the competition, this first of a five game series was set to be a good test for both teams, but as the game entered the second innings, the likely outcome was very much in the Cows’ favour.
The first innings, however, opened with Cows’ captain Joe Ninan partnering Michael Flowers to prepare the stage, but it was exit stage left for Flowers in just the third over when Imtiyaz Mushtaq’s pace beat Flowers’ to upend the batsman’s stumps.
The very next over saw Ninan’s stumps follow suit as Sajal Gaur’s delivery ended the Cows’ captain’s chances of reaching double figures.
Penguins’ celebrations sobered as Ninan’s departure brought the fearsome Ashan Fonseka to the crease, but a solid line and length ball from Gaur forced Fonseka to play forward and edge a comfortable catch to wicket keeper, Anthony Van Blerk, immediately returning the Sri Lankan batsman and sending the Penguins into a state of near delirium.
With that sobering effect, now felt by the Cows, facing three wickets down in the first four overs and the score on just 20, Sameer Khan and Ali Khan looked to prevent further collapse while also boosting a below par run rate.
A typical smash and grab innings from Ali Khan ensued during the next nine overs as Sameer Khan worked a supporting role to eventually reach 18 off 25 before he too found the waiting gloves of Van Blerk off Manish Sadaranghani’s bowling, ending a relieving 69-run partnership.
In comparison, Ali Khan in that same nine over period demonized the Penguin bowling by hammering 46 off 28 as a returning Stuart Hamilton joined Khan at the crease and the scoreboard reading 89 for 4.
Forging a 48-run partnership, Khan and Hamilton took the Cows’ total up to 132 before Saju Abraham’s giant-killing reputation endured with Mushtaq taking an athletic overhead catch in the 17th over to end Khan’s efforts on 68 off 40 including a barrage of six 6s and three fours.
Hamilton now with Bhanu Pratap cooked up another partnership in excess if 40 runs before the former avoided a half-century, falling at 41 off 30 to the troublesome bowling of Abraham once again, in giving a comfortable catch for Rishi Sadaranghani to take.
At 174 for 6 and just three overs remaining, Cows could only add a further 16 runs to the total as Mayur Deuskar gave newcomer Nishant Grover his first catch at the ACG off Curt Livermore’s bowling. Michael Thomas would feel slightly aggrieved in being run out by Paddy Ledeboer, whose throw from deep long on was certainly missing the stumps, but somehow deviated obscurely to beat Thomas’ outstretched bat.
The swift hands of Van Blerk put paid to Pratap’s innings, stumping the Cows’ batsman off a tempting delivery from Abraham, before Morgan’s nightmare in the field ended with him eventually securing a catch for that man Abraham’s fourth wicket, ending the Cows’ innings on 190 in the 24th over.
Following a quick turnaround, Penguins’ captain Livermore sent Seenant Raju and Mushtaq out to begin the chase. But by the 11th over, both batsmen had found their way back to the clubhouse, with Raju falling victim to the exceptional pace of Fonseka and then Mushtaq being bowled by Guddu Manoj, and the score on just 56 – some 30 runs behind the Cows total at a similar point in their innings.
Cows certainly would have felt in control at this stage, but with an explosive batting line-up yet to come from the Penguins, the game was in no way done.
Debutante Grover and Morgan settled in supported by vociferous team mates on the side-lines, and by the 15th over drinks’ break the pair helped post a score of 95, still 22 runs behind the Cows at their drinks’ break.
Both batsmen on 23 runs were evenly matched as they emerged for the last 10 overs, but it was to become the Morgan show as he pulled out a repertoire of rasping drives and hostile hook shots to destroy hopes of a Cows’ win. Indeed, the game should have ended sooner had a brace of Morgan’s efforts that were boundary bound not clattered into the overhead power lines that traverse the ACG causing umpire Adam Drew to signal dead balls on each occasion. With Morgan also unable to take a catch earlier in the game for the same reason, it was an historic note to an exceptional game with the cables being hit three times in one day.
By the 23rd over and the score on 172 for 2 and 8 wickets remaining, the game still hung in the balance, but two more 6s from Morgan put the result in no doubt as the game entered the penultimate over. Fittingly, a 4 from Morgan ended the game, with Grover narrowly missing out on a maiden half century to end his first game for the Penguins on 41 off 46.
Such an enthralling end to a game played with great competitiveness and in good spirits, bodes well for the rest of the series, with Morgan of course claiming man of the match.
Special mentions must also go to Abraham for his 4-38 off 4, Ali Khan for his 68 off 40, and Hamilton for scrapping his way to 41 off 30.
The second game of the series is scheduled for this Sunday (August 1) COVID restrictions permitting.