Following a heavy defeat two weeks prior, the pressure was on the Patong Penguins to deliver a much-improved performance if they were to have any hope of keeping the best of five (T25) series alive whilst the Thalang Cows looked to finish off the series in convincing style.
It was Groundhog Day at the coin toss as Cows’ skipper Joe Ninan demonstrated his superior tossing skills once more over opposing captain Curt Livermore with the latter having lost the toss on every occasion in the series thus far.
Perhaps sensing the Penguins were still battered and bruised from the mauling at the hands of Ali Khan two weeks prior and coupled with the high temperatures on the day, it was little surprise when Ninan sent his Cows out to bat first ensuring Penguins would have to chase for the fourth consecutive game.
It was the aggressive duo of Ashan Fonseka and Sami Pir who would take the early power-play encounter with the former crashing four boundaries by the end of the 5th over. After smashing another six over long-off from the first delivery of the 6th over, Fonseka was threatening to take the game away from the Penguins. It would be Sajal Gaur who would come out on top however, the bowler holding his nerve with a clever change of pace that saw Fonseka (31) edge onto his stumps with the score reading 43-1 after 6 overs.
After two tight overs in which just 3 runs were added to the total, Seemant Raju had Pir (9) trapped LBW. This brought the destructive Ali Khan to the crease who immediately gave the Penguins a dreaded sense of deja vu after smashing just his second ball faced over the rope for six. It was the bowler who would have the last laugh once more however as Raju was rewarded for sticking to his line and length, knocking over Khan’s (6) middle stump the very next delivery with the score now 57-3.
A quiet period ensued as Flowers and Hamilton looked to rebuild the Cows innings with caution. After controlling the run rate through some tight bowling and a strong effort in the field, Hamilton (14) would be next to go just three balls before drinks. Looking to flick one over square leg, the Cows’ batsman could only pick out the perfectly placed Raju for a sharp catch off the bowling of Imtiyaz Mushtaq.
Post drinks saw Ninan (10) add some quick runs before some smart work behind the stumps from Van Blerk proved to be the undoing of the Cows’ captain as he was stumped off the bowling of Saju Abraham.
Having steadied the ship earlier, Flowers (19) was next to go. Looking to up the scoring rate in the 18th over, the Cows’ batsman could only sky one into the grateful hands of Livermore in the covers. Michael Rhys Thomas (3) was run out the following over after bravely taking on the arm of Morgan who made no mistake in hitting the stumps with Thomas still short of his ground.
New recruit Simon Bailey (2) had an unfortunate end to his debut innings at the ACG having to retire hurt due to a calf injury sustained running between the wickets. No more wickets would fall in the remainder of the innings as Sameer Kahn (27) and Mayur Deuskar (13) combined for a much-needed partnership of 25 runs thus bringing the final total to a sub-par but defendable 159-7 from the allotted 25 overs with the Penguins the happier of the two sides at the interval.
Strong middle order
Following the lunch interval and requiring just over a run a ball, Van Blerk and Livermore got ahead of the rate early with the former taking advantage of some loose power-play bowling as well as striking a crisp cover-drive of the bowling of paceman Fonseka. With the score motoring along, it was strike bowler Guddu Manoj who removed Van Blerk (36) as the opener could only pick out Sameer Kahn at deep mid-wicket with the score 53-1 after 6 overs.
After a fruitful power-play for the batting side, the Cows fought back by restricting the run rate before Flowers deceived Livermore (16) with a slower ball for a well taken caught and bowled. The pattern of play would remain the same up until the drinks break as the score read 93-2, the Penguins now slightly behind the rate yet still confident of victory having a strong middle order waiting in the wings.
That powerful middle order would soon be at the crease as Mushtaq (15) would be Manoj’s next victim having the batsman mistime one into the safe hands of Flowers at mid-off in the first over after drinks.
Craig Morgan joined Nishant Grover out in the middle as the pair looked to get the innings back on track. The Cow’s would be the happier over the course of the next four overs however as the run rate remained a shade below what was required. This tight bowling wouldn’t last however as a back-foot no ball provided Morgan with an opportunity to free his arms from the last ball of the 20th over, an opportunity the batsman wasn’t going to miss out on as the ball was duly dispatched for six.
After a quick change of ends and the start of the final five overs, another no-ball once again gifted Morgan with a free hit which yielded the same result, the ball disappearing long over the boundary rope. Another Morgan six from the final ball of the Pir over all but sealed a Penguin victory with the score now 146-3, the Penguins needing just 14 from the final four overs.
There was to be some late entertainment however as Hamilton came into the attack and quickly troubled the batsmen. Morgan, looking to mercifully end the Cows’ suffering skied one straight up towards Manoj in the covers. Taking the phrase ‘head-the-ball’ quite literally, Manoj decided on using his skull to stop the ball instead of the usual catching technique, much to the bemusement and horror of everyone at the ground.
With a quick check on the fielder’s well-being complete, the final stages of the match resumed.
Perhaps still distracted from the events of the previous ball, Grover was next to depart after picking out Fonseka on the long-on boundary for a well-made 26, the new signing proving to be a solid addition to the Penguins lineup, whilst Hamilton picked up a well-deserved wicket.
Raju would add 2 runs to the score before handing Flowers his third catch of the match from the bowling of Ali Khan. Morgan (45*) fittingly hit the winning runs two balls later to close the game out and ensure a mouthwatering game 5 with the scores now level at 2-2.
In a much-anticipated return to form, Tony Van Blerk, edged out fellow teammates Raju and Morgan for Man of the Match (MOTM) after scoring 36 runs from 23 balls (included five 4s and one 6) and producing a tidy performance behind the stumps. It was one of the closest contests for MOTM in recent memory at the ACG. Notably Seemant Raju had bowling figures of 3-29 from five overs and Craig Morgan, 45*(24), which included four 6s, would consider themselves unlucky to not pick up the MOTM points while the seasons leading wicket taker Saju Abraham also returned the impressive bowling figures of 1-8 from his three overs.
The date for the series decider has yet to be confirmed due to the enforced temporary closure of the ACG. More details will be shared once the date is confirmed in due course.