After the match, he smiled. That was like the infectious smile of a candyman, with badly arranged teeth, selling lollipops on the iconic Marina beach in the evenings.
As the sun’s rays were basking the beach and adjacent Chepauk, Anustup Majumdar, a part time spinner, lured the Central’s tail with his loopers, like that candyman does to children, to gift the Duleep Trophy to his team.
East had successfully retained the cup. While Anustup, the newly discovered leg spinner, had taken the tail by his hand - with a 4 for 29; Iresh Saxena, the left arm spinner, kept pecking at the top order with perseverance to finish with a five-wicket haul, the fifth being Tanmay Srivastava, the stoic left-hander, who fell short of a century by six runs. “It was a normal ball,” Tanmay said, later asked if it was an arm ball or if it spun too much.
Defending a paltry score of 232 is not easy, especially when the strike bowler Ashok Dinda failing to take even a single wicket. The closest he came was when Ashok Maneria hooked and the ball fell short of deep square leg. Credit should go to Tanmay for negating Dinda for most part of the day. In hindsight, it was the discipline of the East’s bowlers that gave them the trophy. They struck to either the off-stump line or wicket to wicket throughout the day.
It was a delayed start after lunch on the final day despite the ground being ready under clear skies. The stocky Robin Bist was the first to go. A tireless Besant getting one to lift that caught the glove to the third slip. After that triumph, Besant’s mind was closed as he wasted the short ball. Maneria was shaky till he walked back. An onside player, it was natural for him to edge the first ball he faced off Saxena into the right hand of the captain at first slip.
Replacing him, Mahesh Rawat brought energy and positivity to the game that was beginning to be a bore. The clear thuds of the willow started resonating in Chepauk as he began striking the ball in the middle with confidence that brushed onto a dour Tanmay. As it was beginning to look like the pair would chase the target down within the end of play, when Anustup was tossed the ball.
“I have never seen him bowl before,” admitted East captain Nataraj Behra, post-match.
In cricket, the successful captains often are guided by instinct. Or is the spirit of the game somehow sits in their brain at that particular moment?
An evening earlier, Mohammed Kaif, the losing captain, failed to see the obvious. He walked in with 13 overs to spare but bad light was beginning to step in from the shades of the stadium. The umpires had called for the light meter. Yet, he walked in to be trapped leg before wicket by Saxena. That ended play on day four, in the rain curtailed match in which the first innings decided the winner.
Here, Rawat, basking in his form, went for a square cut only to edge the ball from Anustup that had climbed a bit, right into the gloves of the wicketkeeper. “That opened the gates,” said Rawat later. The celebration started. And the procession began. Jalaj Saxena skied a full toss of Saxena. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar was trapped in front, Praveen Kumar heaved to cover and Murali Kartik, after a brief display of KP-esque hitting, skied into the big hands of Sourabh Tiwary - all of Anustup Majumdar.
Tanmay missed a century. Tanmay’s failure in the game was not his batting - it was near flawless. He failed to talk to the tail. He was too focussed and concentrated on his game that he did not read the rash mind of the batters at the other end. Central had to be content with the runner up trophy - the base of which was broken, a testimony to the way domestic cricket is treated by the billionaire group.
Fittingly, Ishank Jaggi, who believed in the power of the tail, was adjudged the man of the match. As the scorecard read, the forty runs he scored for the last wicket was the difference. “I knew Besant can bat. I had confidence in him. And I played my natural game,” he said post-match.
The East’s win was a cricketing lesson in discipline, self-belief and modesty.
Not to forget the candyman and his lollipops.