If you’re the kind of Twenty20 enthusiast who believes that the short format is only about massive sixes, shots of spectacular inventiveness and bowlers suffering the tortures of the damned, then the Dutch T20 finals day at Westvliet on Saturday was not for you.
Played on pitches with a pallid greenish tinge, it was a day which saw just 603 runs scored for 57 wickets at an average of 5.4 an over; when the big beasts Ben Cooper, Peter Borren, Lenert van Wyk and Mudassar Bukhari managed 24 runs between them in eight innings; and when almost every sign of enterprise on the part of the batters was punished by instant dismissal.
Yet it produced cricket that was seldom less than absorbing, and a final which, like the semi-final preceding it, went down to the final over and could have gone either way until the very last ball.
In the end it was the old warhorses Peter Borren and Adeel Raja who conspired to ensure that VRA Amsterdam held on to take the T20 Cup for the fourth time, denying Sparta 1888 their first national title in their 132-year history by a margin of just three runs.
Chasing VRA’s 131 for nine, in which Vikram Singh had made a solid 35-ball 39 before Leon Turmaine and Quirijn Gunning chipped in with valuable twenties and Mitch Lees contributed 16 not out, all at better than a run a ball, Sparta had stayed behind the asking rate until the twelfth over.
VRA, their four-pronged spin attack with a couple of token seamers making them look like India circa 1971, had picked up five wickets while keeping the brake firmly on, but now Manminder Singh and Mamoon Latif went after the spinners, taking 35 off three overs and threatening to swing the game Sparta’s way.
That was the cue for Borren to change tack and bring himself on, and he was immediately able to induce a false stroke from Singh, who miscued to deep square leg and departed for a 19-ball 28.
Usman Saleem now joined Latif, and they battled their way through the next three overs, so that Sparta were left needing 27 off the last twelve deliveries.
14 came off Borren’s next, but he claimed the vital wicket of Latif who, after smacking the second delivery over cow corner for six skied the next towards midwicket, where Borren himself, reprising his impersonation of Usain Bolt, sprinted across to take the catch.
Latif had made 34 from 23 deliveries with a four and two sixes, and with 13 needed off Raja’s last he had given his side a real chance.
Borren has always had an uncanny ability to position himself under the next catch, and after long consultations Raja’s first delivery, bowled around the wicket and tossed up enticingly, was lofted by Saleem to long on and straight down the VRA captain’s throat.
Sawan Sardha was now on strike, and after Max Hoornweg, backing up and stranded by a straight drive back to the bowler, was run out off the next ball, Sardha kept Sparta in the hunt by punching the next two deliveries through extra cover for successive boundaries.
So five were needed off two, and Sardha again played into the covers off the next; this time, however, he couldn’t find the boundary, and a mix-up pushing for an improbable second saw him run out and Sparta all out for 128.
VRA, fielding five teenagers in their side, had set the tone by making 133 for eight – which subsequently proved to be the highest total of the day – in the first semi-final against HBS Craeyenhout, Vikram Singh making 23 and Shirase Rasool top-scoring with 35.
Julian de Mey’s spin claimed three for 20 for HBS, but when they replied it was VRA’s spinners who were in complete control: between them Turmaine, 14-year-old Luke Hartsink (who announced his arrival with a double wicket maiden) and Raja took seven wickets at a cost of 12 runs from 45 deliveries as HBS collapsed to a record-breaking 38 all out.
Hartsink’s figures of 3 – 2 – 2 – 2 were improbable enough, but they were more than matched by Turmaine’s 2.3 – 0 – 4 – 3.
The second semi-final was as tense as the first had been one-sided.
Hosts Voorburg were never really able to come to terms with the conditions or Sparta’s nagging seam attack, and they limped their way to 85 all out in 19.4 overs, skipper Bas de Leede’s 17 the highest score but absorbing 29 precious deliveries.
Usman Saleem claimed three for 16 for Sparta, including the crucial wickets of Tom de Grooth and Viv Kingma.
It did not seem that it could possibly be enough, and when Sparta reached 49 for two with Ali Raza as well set as anyone could be on this pitch, they appeared to be cruising to a comfortable victory and a place in the final.
Then Kingma removed Raza for 20 and Nasratullah Ibrahimkhil in the same over, and when Aryan Dutt had Bukhari caught with only two added to the total Voorburg began to believe that they could turn the game their way.
Saleem joined Mamoon Latif at 57 for six, and their partnership of 23, the highest of the innings, brought Sparta to within six runs of their target.
But De Leede trapped Saleem in front and yorked Joost Martijn Snoep two balls later, and when Ali Ahmad Qasim bowled Hoornweg in the final over Sparta’s last pair were together with five still needed from four deliveries.
Latif was equal to the challenge, however, and when Qasim bowled him a full toss he smashed it over cover for the six which gave his side a place in the final by the narrowest of margins.
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