Mohsin Abbas read the short pitched delivery early and swivelled into position depositing the ball high over deep square leg for six. And with that, the Western Warriors sealed the match in emphatic fashion against the Sons of Pitches by 8 wickets winning a record fourth Infinity T20 Cricket Grand Final.
These were the two teams that deserved to be at the Final. Whilst the Sons of Pitches had several players who were in good form in the lead up to this match, the Western Warriors were beginning to look like a team that means business. And in this game, the Western Warriors put on a clinical performance winning with considerable ease to ensure daylight between them and any other team in this tournament.
The Sons of Pitches started off on the right foot. The team honoured Colin Bense, their oldest member by giving him the opportunity to toss the coin for the Grand Final. He called correctly and decided to bat first. Perhaps the Sons of Pitches had seen the Infinity All-Star match played before, where both sides made over 160 runs. In a final, runs on the board is always an advantage, however the Sons of Pitches would require a good start.
Shenuka Peiris, the Sons of Pitches skipper, walked out to bat and immediately looked in great nick. He and Tim White batted fluently, pierced the field with well-timed boundaries and rotated the strike. The first six overs with the fielding restrictions in place yielded 43 runs without any wickets lost for the Sons of Pitches.
Things looked settled for the Sons of Pitches but disaster struck when Peiris took on Adnan Khawaja’s arm in the seventh over. Peiris was caught well short of his crease as Khawaja brought the stumps down with a direct throw. Peiris had made 20 off 16 deliveries and was looking completely in control up until this point. The Western Warriors skipper had played his part in dismissing his counterpart and urged his team to lift. His team responded well as the very next ball, another wicket fell. This time, it was to a stunning delivery bowled by Hassan Mudassir who got the ball to jag back in and trap Rowen Pinkerton plumb in front for a first ball duck. Mudassir’s previous over was wayward and though he wrapped the batsmen on the pads a few times, the umpire had thought those would have gone down leg. Not the ball that he dismissed Pinkerton however. This particular delivery was bowled at pace, got just enough nip back in to the right hander and didn’t bounce as much as Pinkerton would have expected. And just like that, the Sons of Pitches had lost their two best batsmen in the space of consecutive deliveries.
The momentum up until that point was with the batting side. Now, it was the Warriors who appeared in complete control.
Cricket is very much a momentum game and the side that holds onto this the longest wins. The Sons of Pitches were going at over seven runs per over after the first six overs. However after the double dismissals, they could only manage 19 runs off their next five overs. The third wicket fell. This time it was the set batsman Tim White who perished for 33 bowled through the gate by Gaffar. And with that, the Sons of Pitches’ run rate dipped to below six runs per over.
Malinga Goonetilleke and Shenal Peiris set about building a partnership. Malinga had already made 42 runs earlier in the day for Infinity Yellow and continued that form in this innings. He is an accumulator and starts his innings off watchfully before becoming more expansive. Shenal by contrast likes to feel the ball on his bat and plays an attacking game. The two complimented each other well for a period. However, Shenal had no answers for a Rauf Bodla delivery that crashed into the timber. Wickets continued to fall a regular intervals and runs were hard to come by. After 15 overs, the Sons of Pitches were 4/92. They needed to explore in the last five overs, but could only manage to score 32 runs. Only two boundaries were scored in the last 30 deliveries and with Malinga dismissed in the 19th over for 26, any hopes of a 140+ score also faded.
The Western Warriors kept the Sons of Pitches to 8/124. The Sons of Pitches ideally would have liked another 30 to 40 runs at least and would now have to come out with the ball and give it their all. Shenuka Peiris opened the bowling with Nitin Madan and kept things relatively tight. The fourth over of the Warriors innings was a maiden bowled by Nitin as the batsmen were very watchful early on. That pressure must have contributed to the dismissal of Jilani who hit the ball straight to Shenuka Peiris for nine runs. The Western Warriors were 1/18.
The first sign of any real aggression by the Warriors was in the last over of the fielding restrictions when Bushan Patil was introduced to the attack. The Sons of Pitches had used him throughout the tournament to break partnerships and pick up wickets. But on this occasion he was not at his best and his first over went for 15 runs as Mohsin Abbas took a liking to his bowling. Abbas raced to be 22 runs off just 11 deliveries with five fours before slowing down and pacing his innings. Javed Bolim however perished to Pinkerton giving a catch to Goonetilleke to be dismissed for 17 off 21 deliveries. The Western Warriors were 2/55 after 9 overs at that point.
It was interesting to note that after 10 overs, Western Warriors were actually one run behind the Sons of Pitches at the same stage. The Warriors were 2/59 as opposed to the Sons of Pitches being 2/60. And whilst the Sons of Pitches never really had the big few overs they needed with the bat, the Western Warriors post the 10 over mark switched gears. Leg spinner Asitha Samarawickrama was touted as being one of the Sons of Pitches’ key weapons in the lead up but struggled with his control. His third over was taken apart for 18 runs as a six and two fours were struck. However bowling leg spin is not easy and Asitha should hold his head high in an otherwise stellar tournament.
As the Western Warriors drew closer to the target, they become more adventurous. Nasir Cheema, who was playing second fiddle to Abbas, struck a few late boundaries. Despite Nitin Madan and Pinkerton bowling well, regular wickets eluded the Sons of Pitches. However Madan and Pinkerton should take some heart in knowing that between the pair, in seven overs bowled- they only conceded 28 runs.
Adnan Khawaja who was the Western Warriors’ leading run scorer in this tournament did not even need to bat. Abbas and Cheema shared an unbeaten 72 run partnership to ensure the Warriors win the match with 16 balls to spare. It meant that the Western Warriors have won an unprecedented fourth Infinity T20 Cricket Grand Final and continue their winning streak that has spanned almost four years.
Adnan Khawaja, the Western Warriors’ skipper, remains the glue that has held this team together. The team’s core players such as the skipper, Usman Malik & Javed Bolim are still around. But the side is constantly evolving. In 2011, it was Navdeep Singh who struck four centuries and 564 runs, which is a record that is still yet to be broken. The following year, it was Fawad Ahmed that walked away with the tournament’s best bowling award. This was a sign of things to come as he went on to higher honours the following year representing Victoria, the Melbourne Renegades and ultimately Australia. Earlier this year in summer, Lucky Khan dominated with the bat whilst being effective with the ball and collected the best player of the tournament award. And whilst those individuals have had their share of brilliance, it takes more to consistently win. That is where the Warriors excel, with even lesser known players bringing out their best when representing this team.
The Sons of Pitches would have been disappointed with their performance in the final. They had patches in the match with both bat and ball where they looked to be taking the initiative away from the Warriors but failed to apply prolonged pressure. There were several key moments in the match that went against the Sons of Pitches. Pinkerton got an absolute beauty first ball. Goonetilleke was dismissed to what could well be the best ever Infinity Cricket catch as Javed Bolim flung himself to his left to a ball that was well-struck to pluck a catch out of thin air. The only thing missing was a cape, but the air time Bolim got would have made Michael Jordan proud. On the field, Asitha and Patil both had off-days but previously had performed brilliantly in the lead up to this match. Interestingly, Shenal Peiris who Shenuka mentioned was working on his bowling in the previous week didn’t bowl in the match at all. Some of the field placements were questionable but the intent and effort cannot be faulted by this side. They have been fine competitors in this tournament and more importantly played the game in good spirit. Shenuka Peiris was awarded the Best Captain and also picked up the leading run-scorer trophy. There is no doubt the Sons of Pitches will be back with a bang in summer.
As the Western Warriors collected their medals and posed for a photo with the tournament trophy, it was perhaps fitting that Fawad Ahmed was also present. He arrived at the venue just as the Warriors won and joined the side that is close to his heart in the celebrations. Ahmed represented the Western Warriors in the 2011 and 2012 Infinity T20 Tournaments before being selected for higher honours representing Victoria, Melbourne Renegades and Australia. Mohsin Abbas was awarded the Grand Final MVP for his match winning contributions with the bat. Adnan Khawaja, the victorious skipper, was awarded the prestigious tournament MVP award for scoring 202 runs at 67.33 and a strike rate of 188.8. Along with that, he picked up 6 wickets at an average of 12.
The Western Warriors’ reputation and brand has been built over the years through their dominance in Infinity Cricket’s Melbourne T20 events. They remain the team to beat and have never lost a match they have taken the field since the start of Infinity Cricket in 2011. Since that time, they have played over 30 matches and have ended up winning them all. Much like the West Indian & Australian teams in international cricket in their prime, the Western Warriors have a presence. For players participating in Infinity Cricket, the story of the Western Warriors has spread far and wide and after their performance in this event, the challenge still remains: which team is good enough to defeat them?
For more statistics, including the full scorecards, analysis, wagon wheels for batsman and much more, please visit: https://www.crichq.com/#matches/191918/1st_innings; Facebook: www.facebook.com/infinitycricket
The writer is the founder of Infinity Cricket, which believes in ‘Connecting people through Cricket’. Infinity Cricket launched an ‘open’ T20 concept that would inspire and grow the passion of cricketers at the grassroots level. Since 2010, Infinity Cricket has two established annual events in Melbourne, has recently launched in Brisbane and has plans for expanding into Sydney and Adelaide.