Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Tohoku Cricket Cup Final

Victories in amateur team sports are a beautiful thing. It doesn’t matter what sport you’re playing, or even if you’ve got any talent for it. The only thing that matters is that you care, ideally too much, and have a ruthless competitive streak in you that means if you lose you will genuinely break down in tears and cry like a little girl.

At the start of the day our team celebrated getting one wicket like we had just won the World Cup, the Champions League, the Superbowl, and become President of the United States, all in one sweet second. We didn’t expect anything from the tournament, in fact we thoroughly expected to be the team everyone beat and we’d have a bloody good laugh doing it. But now we were in the final, one win away from being champions of Tohoku, and my god it mattered.

Once again Akita lost the toss but this time Morioka decided to bat first. As the field were set Akita we were a confident team, a 100% record as a team giving them a confident assuredness that victory was within their grasp. After a tight first over from Thomson the Morioka star batsman started cutting loose, with runs coming thick and fast in the second over. Thankfully this cameo was shortened by the pace of Mandal, as the batsman mistimed a shot and Eiji caught a high ball near the boundary. The next over from Cooke saw just 2 runs from the over and a run out thanks to superb fielding from Tatsuya.

With both dangerous opening batsmen gone Cunningham and Eiji both claimed scalps in the middle order, and while scoring remained steady for Morioka, the consistently fast and accurate bowling from the Akitan men saw the rate of scoring restricted. Yoko's slower paced unconvential technique was impossible for the Moriokan batsmen to live with, and as the wickets tumbled so their desperation increased.

The efforts of Jeff Nadeau, fielding close to the batsmen, in distracting the Moriokans with constant taunting, were superb, and he can indeed claim credit for at least one wicket, by timing to perfection the sentence ‘do you know what sport I love? Monster Trucks!’ He also said something rather distasteful regarding a female deer and his genitals, the cad.

3 overs from the end Cooke put behind him some erratic bowling earlier in the day to post a double wicket maiden over. With Morioka reduced to their last wicket only 5 runs were scored of the last two overs, and the Akita bowlers had given their batsmen a fighting chance with a target of 54 to reach.

The Akita assault on this total did not start well. A lightning quick bowler took the wickets of both Cunningham and Thomson in quick succession, with Cooke following in the next over. With one run scored of a target of 54, Akita had lost nearly half their batsmen. Morioka were now definite favourites, as the whole of Akita Cricket Club gathered by the boundary to watch proceedings.

Some superb attacking strokes from Hui meant he quickly reached 20 runs (at which point a batsmen is forced to retire). After Hui had forced retirement Akita were still well short of the required total, as Ebdon, Eiji and Tatsuya all tried to steady the ship with limited success, and ultimately it was down to Hui to return to the pitch to partner Mandal with one wicket remaining. No chances for error. One slip up, one slightly mishit shot and it was all over. It needed two clear heads in the middle, and with the free hitting Hui and the assured Mandal, Akita had the batsmen who could hit the required runs. With sixes and fours flying off Hui’s bat, and Mandal’s composure serving him well as he clipped balls away to similar effect. Akita had one wicket remaining with 23 runs to score. Slowly this was wittled down, until a wide ball from the Morioka bowling attack ran behind the wicketkeeper for four runs, and Akita needed three runs to win the tournament and claim the Tohoku trophy. As a ball slipped down Mandal’s leg side, the slightest clip with the bat saw it sail towards the boundary for four runs.

The team flooded the pitch, the tension replaced by sheer ecstasy as Mandal ran off celebrating. A huge inflatable banana was brought out to join in the celebrations as the beer flowed, and the trophy was presented to a jubilant captain Cooke.

Akita Cricket Club, the team who had practised with rubbish bins and tennis balls, watched only by confused eight year olds and their even more confused tiny rabbits, were champions of Tohoku. And my god it felt good.

For those interested in playing for Akita Cricket Club we're trying to arrange a friendly in July, and will defend the Tohoku Cup in the second tournament of the year in September.

An apology, pastries and Cricket

This blog needs kickstarting. I am going to do this by not being so damn fussy about what I put in. There’ll be short entries, longer ones, toilet humour and recycled jokes about raw fish, all peppered with the fevered diatribes of a man who has to live in a culture without sausage rolls. Throughout history the most entertaining rants have all been produced by people suffering from a pastry deficiency, you only have to ask me and I will confirm this to you by saying yes. I’ll email Greggs tonight to enquire about the possibility of opening a new branch in rural Japan.

My life has generally been a respectably successful combination of happy accidents. These words can also now apply to Akita Cricket Club. Allow me to tell you in an unnecessarily long winded and overtly self aggrandising fashion, the story of Akita Cricket Club.

It began, as all tales of sporting rags to riches do, with a bin. A rubbish bin with a blue lid. Armed with this bin, 3 tennis balls, and a pair of irish hurling sticks, Akita Cricket Club took to their Honjo training camp amid much confusion from locals. Our members were an international mix of misfits, and given the amount of tennis balls that either went sailing over the batsman’s head or failed to reach the batsman at all, our chances did not look good for the tournament.

We did however reach out to the local community, with a very enthusiastic gaggle of 8 year old girls joining in at one of our practises. It is testament to our incompetence that having watched us for 45 minutes, they didn’t realise we were aiming for the wicket.

And so to Sendai! After 6 weeks of a gruelling training schedule of little girls bringing their inexplicably tiny rabbits to watch us hurling tennis balls at each others heads, 4 cars left Akita on Saturday 24th of May. These cars took with them the hopes and dreams of an entire prefecture, all resting on the shoulders of 11 daring sportsmen (and women). In the run up to the tournament Akita had suffered a blow to the strength of the team, as opening batsman Jon Hui suffered an ankle injury, and we realised his partner Owen Cunningham was Irish and therefore shit. But we ploughed on regardless, past the endless rice fields of Akita, to the bright lights of Sendai.

The day before the game was marked with most of the team being shown a cricket bat for the first time. An important milestone in the history of any cricket club. A booze filled practise session in central Sendai was hastily arranged, with a plethora of dropped catches due to fielders having one hand occupied with beer.

A chance to know thine enemy followed, an all you can drink party with the other teams. The teams from Sendai and Morioka, along with a mix of cricket enthusiasts from around the region making up the Tohoku team, all seemed very friendly and blissfully unaware of the TONKING they were about to receive. The night was punctuated with a visit to Lawson and McDonalds, and for some reason I thought it a good idea to tell some Japanese girls that Jeff has a big penis. Shitsureshimashita.

I awoke on match day with a craving for hash browns, and after I had stepped over the vomit of our opening Bowler, breakfast was consumed with much talk of what the winning formula for today might be. Having spent six weeks practising with the wrong equipment and doing it badly, the odds were not good, but spirit in the camp remained high.

Leaving the hotel to find a ground in the tree covered hills around Sendai was done with relative ease, and as we inspected a rain sodden pitch we prepared mentally for Akita Cricket Club’s first ever game, against a Tohoku Select VIII.

Losing the toss Akita were put into bat, and after respectable knocks from Jon Hui (19) Owen Cunningham (11) and captain Philip Cooke (10), Akita posted a score of 58/5 on an unpredictable pitch. Whether this would prove enough against a Tohoku side that were very much an unknown quantity was in doubt, but as early as the second over Akita Cricket Club took their first wicket thanks to a direct at a run out, a sharp piece of fielding from Cooke. The wickets continued to tumble as the Akita bowlers used their pace and accuracy to torment the Tohoku team, and when their best batsmen was bowled by a mean piece of medium pace accuracy from David Ebdon, the game was up. Akita saw the ten overs out with some tight bowling from Yoko Ihara and Scotsman David Thomson, who appeared to have recovered from the earlier vomiting incideint. Tohoku eventually finished on 28/6, and at no point looked like threatening Akitan supremacy. The team who had practised by throwing tennis balls at a rubbish bin for six weeks had their first win under their belt.

Confidence growing, their next opponents were the more than able Sendai, who boasted players who had represented University teams around the world. Now I can’t actually claim to have been present at this game, my cricket knowledge being required to umpire the Morioka vs Tohoku clash happening on the other pitch. However I can say that on a much better pitch consistently tight bowling from vice captain Tapo Mandal as well as Cunningham and Thomson kept a talented Sendai side restricted to 53 runs. The batting exhibition that followed was a masterclass in aggressive cricket shots, with Cunningham and Hui running riot with some of the tournament’s best batting. Both rattled off a lightning fast 20 runs before tournament rules forced them to retire. Thomson and the surprisingly old Tatsuya then saw the game home with calm collected batting performances. The game was won by 7 wickets with 4 overs remaining, and amazingly with Morioka triumphing against Tohoku, a place in the final was now assured.

The next match against Morioka was very much a friendly, a precursor for the fireworks to follow in the final itself. Nevertheless after once more being put into bat, the Akita team set about the Morioka bowlers with sadistic intent. Yoko Ihara and Amelie Girard opened the batting for Akita on this occasion, and were unlucky to be dismissed as they were getting into a rhythm. With the cavalry called for, Thomson and Hui set about dispatching the ball to all corners of the ground with an obvious contempt for the bowlers’ efforts. Morioka opened with weaker batsmen playing defensive strokes, and did not score quickly enough to be competitive with Akita’s total of 78/6. However there were warning signs when Morioka’s better batsmen came out towards the end of the game and started hitting huge shots over the boundary ropes. Ultimately an easy 30 run victory for Akita, but we knew the final would be a whole new, if slightly similar, ball game.