Avinash, Gaurav help Centaurs clinch a thriller against Assault Ayyanars
The first match of BSL's 4th was a mouth watering clash between table toppers The Centaurs (TCs) and the team ranked second on the 'Masters group' table Assault Ayyanars (AAs) and it definitely lived up to its billing. Both teams came into the match after recording confidence boosting victories in their last game and had won 2 out of 2 matches in the Master's group. Both teams were without some key men with the Assault Ayyanars missing mercurial all-rounder Kishore DK and The Centaurs missing their skipper and frontline fast bowler Bharath Sequeira. In Bharath's absence, the "wily old fox", BCG President, Prashanth Menon was leading The Centaurs.
Choosing to bat first on a wet early morning surface, The Centaurs started on the backfoot as they lost attacking opening batsman and last match's Man of the Match Raghuraman for a duck in the first over. Anand Velu, promoted up the order to No. 3, and Avinash BM responded with a couple of swashbuckling hits. But just when it looked like the duo would take the game away from AA's, Anand got out to a waist high full toss from Shabari. Suresh D soon followed Anand, getting himself runout in a horrible mix up with Avinash, which left both batsmen stranded at the same end. At 39/3, TCs looked like they were struggling but Avinash BM held up his end superbly and scored a brilliant 55 to ensure his team finished with a respectable score of 133. The hallmark of Avinash's and TCs innings was the running between the wickets. With boundaries hard to come by, Avinash, Varun Seth (22 runs) and later Gaurav Bisht (21 runs) scored their runs mainly by converting 1s into 2s and 2s into 3s. The fact that TCs scored 90 out of their 133 runs in singles and doubles (vs 61 scored by AAs in their total) is a testament to that. For AA's, Shabarish was the star performer with the ball taking 3 crucial wickets of Raghu, Anand and Varun and giving away just 12 runs in his 3 overs.
AA's began their chase of 134 superbly with opening batsman and captain, Ravee Kumar, and wicket keeper, Chethan Gangadhar, taking TCs frontline bowlers to the cleaners. The duo were going at more than 9 runs an over and it looked like they would make a mincemeat of the target on hand. Their attacking play seemed to have demoralized TCs who are known to be chirpy on the field but were unusually quite today. Their enterprising stand was broken with the score on 46 when Ravee was dismissed caught behind in the 5th over. Chethan followed him 2 balls later with the score on 50 which opened a door for TCs to come back into the game. However, mentor Karthik Gopalan and the very dependable Saleem Mallick batted responsibly and raked up a 32 ball 30 run partnership before Karthik was bowled by the omnipresent Avinash BM in the 11th over. The game however, still, looked in AAs favour who needed 53 off 56 balls with 7 wickets in hand. Fresh from his heroics with the ball, Shabari walked in at the fall of Karthik's wicket and ably supported Saleem. The duo rotated the strike well and hit the occasional boundary in a 50 ball 48 run stand that seemed to have snuffed the life out of TCs challenge. With only 6 needed off 7 balls, Saleem went for a needless big hit and holed out at long on off Ram Bhat's bowling. Saleem's wicket gave a fresh lease of life to TCs who looked outplayed and out of the contest till then. Suddenly, the chirping was back and with it the confidence that the game could be won. With 6 needed off 6 balls, TCs captain Prashant Menon trusted his star bowler Gaurav Bisht to hold his nerve and come up with the goods. And Gaurav did not disappoint, bowling a superb final over in which he took 2 wickets, effected 2 run outs and more importantly conceded just 1 run. The win marked TCs 3rd win in the Master's league and has consolidated their hold on that first position. For AA's this loss would be particularly hard to swallow as they looked to be in control all along but still managed to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. For his outstanding innings of 55 and crucial wicket of Karthik G, Avinash was awarded the Man of the Match award.