SPECIALS – A heartfelt tribute to Phillip Hughes

  The saddest day in cricket’s history has just passed. Followers of the game across the world are mourning the distressingly unfortunate demise of a young batsman whose best years lay ahead of him.

  Phillip Hughes dies, aged 25. Five words which dealt an awful blow to the cricketing fraternity. It still has not sunk in completely. It will take a while before one can actually make sense of why this had to happen.

  An immensely talented young man, with an illustrious career waiting to fully blossom. Less than three days back, he was poised for a well-deserved comeback into the Australian Test team. Today, he is no longer among us. Fate has taken Phil Hughes away. It is a wretched feeling.

  And these are just the sentiments of an average cricket lover, who did not even know Hughes. Like thousands of others in different parts of the world, who felt a part of them was lost on November 27th, 2014.

zhughesy     Phillip Hughes, 1988-2014. May his soul rest in peace (source – cricket.com.au)

  I can hardly imagine what his family and loved ones must be going through. We have lost a cricketer, to whom we were anonymous, yet with whom we had a wonderful connection through the joys of cricket. But they have lost a  son, a brother, a friend, a team-mate. In their darkest hour, all we can do is pray to God to give them all the possible strength to come to terms with this irreparable loss.

  And I cannot even begin to think of what Sean Abbott must be going through. I sincerely hope that he gets all the support needed to recover from this mishap. He did not deserve this. One keeps on wondering, why did it had to happen?

  Two young men, in the early stages of their career. One will not come back again, the other will have to come back to himself from a painful tribulation. All this because of a freak intervention of fate on the field of cricket. Yes, cricket – the innocent, leisurely pastime. It just does not make sense.

  They say everything happens for a reason, that the best are taken away from us first. But these are scant consolations. This tragedy has left a massive void in the great game that is so much a part of our lives. Seen as a future batting hope ever since he made his debut in 2009, I have no doubt that Hughes would have gone on to become one of the best batsmen to have worn the Baggy Green.

  Born on November 30, 1988 in Macksville in New South Wales, Phillip Joel Hughes was a highly gifted left-handed batsman, and also an occasional wicketkeeper. He made his first-class debut for New South Wales in November 2007. At the age of 19, he became the youngest to score a century in a Sheffield Shield final.

  In just his second Test, against South Africa at Durban in March 2009, he became the youngest man to score two hundreds in a Test. In January 2013, he became the first Australian to score a century on ODI debut. In July 2014, he became the first Australian to score a List A double century.

  In all, he played 26 Tests, scoring 1535 runs at an average of 32.65. In 25 ODIs, he scored 826 runs at 35.91. In 114 first-class matches, he scored 9023 runs at 46.51 with as many as 26 hundreds. But he never got carried away by the success and always maintained his humility, determination and discipline in spite of being dropped more often than he ought to have been.

  With an infectious smile that epitomised his countryside spirit, he always looked to improve his game. In 2012, he moved to South Australia in the Sheffield Shield, for whom he was destined to play his last innings. He will forever remain 63 not out.

  So many potentially pleasing innings nipped in the bud. It seems so cruel and unfair, so sad to think of.

  The rare nature of his injury shows how fickle life can be and emphasises the fact that no man can control his eventual destiny. Such incidents remind us to be grateful, to be humble, to enjoy the simple things of life, to work hard. To touch people’s lives in our lifetime, just like an unassuming son of a banana farmer did.

  Rest in peace, Phillip Hughes. You will always remain in our hearts.

  May God bless your soul forever.


REVIEW – Barramundis announce themselves on the ODI scene

  Papua New Guinea’s spirited cricketers created history in Townsville as they became the first team to win their first two One-Day International matches. The Barramundis, as they are known, beat Hong Kong 2-0 in their maiden ODI series at the Tony Ireland Stadium, Australia’s newest international venue.

  Hong Kong and Papua New Guinea attained ODI status until 2018 after coming third and fourth respectively in the World Cup qualifiers in New Zealand earlier this year. Both teams narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. Besides getting ODI status, the two teams will also be part of the ICC World Cricket League Divison One and the ICC Intercontinental Cup – the two premier tournaments for Associate nations – in the next four years.

zpngh      Papua New Guinea’s cricketers are a joyous lot after defeating Hong Kong in their maiden ODI match (source – icc-cricket.com)

  In the first game of the two-match series on 8th November, PNG bowled out Hong Kong for 202 in 48.3 overs. Captain Jamie Atkinson (59) and Aizaz Khan (42) rescued their side from the perils of 98/6. Each of the six Barramundi bowlers took at least one wicket, underlining a strong team effort. In reply, PNG slipped from 38/1 to 76/5 before Vani Morea and Charles Amini (younger brother of captain Chris Amini) combined to put on a match-winning 91 runs for the sixth wicket. while Morea was out for 54, Amini remained unbeaten on 61 to guide ODI cricket’s newest member to a four-wicket win with a full eleven overs to spare. With this win, Papua New Guinea became the sixth nation – after Australia, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Bermuda and Afghanistan – to win its first ever ODI.

  The next day, the Barramundis made it two wins out of two with another successful chase. Hong Kong elected to bat again upon winning the toss, and posted a healthy 261 in 49.3 overs. Babar Hayat (55), Anshuman Rath (51) and Haseeb Amjad (42) did the bulk of the scoring. The Papuan pace bowlers Norman Vanua (4/60) and Willie Gavera (3/45) shared seven wickets amongst them. The chase revolved around 21 year-old Lega Siaka, who struck a brilliant 109 from 114 balls from number three to become his country’s first ODI centurion. When he was run out, PNG still required 69 off 48 balls with six wickets remaining. However, the rising run rate did not deter Morea, who scored his second consecutive fifty. After a few more hiccups, PNG reached 264/7 with four balls to spare, with Morea (65*) hitting the winning boundary to spark joyous scenes.

  PNG’s excellent start as an ODI team is indeed a feel-good story. Cricket has been played in the country for many years, but only recently has the national team come into the international spotlight. In January 2011, they came second in the World Cricket League Division Three and a few months later, third in Division Two. This impressive progress assured them of a place in the World Cup qualifiers in 2014, where they defeated Kenya, Uganda and Namibia in the league stage before stuttering in the Super Six round. Back in 1982 too, PNG had missed out on World Cup qualification by a whisker as they came third in the ICC Trophy.

zsadf       21 year-old Lega Siaka became PNG’s first ODI centurion, scoring a match-winning 109 in the second ODI against Hong Kong (source – icc-cricket.com)

  By far the strongest team in the East Asia/Pacific region, PNG has always possessed the talent, but lack of professionalism and infrastructure have proved to be a hindrance. The country still does not have an international-standard cricket ground, with Amini Park in the capital city of Port Moresby – the hub of cricket in PNG – being the most well-known venue. The ground is named after the Amini family, who have been pioneers of cricket in the country over the years. Current captain Chris Amini’s father and grandfather have both captained PNG while his mother and aunt have played for the PNG women’s team. In recent times, the team has been coached by the likes of former Australian Test player Andy Bichel and former Sheffield Shield player Peter Anderson. The current CEO of Cricket PNG is Greg Campbell, another former Australian Test player.

  These appointments, along with improvements in the quality of pitches at local grounds and the ICC’s development programmes, have played a significant role in nurturing PNG’s raw cricketing talent compared to thirty years ago, when there was no development plan in place at all. The presence of former England international Geraint Jones – a Papuan by birth – in the team has also helped. One of the biggest advantages for cricket in PNG is that the national squad is made up entirely of locals, unlike many other Associate nations. Siaka, for one, is a star in the making and an ideal inspiration for budding cricketers in the country to take the game seriously. Even before his century in the second ODI against Hong Kong, he had made himself known in the Associate world by hitting fine hundreds against Kenya and Namibia in the World Cup qualifiers. Quite a few PNG players are also on the rosters of Big Bash League franchises.

  On one hand, there is the heartening rise of nations with homegrown talent – top Associates Ireland and Afghanistan, followed by Nepal and Papua New Guinea at the next tier are the four teams who can have a great future in cricket. However, on the other hand, there is the utterly callous decision of the ICC to reduce the number of teams in the 2019 World Cup to ten. As it is, promising Associates are being kept away from the possibility of Test cricket. With this ridiculous curtailment of teams, even ODI cricket will be of little significance for these nations. If at all the ICC really care for the growth of the game, this decision has to be changed at the earliest. It would be disastrous if cricket in countries like PNG is shrivelled – the ICC would do well to keep in mind the unfortunate case of Kenyan cricket.

  However, in all likelihood, growth of cricket in Papua New Guinea is here to stay. It is the fastest growing sport in the country and the national team is ranked 16th in the world today. What they will need in the next four years is a regular diet of fixtures against international teams.

  Here’s hoping that the wins over Hong Kong are a sign of brighter things to come from the Barramundis.


Specials – Manek Bajana: The Parsi batsman who played for Somerset

  Manek Pallon Bajana was one of the most promising Parsi cricketers of his time. But interestingly, he never played a first-class match for the Parsis nor for any other team on Indian soil. Instead, he devoted almost his entire playing career to Somerset in the County Championship.

  ‘Prince’ Bajana, a solidly-built right-handed batsman, was born on September 14, 1886. He had a late start to his cricket career – on the historic tour of 1911, he joined the all-India team in England where he was in the service of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan of Cooch Behar.

  He thus became the seventh Parsi in that squad, and was the only one representing Eastern India (Cooch Behar is situated in Bengal). On his first class debut for the Indians against Surrey at the Oval, he batted at number six and had the misfortune of recording a pair. He fared a little better in his second outing against Kent, scoring 21 and 12.

  It was in his fourth match, against Somerset at Taunton, that Bajana gave a display of his batting skills with a brilliant hundred. Replying to Somerset’s 157, Bajana was promoted from the middle order to open the Indians’ innings, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. The first two wickets fell with only one run on the board, but this woeful start did not deter Bajana.

  He shared in a 57-run partnership with Rustomji Meherhomji for the third wicket and was finally out for 108 – studded with 14 fours – out of the team total of 196; the next highest score being 19. Somerset fought back to set a target of 265 for the Indians. Though Bajana was out for zero this time, Palwankar Shivram (113*) guided the visitors to a one-wicket win.

zbajana       Manek Bajana was among the earliest Indians to have played in the County Championship (source – wikipedia.org)

  Impressed by his innings, a struggling Somerset – who were regularly placed at the bottom of the table in the past few seasons – duly signed Bajana as an opening batsman. Thus he became one of the earliest Indian cricketers to play in the County Championship.

  On his county debut against Sussex at Hove in May 1912, he scored 22 and 7 as Somerset clinched a low-scorer by six wickets. In the next game against Hampshire at Southampton, he impressed in defeat with a gutsy 71 in the second innings.

  Though Somerset’s performance did not improve much (they finished 14th out of 16 teams), Bajana topped the run charts and averages for his club in his first year. He played all 16 games, and scored 575 runs at 22.11 with four fifties. In the return drawn fixture against Hampshire at Bath, he top-scored with 85, while his highest of 95 came in a drawn game against Worcestershire at Amblecote.

  Bajana could not quite repeat his performance in the 1913 season, this time averaging 19.75 with only one half-century in ten matches. Against Derbyshire at Taunton, he struck a crucial 78 in the first innings to help Somerset win by 91 runs – a bit of solace in a season in which the county finished last again.

  In his first appearance following the war in the 1919, he scored 20 and 36 against Surrey at the Oval. He played only six Championship matches that season, but averaged a healthy 27.55. He showed a liking for the Derbyshire bowlers again, scoring 77 at Derby to help his side win by ten wickets. Somerset eventually finished joint fifth out of 15 teams.

  The following season, i.e 1920, happened to be Bajana’s last at Somerset. He scored 361 runs in 14 Championship matches at 16.40, with a knock of 106 being his only fifty-plus score. This innings, which included 12 fours, came against Warwickshire at Bath, and enabled Somerset to win by ten wickets.

  A few days prior, Bajana achieved his career best score of 115, against Cambridge University at the Fenner’s Ground. With his team having been set 330 to win, he guided them to a draw with this innings. His final match was against Middlesex at Lord’s, where he scored 6 and zero. At Somerset, he was known by the nickname ‘Pyjamas’, probably because it seemed to be rhyming with his surname.

  In his eight-year career, Bajana played a total of 55 first-class matches, of which 46 were in the County Championship. He scored 1975 runs from 96 innings at 20.83 with three hundreds and a best of 115. He also took 36 catches and four wickets.

  Apart from first-class cricket, he played for London’s Indian Gymkhana in a few minor matches between 1917 and 1924. He was a better batsman than his numbers suggest, and it can be said that most of his peak years unfortunately coincided with the first World War.

  Bajana was among those who led the way for future Indian cricketers to play on the county circuit. Sadly, he did not live to experience India’s first ever Test match – he passed away on April 28, 1927 in London at the young age of 40.