Vishal Raj rose to the occasion with a heroic all-round display, including taking the prized wicket of Jonathan Figy, as Our Own Zenith got their hands on the Under-15 ADIB NSL trophy in a thrilling final.
Against last season’s runners-up Abu Dhabi Indian School (ADIS), it was always going to be a close T20 encounter with both sides travelling to the Sevens Stadium on Friday with unbeaten records.
That proved to be the case with captain Niel Lobo (70) and Raj (50) both scoring half-centuries, while the latter took two wickets including tournament top-scorer Figy for 86 to seal a seven-run triumph.
With a game of huge significance, the boys’ confidence was boosted by the presence of Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara who undertook the coin toss with captains Lobo and Figy.
Knowing that ADIS had never chased so far this term, Lobo decided to bat first after winning the crucial toss.
It proved to be the correct call with Anirudh Jagdish (15) and Lobo putting on 47 runs for the first wicket.
Jagdish became Figy’s 15th victim of the tournament but that was as good as it got for the Abu Dhabi outfit.
Raj entered and the 15-year-old upped the ante with Lobo as Zenith reached 62-1 after 10 overs.
The pair were in blistering form at the crease and after the 12th over, Lobo brought up his 50 with a well-taken boundary.
With runs being scored at a healthy rate it was the last two overs that gave Zenith the advantage.
On 129-1 with 12 balls remaining, Zenith did the damage with 18 runs scored in the penultimate over, before Vishal Raj brought up his half-century in the last delivery to help his team score 162-1.
With a challenging target, ADIS openers Figy and Sahil Harinani got off to good start.
As the top-scorer with 508 runs, Zenith was fully aware of Figy’s potential and after keeping him quiet for six deliveries, the ADIS skipper smashed his first boundary before hitting a maximum in the next over.
The chase was going according to plan for ADIS with Figy reaching his 50 and Harinani on course to match that feat.
With the scoreboard reading 122 for no loss with five overs remaining, the momentum was certainly with ADIS. But Raj found the breakthrough, bowling Harinani for 47, before being involved with Sidharth Ramesh’s run-out.
Both dismissals saw the Zenith players in a huddle and they were soon celebrating again with Raj claiming the all-important wicket of Figy in the 18th over with a brilliant yorker.
With 15 required, leg-spinner Glenn Fernandes, kept his cool to send his team-mates into raptures.
It was no surprise Raj was awarded man of the match and the all-rounder was thrilled to have delivered when it mattered.
“It feels really great to have won this because it’s a great trophy to win,” he said. “We knew Figy was their star player and we had to get him out. I just bowled a yorker and thankfully it worked. His wicket definitely gave us hope and we finished the job.”
His coach Fostus Xavier admits it was tense to watch ADIS’ run-chase but always had belief in his team. “Our bowling has been our strength so far but our batting was simply superb,” he said.
“Both Lobo and Raj scored half-centuries and once we got the first wicket, I always felt we had a chance. My boys never gave up and the team spirit was always there.”
For ADIS, it was their second finals defeat and all-rounder Nooran Thakur could not hide his emotions.
“It’s pretty disappointing and have to go through it and deal with it,” said the 13-year-old. “This is more painful than last year because we did better this time.”
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