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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Ronak Panoli was too hot to handle, stealing the show with a quick-fire half-century as Modern Heros retained their Under-13 ADIB NSL title with a comfortable nine-wicket victory over DPS Sharjah.
The opener was in fine form, hitting five sixes and six boundaries en route to his unbeaten 57 off just 23 balls as they reached their target of 77 in the sixth over.
Prior to the game, defending champions coach Shafiq Ahmed admitted his team, with a perfect record so far, needed luck when they faced an in-form DPS Sharjah side, who have registered eight straight wins in the competition.
But he, spectators and the players were treated to moments of brilliance at The Sevens Ground on Friday.
Firstly, Panoli played his part with the ball, taking one wicket as DPS were restricted to 76-8 in their 15 overs.
Only Saransh Kumar (19) and Arkadeep Das (11) reached double figures as Suyashveer Singh and Varun Ravi took two wickets each.
Panoli, who became the first U-13 NSL centurion earlier this season, returned to the field and this time he let the bat do the talking.
He hit three boundaries and two maximums in his first 11 deliveries before his partner Sidharth Tugnait (5) was removed by DPS skipper Nirmal Ratesar in the third over.
That was the only wicket to fall for DPS as they had no answer in stopping Panoli.
With Heros on 52-1 after just four overs, Panoli upped his game, scoring two consecutive fours before reaching his 50 off 20 deliveries with a six.
It was his second half-century but still with work to do, he wasn’t fazed by the feat.
Despite DPS trying their best, luck didn’t come their way.
All eyes were on Panoli and having found his rhythm at the crease, he ended the game on a high with six in the sixth over before being mobbed by his team-mates.
After the bowlers dominated the first innings, Panoli’s plan was always to “finish the game as quickly as possible.”
“It feels great to be champions and to win again is an amazing achievement,” he said. “I just wanted to finish the game as quickly as possible.”
DPS coach Ayub Iqbal admits Panoli was the difference.
“He played extremely well and if we got his wicket it could’ve been different,” he said. “But I cannot fault my players because they did exceptionally well.”
Heros’ Varun Nayanar added: “We never expected to win two in a row it’s a great feeling.”
Sri Lanka legend and cricketing icon Kumar Sangakkara said it was “wonderful” to watch young cricketers compete in the National School League (NSL) Finals at the Sevens and he believes it is important professional players give something back to the grassroots of the game.
Sangakkara, who is currently in the UAE playing for Gemini Arabians in the Masters Champions League, met with stars of the future and conducted the coin toss ahead of the under-15 final clash between Abu Dhabi Indian School and Our Own Zenith.
“It’s wonderful to be here and watch a final being played and seeing kids have so much fun,” the 38-year-old, who scored 63 international hundreds, told Sport360 exclusively. “It’s very important for any cricketer to come back, help out, give back or just watch grassroots cricket, that’s the way I came through the ranks.”
“It’s wonderful to be here and watch a final being played and seeing kids have so much fun,” the 38-year-old, who scored 63 international hundreds, told Sport360 exclusively.
“It’s very important for any cricketer to come back, help out, give back or just watch grassroots cricket, that’s the way I came through the ranks.”