Any cricketer in the UAE should jump at the chance of a game here. Three years after first admiring it from a floor high up in a neighbouring skyscraper, this writer was lucky enough to get the chance to play on it shortly before sadly leaving the country for good. Nestled amongst far-ranging and undulating green gardens, and with the ocean lapping up against white sand metres from the boundary fence, you’d be forgiven for imagining yourself in the West Indies were it not for the imposing Fairmont and Jumeirah hotels squarely framing the sight screens. Yes, we were in Abu Dhabi to play the Gents at their enviable Emirates Palace home ground.
With Darjeeling having come up against the Gents in a DSL fixture only a few days previously, this was a more social affair. The two teams set up at the boundary in the shade of palm trees and uncertainty around our hosts’ policy on studs saw them unscrewed, replaced and unscrewed again while the pitch was inspected, and the coin tossed.
Darjeeling were put out to field first in sweltering heat and yours truly thrown the ball by captain Watto to start the demolition. Three wides (right, left and right) later and the long-awaited legal delivery, graciously served half way up the wicket, was duly dispatched for six runs. The theme of my own afternoon was at least decided.
With the boundary short and the bowl-shaped outfield slow, the temptation to angle up was irresistible for most batsmen but, apart from Nick whose ruthless bowling sent stumps flying, Darjeeling’s attack suffered initially from a few slippery hands. The bowlers eventually found their mark, with Matt (2-40), Umar (2-24) and Krish (2-25) finishing with two wickets apiece, Ash 1-21 but on the wrong end of some drops and Nick the pick of the group with final figures of 2-14 off 4.3 overs.
This writer has just googled “worst ever sports performances” to attempt to provide you with a useful gauge of his own toils. A run-up shortened from a Mitchell Johnson 2013 Ashes-esque space shuttle runway to the last resort step-and-lob shame largely failed to stem the wides. Wicketkeeper Charles got a 360-degree workout and the ICC-accredited umpire even copped a bowling action into his thigh in the struggle to keep the ball down the middle. Watto and Darjeeling CC showed its team spirit throughout with endless but futile faith. I am reliably informed that only Boris Johnson’s son may have bowled more wides in an on over for Darjeeling than the ~12 calculated for my final over. A catch resulting from a miscued smash to the boundary is gratefully received in final figures of 1-67 from 6 overs.
A rare 30-over match saw the hosts out within 25 overs and setting a target for Darjeeling of 144 runs to win.
Sunny, opening the batting for Darjeeling against his old side, made a confident 22 including some characteristically elegant drives you could take home to meet your parents, while partner George saw six balls before holing out for three. Brendan came in at three and battered the Gents with raucous but never-uncertain 74 runs, of which 30 came from sixes. Watto himself contributed a rapid 26. DCC were clearly brimming with confidence – with all wickets falling to catches.
From a generous foundation, and with the noise on the boundary getting louder, Charles, Matt P and Ash were able to dictate the pace and literally walk it home. Charles, presumably taking a breather after his acrobatics behind the wicket stroked a gentle sixteen. Matt’s desperate shouts of “Two there!” were greeted with leisurely strolls between the wickets from final partner Ash, who dragged out the suspense and condemned Matt to a total of ten singles amongst his 14 runs. Darjeeling were turning the screw, and the slow-play tactics clearly worked, with a Gents bowler removed from the attack for bowling two dangerous deliveries. With the team roaring support from the boundary Ash himself squared up for the Gents’ final delivery, answering it in style with a dismissive six over the Palace-end sight screen to win Darjeeling the game.