Lalchandani's vintage effort lifts Scorpions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 2003, 12:00am

Gopal Lalchandani struck the grandaddy of all blows of his career that has spanned 43 consecutive seasons in Hong Kong, steering Scorpions to a thrilling three-wicket win over Pakistan Association in the Sunday Cup final at the Hong Kong Cricket Club yesterday.

At 57, Lalchandani is the grand old man of local cricket. More WG Grace in appearance than, say a Sachin Tendulkar, Lalchandani walked to the crease with the Scorpions struggling on 100 for seven and needing another 22 runs for victory.

With his red necktie colourfully fluttering in the breeze, Lalchandani greeted the cream of the Pakistan Association's bowlers in cavalier fashion. He swept left-arm paceman Khalid Khan for a couple and then in the next over gave left-arm spinner Amar Najeeb the same treatment, this time to the ropes.

Those couple of blows, together with a cheekily taken two overthrows (while the Pakistanis were appealing for a leg before), restored faith in the Scorpions camp and order out on the pitch, both quarters which minutes before had been panic-stricken as four wickets fell for seven runs.

But Lalchandani, using his years of experience, coolly snuffed out any hopes the Pakistanis had of adding the Cup to their Sunday League title, as he swept Najeeb for a second boundary to take the total to 120. An elegant cut past backward point levelled the scores before Jon Powell, who had kept one end going, hit the winning run to see Scorpions salvage their season after having lost the League title earlier.

'It was closer than I wanted. Even though it was a small total, they made it very difficult for us. Gopal swung the pendulum back in our favour with those couple of fours after our mini-collapse. His 43 years of playing cricket in Hong Kong certainly helped us out,' said happy Scorpions skipper Adam Smith.

In typical style, Lalchandani was nonchalant about his valuable 13-not-out effort. 'I was not nervous. I had a shot of gin-and-tonic before I went out there,' joked Lalchandani. 'But I played the game the only way I know how. I got a couple of loose balls and I dealt with it. I have reached my prime at last!'

Smith, a player many moons younger than Lalchandani, set the ball rolling for the Scorpions when he grabbed the first three wickets as Pakistan Association got off to a bad start, reaching 40 for three in the 10th over.

Choosing to bat after winning the toss, the Pakistan Association batsmen were undone by a pitch that offered movement for the medium-pacers and also a little bit of turn for the spinners.

'I would have done the same thing and batted first if I had won the toss. And given the form their batsmen were in coming into this match, it was not surprising they batted first,' said Smith.

Having scored 399 for three and 449 for three in their two previous Cup games, the Pakistanis came armed. But they fired blanks against accurate bowling from medium-fast bowler Ryan Eagleson and left-arm spinners Smith and Richard Norris.

Hussain Butt looked a pale shadow of the batsman who had scored a century and a double-century in his previous two outings. Butt lived a charmed life as he fished outside the off stick and survived two fiery overs from Eagleson. But the writing was on the wall and when he was adjudged leg before to Martin Lever, Scorpions moved in for the kill.

The total of 122 looked easy. Smith gave the Scorpions a flying start, but wickets kept falling regularly. Powell and Tim Smart put on a crucial 39 runs for the fourth wicket, but Smart was run out and his dismissal sparked a collapse, until Lalchandani walked out.

'This is my fourth final and the first time the Scorpions have won the Cup. It feels great,' said Lalchandani who says he has no plans to retire on a high note. 'If I'm wanted next season, I will continue.'

The Saturday League title was shared between Lamma and St George's, and not won solely by Lamma as erroneously reported yesterday.