Sharma back to his best with century

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 October, 2004, 12:00am

Rahul Sharma is back in the groove. Having shed the heavy burden of captaining Hong Kong, Sharma proved yesterday he still has a lot to offer to local cricket when he scored a fighting century on the opening day of the three-day ACC Fast Track Countries Tournament against Singapore.

Opening the innings, Sharma scored a superb 107 as he anchored Hong Kong to a formidable 313 for five before new skipper Tim Smart decided to declare. Singapore replied boldly, racing to 41 for one in the nine overs remaining at the Kowloon Cricket Club.

'This is one of my better hundreds for Hong Kong. Stepping down from the captaincy allows me to play a bit more freely and has taken some pressure off me. I now don't have to worry about other things and can solely concentrate on my batting,'' said Sharma after his 261-minute stay at the wicket.

'I was also more than happy to be back opening the innings. I wanted to spend some time out there and it worked today,'' said the 44-year-old Sharma. A picture of solidity in the first two sessions, Sharma finally succumbed to tiredness, holing out in the deep.

Sharma had to share the opening-day honours with Amar Najeeb who hit an explosive century off only 65 deliveries. They were both responsible for lifting Hong Kong past 200 for the first time in eight outings on the international field this summer.

The two knocks were a contrast in styles. One was all caution while the other was just gay abandon.

Having been put in to bat, Sharma and Smart walked in to bat on a very slow wicket which, while not really having any terrors for the batsmen, was quite difficult to play shots on early in the day.

Play began 45 minutes late after ground staff had inadvertently spilled water - collected on the covers after heavy early morning rain - near one end of the pitch, leaving a damp patch. The delay saw ACC match referee Don Arunasiri lop off 11 overs from the minimum 105 overs a day.

After a slow start, with the run rate never creeping past 2.5 in the first 40 overs, Hong Kong gradually stepped on the pedal. Sharma had settled in nicely at one end after the early loss of Smart, out caught at square leg trying to clip one off his legs. That catch was one of the few the Singaporean fielders held. Overall, it was a dismal day for the fielders as they put down more than half a dozen chances. Sharma was given a life at 21 when wicket-keeper Stanley Daniel failed to hold on to a sharp bottom edge.

Sharma made Singapore pay for that as he quietly gained the ascendancy after an uncertain start where he struggled to find his touch. 'I needed to hang in there for I knew once I got my eye in, the runs would come. Unlike one-day cricket, in this version you have to protect your wicket and learn how to leave the ball. You need to alter your batting style,'' said Sharma.

He did it beautifully. His 50 came off 133 balls. His second 50 took only 59 deliveries as he smacked a total of 10 fours and two sixes. Sharma found good support in left-hander Mark Eames who scored 49. The pair put on 102 for the second wicket before Eames was bowled by left-arm spinner Jackie Manoj.

Manoj Cheruparambil joined Sharma and they put on a quick 54 runs before the youngster was adjudged leg before trying to sweep another left-arm spinner, Attipatu Balaji. But there was no respite for the Singaporean attack. Najeeb walked in and soon made his intentions clear when he smacked a huge six off Balaji.

The left-handed Najeeb smote seven sixes and seven fours as he got stuck into all the bowlers. Sharma had departed in the 63rd over with the score on 224 for four. Najeeb took over the main role and quickly saw Hong Kong cross the 300 mark to gain maximum batting points. And once Najeeb had reached his personal milestone - his first hundred for Hong Kong - Smart declared.

Singapore replied bravely. But left-arm fast bowler Khalid Khan offset an expensive opening spell by claiming opener Stanley Daniel to give Hong Kong the edge.