Fuzes provides spark for Optimists' cup glory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 March, 2005, 12:00am

Only six weeks in the SAR and Mark Fuzes has already tasted success as he spearheaded Optimists' victory charge against Vagabonds in the Sunday Cup final at Hong Kong Cricket Club.

Fuzes, who used to play grade A cricket for Eastern Suburbs in Sydney, was named the man-of-the-match yesterday for scoring a century and taking three for 38 runs with his left-arm spin as Optimists won the knockout cup competition for the first time in six seasons. 'It's been a wonderful way to start my stay in Hong Kong. The club has given me the perfect introduction to life in this city and it feels great to win the trophy with Optimists,' said new SAR resident Fuzes.

Overshadowed in recent years by sister-side Scorpions, Optimists have been rejuvenated by the presence of Fuzes, who has had a stunning impact for the team in the Sunday Cup.

The 28-year-old Sydney-sider has rattled up 361 runs in the three innings that have powered Optimists to the title.

They defeated KCC Hornets in the first round by 192 runs with Fuzes scoring 170 in that match. He followed it up with 83 against the Pakistan Tigers, who were beaten by 190 runs in the semi-final. And yesterday, Fuzes applied the finishing touches with a sweetly-struck 108 which gave Optimists the impetus towards setting Vagabonds a huge total to chase.

'We knew we had to have a big total on the board batting first. Any side that has Hussain Butt in their team is capable of chasing 400 runs. But I was happy with 337, I would have taken that score at any stage,' said a delighted Optimists skipper Paul Watkins.

Fuzes's 108 came off 100 deliveries and included 18 fours. He was unfortunately run out, backing up too much and failing to get back after partner Adam Gunthorpe did not respond. Gunthorpe was also in fine touch hitting 77 while useful contributions also came from Paul Watkins (36), Adrian Ashman (30) and Aaron Stewart (25).

Big-hitting Butt, who has scored more than 1,500 runs in the Sunday League this season, including eight centuries, knew Vagabonds' hopes rested on his shoulders when he walked out to open the run chase with fellow-opener Ather Ali at the Wong Nei Chung Gap Road ground.

With this knowledge came pressure and responsibility and that translated into a more cautious approach from Butt, who earlier this season scored a record triple-ton in a Saturday League match at this same ground including 36 sixes, and forced club officials to close the ground.

There were no such fireworks yesterday from Butt. He was mostly subdued and allowed the others - first Ali and then Tanmay Bijur - to go for the big hits while he worked the ball around and stole the singles, intent on occupying the crease for as long as possible.

This approach seemed to work initially. Butt put on 83 with Ali for the first wicket and then 108 for the fourth wicket with Bijur. But both Ali and Bijur got out just when they seemed to have settled in and their departure put more pressure on Butt.

Ali was out on the straight boundary, well caught by Stewart off the bowling of Michael Jamieson. It was poor cricket from Ali. Having hit Jamieson for a six off the previous ball, he went after the bowler again and paid the price.

Brett Morley took two wickets in the next over and Vagabonds were 90 for three.

In walked Bijur and, with Butt, set about regaining the initiative. The pair added 109 runs in 110 balls to take the score to 198 for three before Samir Mehta struck a crucial blow when he got one to squeeze through Bijur's defence.

It was a vital wicket. Butt had been happy to play second fiddle and allow Bijur to do the bulk of the scoring.

Bijur's departure was followed by another quick wicket with Fuzes getting into the act in the very next over when he found the edge of Ashish Shukla's bat to give wicket-keeper James Callow an easy take.

Once again Vagabonds were on the ropes on 199 for five and the pressure was squarely back on Butt's shoulders.

And this time he panicked. Having pushed his singles and carefully kept most of his shots on the carpet until then, Butt decided to take the high road and paid for it immediately when he skied Mehta to the ever-reliable Stewart on the long-on boundary.

Stewart, nicknamed 'Shandy' for his penchant for the beverage, was the toast of his teammates as he gleefully took the catch.

The fielders celebrated as if they had already won the match - for they knew that they had got the dangerman out with Vagabonds still trailing by 136 runs.

'That was a huge wicket for us. We got it by creating pressure. We had a plan and the bowlers delivered,' said Watkins after the rest of Vagabonds' batting had caved in with Fuzes and Morley wrapping up the innings.