Ilford CC 173 for 4 (Akhtar 59, Hamza 44) beat Ilford Town 170 for 8 (Bopara 50, Tavarasa 3-20) by six wickets
Mohammad Akhtar starred with bat, ball and in the field, as Ilford CC beat their rivals Ilford Town in a tense finale under gloomy skies in East London. Akhtar followed two key breakthroughs with his legspin with a vital 59 from 40 balls, as Ilford chased down a stiff target of 171 with seven balls to spare, in a contest that had been reduced to 25 overs a side.
The match, which was played as part of the NatWest Cricket Has No Boundaries campaign, featured Nasser Hussain as the guest of honour on the ground where he cut his teeth as a club cricketer in the 1980s. And though for much of an unusually drizzly day it appeared that the only action would be taking place in the old Ilford Cricket School, where Hussain and the former England seamer Saj Mahmood conducted a masterclass for local kids, the skies cleared sufficiently to get underway after 3pm.
After winning the toss and batting first, Town suffered an early setback when Naail Dar edged Theeban Tavarasa low to slip off the second ball of the innings, but the early arrival at No.3 of Etinder Bopara, Ravi’s older brother, proved to be a blessing in disguise for their run-rate.
Bopara’s 38-ball fifty provided the bedrock of Town’s innings, as he and Surjeet Ubhi Singh compiled a 50-run stand in the space of nine overs, ended only when Surjeet opened the face to the left-arm seam of Jenushan Jayarooban and steered a simple catch to Akhtar at point.
Bopara, however, took that wicket as his cue to cut loose. In particular he climbed into the looping seamers of Ratnakar Tiwari, often finding the fielder in his bid to hit the cover off the ball, but connecting well enough in between whiles, not least when he knocked long-on off his feet with another battered drive down the ground.
However, the introduction of the legspinner Akhtar brought an end to the fun. After missing a reverse-sweep first ball and nearly running himself out from his second, Bopara holed out to cover for 50 from 41 as Akhtar earned his reward for a teasing first over.
The former Essex seamer Merv Westfield arrived at No.4, but he was done in by another man with county credentials, as Tavarasa – a second XI spinner back in the day – tweaked one through his defences to send him on his way for a second ball duck.
Mohammad Zaidi chose not to stand on ceremony against the offie, however, and crashed his fourth ball of the same over clean down the ground for the first six of the day. That would prove to be the highlight of his innings, however, as Akhtar’s extra flight lured him into a loose hack to long-on.
Jermaine Shillingford showed a similar appetite for destruction as he marched to the crease at 112 for 5 with seven overs in which to make his mark. He swiped his second ball clean into the pavilion at wide long-off off the legspin of Aditya Nair, then repeated the dose three balls later, this time over the sightscreen and into the hedge at long-on.
Shillingford’s onslaught persuaded the skipper, Rajnish Dohal, that the time for quietly anchoring the innings had been and gone. He had eased along to 31 from 55 balls with just a solitary boundary but a fine eye for the gap-finding single, but when he attempted to take the long handle to Haaris Ayub, he top-edged a swipe for the bowler himself to cling onto a fine running catch at mid-on.
Two more muscular boundaries from Shillingford kept the scoreboard ticking over, until, on 36 from 18, he had his bails trimmed by Ayub as he swiped once too often across the line. And without him, Town’s innings rather petered out – the excellent Tavarasa claim Sumit Sharma in the deep for his third wicket, as Ilford prevented any more boundaries in the final three overs.
In reply, Town’s run-chase got off to a terrible start when Akash Raji laid into a first-ball bouncer from Mohammad Zaidi and gloved a catch down the leg side to Merv Westfield behind the stumps. However, Mohammad Hamza and Akhtar responded with a fusillade of attacking intent, not least against the seamer Sumit Sharma who bowled some fine deliveries in between whiles but was punished whenever he offered up any room to free the arms.
Together the pair broke the back of the run-chase, adding 106 for the second wicket in 14.5 overs, with Hamza setting the tone with a brace of butchered boundaries from his first three deliveries. Akhtar stepped up his own intent by drilling the dangerous Zaidi on the up through the covers for a calypso four, before swivelling into a mighty pull two overs later, to dump a huge six into a nearby tree.
Akhtar brought up his fifty from 37 balls with a well-judged flick off the pads through backward square leg, but – having celebrating by crashing Jermaine Shillingford for another vast six over deep midwicket, he gave it all away one ball later, making too much room for a murderous mow to be bowled for 63.
Three balls later, and suddenly the match was back in the balance at 107 for 3, when Hamza slammed a drive at the spinner Surjeet Ubhi Singh, who clung onto a sharp return catch to send Ilford’s anchor back for a well-compiled 44 from 52.
But, with the weather beginning to close in, Gagan Bhogal and Prahathen Jayarooban pieced together a diligent stand of 45 in 6.1 overs to take the chase deep into the final five overs. Jayarooban survived a tough chance on 10, when the keeper failed to cling onto a leading edge as he attempted to work Shillingford to leg, but with the chase at his mercy, he clipped a suidical single to midwicket, and wasn’t in the frame when the stumps were pinged down.
It was a glimmer of hope for Town, who had come into the game on a 37-match unbeaten streak. But it wasn’t to be enough. Aditya Nair showed composure as he and Bhogal carried their side to the win, with Nair crashing two boundaries in three balls off the spin of Westfield to seal victory in the drizzle.