Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Cricket: Tutor Rao teaches his boys a lesson

A little Indian mythology helped Bobby Rao and his Eglinton side to victory over Strabane in the Northern Bank Senior Cup final.

A little Indian mythology helped Bobby Rao and his Eglinton side to victory over Strabane in the Northern Bank Senior Cup final.

It was an emotional occasion for Rao who had played the previous two summers at Strabane, the club he first came to as a professional all of 26 years ago.

And in all that time he had never won a senior trophy, despite playing in four Senior Cup finals - two of them with Strabane - and two All Ireland finals.

"It was great to finally win a trophy but it was also very difficult for me to have ended up doing it against Strabane, a club where my heart will always be," he said.

"I've coached all those players, and was a guru to them.

"A guru will teach his disciples, or students, nine of the 10 skills, but he will keep the 10th skill back for when the disciple challenges him.

"It is only when he retires will he teach his closest discipline the 10th skill and that was how I felt playing against Strabane."

It's a wonderful way to look at it and a glance at the scorecard for the two days of the final shows that with Rao unbeaten in both innings, that 10th skill is well worth finding out, whoever the lucky recipient turns out to be. Peter Gillespie for next year's World Cup might be the most eager to find out.

Not that Rao is about to make a decision on his imminent retirement just yet even at the age of 52 even though he considered it before teaming up with Eglinton, initially as a coach, before the start of this year.

"There's no point in me deciding something about next year when I don't know how I'll be feeling then," he explained.

"I'll carry on coaching and working as a development office and see how my body is feeling in April and make a decision then but there might be another year left in me yet."

Rao's capped his first trophy with the man-of-the-match award, which was richly deserved even though Jeremy Bray with his first innings century set up Eglinton's 95-run win which had been delayed by over a week because of the torrential rain on the scheduled date for the final.

Rao was unbeaten on 44 in the first innings and on 25 in the second, and held both innings together as Strabane were set a huge target to win in the final innings. He also took two for 70 on the first day and then his 10 overs in the second innings went for only 26 runs as Strabane never came close to chasing down the target.

The cup success has come a great deal earlier than anyone at Eglinton imagined.

They did raise quite a few eyebrows when they signed Irish international Bray but he missed six early league games, although was a major force in their cup run.

But Rao's arrival as a player was a bonus as anyone it he North West will agree, he brings out the best in those around him and even into his sixth decade can still cut it at the top level with either bat or ball.

He will continue to work with players of all ages throughout the winter and even basking in the glory of last week's cup success, he's already planning programmes to keep his young charges busy through the dark evenings ahead.

"Bowling actions can get forgotten in the winter and it's important especially for the youngest players to get nets regularly and keep going.

"We're planning eight sessions up to Christmas for the Eglinton young players and then step it up in the new year in the run-up to next season."

If the cup final does prove to be his swansong, it was a great way to go out.

"I'd like to congratulate the Strabane players on the way they played the final.

"It was difficult to come up against them but it was played in a great spirit and was a great final to play in," he added.

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