It’s not a surprise that Karnataka are far ahead of the rest of the competition in the Ranji Trophy. They are pretty decent team of course but that doesn’t quite describe their domination. The rest of the teams are so inconsistent and almost mediocre that Karnataka stands out.
Take Punjab for example. At no point on the first day’s play against Mumbai did they look as if they have just come fresh from a 600-run outing in their previous match. A dull spiritless mindset led to several indiscretions and poor shot selections and unsurprisingly they collapsed to be shot out for a paltry score. Mumbai, who were rewarded for their disciplined bowling, celebrated the Punjab meekness by slamming some quick runs to establish their dominance before the day ended.
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Shreyas Iyer, in particular, indulged himself, collecting some easy but stylishly accrued runs in a breezy unbeaten knock. Among his sashays down the track, cuts, and drives, there was this one shot that helped understand why this boy gives a lot of hope and heart to the Mumbai faithful.
It was a pretty decent length delivery on the off and middle from the seamer Siddharth Kaul. There was no width, no leeway in the length and neither was it a gentle seam-up stuff. Yet, Iyer stood on his toes and punched it so sweetly on the up that the ball plummeted past the startled bowler to the straight boundary.
The story of the day, though, was the muggy humidity, and the collapse of Punjab triggered by Balwinder Singh Jr. It was an energy-sapping day, a kind of a day where you wanted to be anywhere but under the sun as Aditya Tare found out. With tea break around the corner, he suddenly sat down on the ground before he toppled over and collapsed.
Few tense moments later that saw the physio running in and all his team-mates crowding him, he managed to get up and carry on. It was just the heat that had did him in.
By then, though, Tare, the captain, had seen enough heart from his bowlers to justify his decision to put Punjab into bat on a pitch that had some bounce but nothing special for the seamers. Balwinder Singh Jr, incidentally named after the man who bowled Gordon Greenidge in the 1983 World Cup, and who once startled his namesake in a meeting years ago when he revealed his name, did the job for Mumbai.
In and out of the Mumbai team for years, he has finally got a proper go recently and seems to be that much more focused to make a spot for himself.
He doesn’t do anything extraordinary but when you have Punjab batting as they did on this day, it can be enough. He started the collapse with a full-length delivery that had Jeewanjot Singh attempt a drive, but the bottom hand slipped out of the handle, resulting in spooning back the ball towards the bowler who stuck his right hand out to pluck it.
It was the wicket of Yuvraj Singh though that turned the tide in Mumbai’s favour. Yuvraj had started pleasingly. With Dhawal Kulkarni trying to hurry him with a few bouncers, he upper cut a four and played couple of pull shots.
Shot and out
When play resumed after lunch, he caressed an eye-catching straight boundary off Balwinder, a shot that did him in when he tried to repeat it. Undeterred, Balwinder whose natural length is to bowl full and get it to curve a touch, got one to shape away. Yuvraj went for another drive but as we have seen him do through his career, sometimes the body doesn’t quite follow his mind. He wasn’t quite there for the drive and the ball had just about started to tail away from the bat, resulting in an edge to the first slip.
From then on it was a steady progression often seen at Ranji level. All the bowling team seems to do is to remain disciplined and the batsmen start to topple.
It’s enough to record here on these pages the dismissal of Punjab’s best batsman of the day. The opener Manan Vohra, who possesses enough skill to make him watchable and also float hope about a substantial knock from him, should be the most disappointed Punjab batsman of the day.
There were caressed cover drives, some delectable on-drives and glances off the hips that saw him reach 34 without much fuss when he decided to duck under a short ball from Shardul Thakur, the mainstay of Mumbai attack.
To his surprise the ball that was banged in middle of the pitch never quite got up but Vohra couldn’t quite adjust.
Down on his knees, he jabbed at it as a face-shield, but saw the ball kiss his right glove enroute to the keeper. Not long after that Yuvraj Singh fell and the Mumbai humid air reeked off mediocrity that should sadden the few remaining followers of domestic cricket.
Brief scores: Punjab 154 in 57 overs (Manan Vohra 34, Gitansh Khera 32; Shardul Thakur 4/47, Balwinder Sandhu 4/31) vs Mumbai 103/2 in 18 overs (Shreyas Iyer 61*).