ON MOST occasions, Uday Kaul would have left that delivery alone. However, barely 30 minutes into play on Day 3, Punjab’s No.3 pressed forward for a mighty slash outside the off-stump. Baroda’s Munaf Patel, the bowler, slipped in a fairly good-length delivery that moved off the seam just that wee bit to elicit an edge that Yusuf Pathan snaffled at first slip. Baroda had dislodged Kaul for 42, and looked poised to take a comfortable first-innings lead.
Sadly, this would be their lone scalp of their long day. That’s because Punjab skipper Yuvraj Singh walked in at No.4 and quelled even the remotest chances of Baroda’s resurgence. Fresh from his emphatic ton against Madhya Pradesh in his second Ranji game at Lahli, the left-hander was in sublime touch. His footwork was assured, and he came with the intent of registering yet another three-digit score.
Two overwhelming factors helped him in this quest. Opener Manan Vohra, his batting partner at the other end, and an insipid, one-dimensional bowling attack of Baroda. Manan and Yuvraj stitched an unbeaten third-wicket stand of 314 runs that sealed the fate of the game. When stumps were drawn, Punjab were behind Baroda by just 77 runs and had seven wickets in their dugout. Punjab’s batting pair looked flawless throughout their alliance.
Their captain, who had smacked 177 in Rohtak the match before but squandered his starts against Bengal in the last match, unfurled his crisp and elegant drives through both sides of the wicket. A docile Kotla track helped him trust the bounce and play through the line. Consequently, he scored at a brisk tempo, maintaining a strike-rate of over 70 through the innings. Yuvraj’s positivity and assurance seemed to have rubbed on to Manan at the other end. He had already made a start on Friday and built on it.
Ever since Manan broke into Punjab’s first-class side five seasons ago, inconsistency and a failure to convert good starts have hurt him. In 20 previous games, the 23-year-old has registered only two centuries, with a best of 187. On a balmy day here, Manan and his captain mounted misery on the hapless Baroda bowlers. Barring the opening burst of Munaf, none of Baroda’s bowlers really looked like removing either Manan or Yuvraj. There was an inherent incongruity in Baroda’s bowling, especially among their pacers. With the pitch receptive to neither pace nor spin, Punjab’s pair made merry, creaming off runs almost at will.
If Yuvraj treated Baroda’s pacers with disdain, Manan was equally harsh on their two spinners — Yusuf Pathan and Swapnil Singh. At the end of proceedings, Manan notched up his career-best score— an emphatic 201 not out. Meanwhile, his captain was just 22 runs behind him, and looked poised to become the third player in this game to register a double hundred.
Baroda’s coach Jacob Martin futilely looked for positives after their dour display. He couldn’t find any. He blamed the docile track for his side’s below-par performance. “Both Manan and Yuvraj batted well. But to be fair, there was hardly anything on this pitch for our bowlers. Our pacers did not get any movement, while the spinners failed to find purchase in terms of spin and grip,” Martin lamented.
As things stand, Baroda will walk away from this game with just a solitary point — the third in as many matches. “It is sad because even after putting up a huge score in excess of 500, we will not be able to get the crucial three points we were looking for,” he added. Going forward, the Baroda coach conceded his team would be under pressure in their remaining league games. They would now require at least a couple of outright wins to stay in contention for the play-offs.
Hooda’s injury not serious
Martin said Deepak Hooda’s finger injury was not serious, and added the 21-year-old would return for Baroda’s next Ranji fixture against Tamil Nadu at Raipur. “The X-rays show that it’s a minor cut on his index finger. Nothing major. He will be back for the next game.” Hooda’s unbeaten 293 was instrumental in Baroda reaching a score of 529 in their first essay.
Brief Scores: Baroda 529 vs Punjab 452/2 (Manan Vohra 201 batting, Yuvraj Singh 179 batting).