Moments after the day’s play ended on Saturday, Punjab skipper Yuvraj Singh walked up to the scorers to check the number of overs Varun Khanna had bowled. The left-arm spinner had picked up five wickets in Railways’ second innings and Yuvraj knew he would play a crucial role on the last day of the match as well.
Trailing Punjab by 283 runs with five wickets in hand on the final day, Railways — who were forced to follow-on — had more pain in store on Sunday at the PCA Stadium. Khanna was handed the ball in the second over of the day after medium pacer Siddarth Kaul opened the proceedings on Sunday. Yuvraj’s decision was vindicated after Khanna struck in the fifth over of his first spell, removing Railways’ Karn Sharma.
Buoyed by the early breakthrough, Khanna tightened the noose around Railways batsmen, operating from the pavilion end — from where he got his five wickets on Saturday — exploiting the rough areas. Arun Nandi, who had some resistance till then, was his next victim. The 30-year-old bowled a slower one, Nandi, who was on 33, mistimed the shot and Khanna grabbed the catch off his own bowling.
Bowling tirelessly for 12 overs, Khanna made way for skipper Yuvraj Singh, who too had an immediate impact. He removed Hitesh Kadam in his second over to reduce the visitors to 229 /8. Still needing 179 runs to avoid an innings defeat, Arindam Ghosh showed some fight. The right-handed batsman, who scored a patient 98, was only delaying the inevitable.
Khanna returned to pick his eighth wicket — removing Krishnakant Upadhyay — to guide his team closer to victory. Medium pacer Maninder Singh wrapped up an emphatic innings and 126-run win for Punjab by taking the wicket of Ranjit Mali.
Khanna said his plan was to give the ball some air, and remain patient. “I wanted to bowl for long spells and Yuvi paaji understood that. My plan was to flight the ball like I did on Saturday and it worked. I got the field plan that I wanted and the eight wickets I have taken will add to my confidence,” Khanna said. “Harbhajan (Singh) will soon join the team. The last time I met him and sought tips was in 2009. This time, too, I will try to learn something from him and would look forward to bowl along side him,” added Khanna, who ended with figures of 8/97.
It was a superlative performance from Punjab as they posted a total in excess of 600 runs in the first innings. If it was Mandeep Singh and Uday Kaul’s centuries that set the innings up for Punjab, Gurkeerat Mann’s double hundred and wicket-keeper Gitansh Khera’s century ensured the hosts had to bat just once. Punjab coach Arun Sharma said it was important for the team to begin the campaign with a win.
With Harbhajan Singh and pacer Sandeep Sharma set to join the team in a fortnight, Sharma would be having a problem of plenty, abut he exuded confidence the team will utilise the resources well. “We did not have Bhajji, and Sandeep got injured before the season. But bowlers like Barinder Sarn and Varun Khanna showed we had the advantage of our home ground,” Sharma added.
Brief scores: Punjab 604/5 decl in 171.1 overs. Railways: 196 & (f/o) 282 in 68 overs (Arindam Ghosh 98 not out; Varun Khanna 8/97). Punjab: 7 points, Railways: 0