Well above Yuvraj Singh’s line of sight, Karnataka spinner Amit Verma tossed one up to begin the 50th over. Widening his pupils and easing that left foot further back, Yuvraj watched the ball land, dug the toe of his willow under it and pressed out a drive towards mid-off. For no particular reason, the fielder aimed for the non-striker’s stumps and missed, and the resultant overthrow gave the Punjab batsman a single.
In the context of the game, this was a nothing moment really. Punjab had moved from three for 211 to 212, and Yuvraj from 40 to 41. But on a personal front for the man who was gifted this single, that run was filled with sobering perspective.At this moment, unbeaten on 41 and huffing away at the non-striker’s end, Yuvraj had put together his highest first-class score in a little over 56 weeks.
The last time Yuvraj raised his bat to the dressing room when clothed in his whites was against Madhya Pradesh, shortly after being dropped from the Test side, in December 2012. Then, in the group stages of the 2012-13 Ranji season, Yuvraj had hit 131 second innings runs in vain. Never since has he scored a fifty. In fact, never since, until today that is, had he crossed 40.
On that very threshold, the left-hander had fallen twice before this season — 40 against Mumbai here at the PCA Stadium during the group stages and 40 against an inspired Jammu & Kashmir at Baroda in the quarters. But today at the same stage, perhaps just like on those previous occasions, Yuvraj looked good to achieve great things.
When Yuvraj finds himself timing the ball well, few other happenings around the cricket field seem to matter. To both the spectators and the players in the opposition.
So when he elegantly cut pacer Ronit More to the sweeper fence to get off the mark of the 11th delivery he faced, the only dive seen among the 11 fielders was of their collective jaws. Like us, they too were gaping.
Then, in the 43rd over, Yuvraj found himself ducking and swaying for the first five deliveries of another More over. More, rather expectedly, dumped another one short. This time, however, the 32-year old was in position, twisting, coiling and swiveling his frame in time to hook it towards fine-leg. Stationed in line for the catch, Verma latched on to it over his head. But quite like in the climax of an Oscar-nominated film, the catcher’s celebration took place beyond the boundary.
Enough is enough, he perhaps told himself at this point. Because from here on, he was fluid. The very next ball he faced, bowled by leggie Shreyas Gopal in the following over, was smoked over midwicket for his second six. Yuvraj then earmarked him for special treatment in the 46th over, paddle-scooping one boundary and gloriously driving the next past the cover fence.
Soon he was on the verge of his maiden fifty of the season. Verma, in fact, looked to hasten the milestone’s process by flipping a waist-high lollipop towards him. In the mood he was in, Yuvraj could have sought out any stand of the PCA that he wished to plant the full-toss. Only, in the end, he sought out the only fielder placed on the leg-side, Gopal at deep midwicket.
Now, as he walked back dejected, the scoreboard should have read: Yuvraj dismissed Yuvraj, 56-ball 42. Just as it should have for Jiwanjot Singh when he chopped one on on 74 or Manan Vohra when he fished well outside his off-stump on 51. For that was the story of Punjab’s first innings. Each of Punjab’s top-five got off the something better than starts; each of them looked like they were set to bat all day. Yet, after once finding themselves on 223/3, Punjab cleaned themsleves out for 270.
When well-set specialists found motivation to play a long innings hard to come by, little was expected from Punjab’s lower-order and tail. Karnataka and its skipper R Vinay Kumar, of course, benefited the most from this. Having limped off with a back spasm after bowling just seven balls earlier in the day, Vinay returned to the bowling crease shortly after Yuvraj’s dismissal in the afternoon.
Seven overs and a few atrocious shots later, he had his five-for. Punjab, suffered yet another batting collapse, but unlike against J&K in the quarters and a few earlier instances too, the lower order could not really bail them out. They lost their last seven wickets for 47 runs to leave Karnatka ahead, despite the visitors losing two quick wickets.
BRIEFSCORES: Punjab 270 in 64.5 overs (M Vohra 55, Jiwanjot Singh 74; Vinay Kumar 5/27, S Gopal 3/92) vs Karnataka 39/2 in 22.4 overs (R Uthappa 25*; Jaskaran Singh 1/6)