Praveen Kumar has always been a maverick. With bat, ball and almost everything he does on a cricket field. On Monday as he walked out, his bat resting over his shoulder like a mace, his team needed a hero. Eleven is what Uttar Pradesh (UP) required to win off the last seven deliveries as they lost their sixth wicket. In Kumar, they not only had their most experienced player but also one who could muscle the ball over the ropes.
This was also a chance for the 27-year-old pacer to attain a mini-redemption. It has been a difficult couple of years for Kumar. Since he was axed from the Indian team in 2012, his stocks have dwindled, to the extent that he could not even attract a bid during the IPL auction this year. But here he stood with the responsibility of guiding UP to the Syed Mushtaq Ali title. Up against him was Baroda’s inexperienced Rishi Arothe playing in his first domestic season. The big hit just seemed inevitable.
Instead, Kumar swung and missed off the first ball before failing to connect for two balls after. Suddenly the equation read 11 off five. Probably he was just getting his eye in. As he then jabbed a full delivery from Arothe back to the bowler, however, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Kumar then finally connected but all he succeeded in was slicing a wide delivery to the deep cover fielder for a single. In those four deliveries off Arothe, the UP veteran had not only failed to take his team closer to their target of 145.
Upendra Yadav, the batsman on strike now, provided a little spark off Arothe’s fifth delivery by launching it over the long-on fence. But it was the left-arm pacer and Baroda who launched into manic celebrations as Yadav was caught behind off the final delivery, leaving UP four runs short of a win.
With the dramatic three-run win, Aditya Waghmode’s side had also won their second Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, having clinched the crown right here in Mumbai two years ago.
It was Waghmode’s 31-ball 42 that had set up Baroda’s score of 144/7 earlier in the day. He also shared a 80-run stand for the first wicket with Kedar Devdhar before Kumar returned in the death overs to stall Baroda’s progress. The seasoned seamer finished with figures of 2/24. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be his day with the bat when UP required it the most.
If anything, the match should never have reached a position where Kumar had to bail UP out. Prashant Gupta and Eklavya Dwivedi had taken UP almost to the brink with a sparkling partnership of 98 with both right-handers scoring attractive half-centuries. Then wickets began to fall in a procession as UP lost their continued…