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At the fall of Punjab’s third wicket, Yuvraj Singh emerged from the tunnel leading out of the dressing rooms. The cloud cover, the nip in the air and the overnight rains had tilted conditions in favour of the bowlers on Saturday.
Delhi, after being asked to bat in the morning, were reduced to 53 for five. Virender Sehwag and Unmukt Chand were caught behind off medium-pacer Siddarth Kaul. Gautam Gambhir, cautious during his eight off 28 deliveries, was run-out when he unsuccessfully took on medium pacer Kaul’s bowling arm. The dogged Rajat Bhatia was bowled by Kaul’s new-ball partner Sandeep Sharma.
Once the pacers sent down the first 15 overs, Harbhajan Singh brought himself on and trapped Milind Kumar in his first over. Punjab had won a crucial toss, given the conditions, and didn’t waste the opportunity to force Delhi on to the mat. There would have been no fightback if Mithun Manhas was not dropped on four but the reliable batsman made 98, an innings that helped Delhi post 228. Delhi and Manhas were aided by the absence of a third frontline seamer because Manpreet Singh Gony pulled out minutes before the game with back spasms.
The reprimand Gony received at the end of the day from Harbhajan Singh and coach Bhupinder Singh Sr. for not giving greater clarity about his fitness status earlier would have been more severe if not for Yuvraj’s unbeaten 96 and the unconquered 146-run stand with Gurkeerat Singh Mann, one that got Punjab over the line with 18 balls to spare.
Yuvraj, like Manhas earlier, was the batsman around whom the innings revolved. Punjab were 57 for three when Yuvraj walked out to bat. In their previous game, a rain-truncated match against Haryana, Punjab were reduced to 48 for six before being bowled out for 146 and losing by seven runs. The young Punjab batting unit was short on experience at the Jamia Milia Cricket Ground on Thursday. Yuvraj, back in the side after excusing himself to attend his brother’s wedding, brought a sense of calm to the middle-order.
The situation demanded a cool head and a patient approach. Ashish Nehra was bowling fast, on a good length and cramping the batsmen for room. Rajat Bhatia, the wily medium-pacer with his subtle variations, troubled not just with accuracy but also with movement. To add to a batsman’s worry, the ball occasionally kept low on the wicket.
Yuvraj got a full stride in, played with a straight bat and was prepared to defend. It took him a while to get his timing going but every time he did, it gave the impression that he was in control of the chase.
Nehra, the best bowler on the day, was steered to the third-man fence and then driven through covers. With Yuvraj controlling the pace of the innings, Gurkeerat had the luxury of taking singles and leaving it to his senior partner to find the boundaries.
There was the flick to the fine-leg boundary, the slog sweep and powerful drives off Yuvraj’s bat. Delhi skipper Gautam Gambhir put down a difficult chance at cover when Yuvraj, batting on 45, drove off-spinner Milind Kumar. No.3 Gitansh Khera too benefitted from Delhi’s butterfingers. In the first instance, he was dropped by Unmukt Chand at second slip and shortly after, by Virender Sehwag, who can’t seem to do anything right these days.
Gurkeerat, though, didn’t offer a chance. In Yuvraj’s company he grew in confidence and pierced the off-side field confidently. With Punjab on the threshold of victory, Yuvraj played to the galleries and hit a six over wide long on off left-arm spinner Varun Sood to finish the chase.
It was a dominating finish to a Yuvraj innings that had a workman-like start.
Brief Scores: Delhi 228 all out in 49.1 overs (Mithun Manhas 98, S Kaul 4/37, Harbhajan Singh 2/54) lost to Punjab 232 for 4 in 47 overs. (Yuvraj Singh 96 not out,Gurkeerat Singh 52 not out).
Points Punjab 4; Delhi 0.
North Zone: (At Palam) Services 171/8 in 32 overs (R Paliwal 54; R Dayal 2/20, W Raza 2/22) bt Jammu & Kashmir 169/ 9 in 32 overs (Hardeep Singh 66, Bandeep Singh 55*; Avishek Sinha 4/26, S Yadav 3/23) by 2 runs.
East Zone : (At Ranchi) Assam vs Orissa match — which was already reduced to 20 overs a side — was abandoned due to rain after 16.5 overs was bowled in the Assam innings.
Brief scores: Assam 128/6 in 16,5 overs (P Aziz 61; D Behera 3/28) vs Orissa; At Ranchi: Jharkhand vs Tripura match abandoned without a ball bowled.
Harbhajan: Stock delivery is important
New Delhi: Ravichandran Ashwin’s loss of form and his recent alteration in bowling action during the Asia Cup has been the center of discussion. Harbhajan Singh, who was replaced by Ashwin as India’s premier off-spinner, believes that spinners must be able to deliver with their stock ball and use variations as a surprise.
“Variations are important but, you still need to have a stock ball. The batsmen still gets out the way they used to before. You shouldn’t forget your originality. Any spinner should least, be able to spin the ball,” Harbhajan said.
When asked specifically, about Ashwin’s performance in the Asia cup he said “I wouldn’t like to make any comments about a current India player. I haven’t seen the recent matches. I will always wish Ashwin luck as he is a talented bowler.”
About variations, Harbhajan added: “Whether you hold the ball cross-seam or straight you have to deliver off-spin. If he’s an off-spinner he should be able to bowl off-spin. Recently, I haven’t seen any spinner who can be perceived to be threatening.”
– Kartik Kumar (is a student of EXIMS)