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, continued…