Irfan Pathan had been conspicuous by his absence when the Baroda team arrived in Mumbai for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy playoff last week. While the rest of his teammates sweated it out,the 27-year-old all-rounder had opted for a mini-break.
But with Baroda having felled two favourites in Karnataka and Bengal en route to the semifinal,Irfan decided to cut short his holiday and turn up for the business end of the tournament. A flight-delay,however,led to him getting into Mumbai only by Monday evening,with Baroda having thrashed Delhi earlier in the day.
On Tuesday,he walked into bat at the fall of brother Yusufs wicket. The score read a disappointing 91/5 and just six overs remaining in the innings. And as he walked off the field unbeaten on a 23-ball 36,having taken Baroda to a respectable total of 149/6,Irfan had proved to be his teams saviour.
With skipper Pinal Shah playing a cameo at the other end,Irfan began by getting his eye in with a few singles before launching into VRV Singh,slapping him inside-out over the covers and smashing him straight down the ground for boundaries. He even got the better of Punjab skipper Harbhajan Singh,sweeping him for a boundary before launching into Manpreet Singh Gony in the final over,hitting him for a six with his characteristic flourish.
I have been playing domestic cricket for 13 years,and this was only my third final. And I wanted to make the most of it and make it memorable, said Irfan after Baroda won their first major title since the Ranji Trophy triumph in the 2000-01 season.
And he did just that after skipper Shah threw him the ball at the start of Punjabs innings,with Harbhajan & Co favourites to chase down the seemingly modest target. He began by getting the in-form Chandan Madan caught behind,after being flicked for a boundary off the previous delivery. Irfan continued to keep the pressure on the Punjab batsmen but by the time he returned for a second spell,Bipul Sharma,Amitoze Singh and Harbhajan had blasted their team back into contention.
With Punjab requiring only 17 from the final two overs,the onus was once again on Irfan to save the day for his team. He responded in kind,by first running-out Harbhajan with an athletic effort,before dismissing Taruwar Kohli three balls later. That left Punjab with 11 to get off Murtuza Vahoras final over. And for the second time in four days,the right-arm pacer displayed immense control over his yorker length,restricting the Punjab tail to three runs and earning Baroda a hard-fought victory.
Not surprisingly,it was Irfan who hogged the spotlight in Barodas moment of glory. After all the star had made the difference with his last-minute appearance.
Brief scores: Baroda 149 for 6 (Yusuf Pathan 27,Pinal Shah 39,Irfan Pathan 36 not out; Manpreet Gony 2/21,Bipul Sharma 2/15 beat Punjab 141/8 (Mandeep Singh 40,Bipul Sharma 41,Amitoz Singh 21; Irfan Pathan 2/24,Munaf Patel 2/21)