Jiwanjot savours superb debut season
Despite their jittery form in the last two rounds, Punjab have undoubtedly emerged as the team to beat in this Ranji Trophy season. A large part of their success has been because of their 22-year-old rookie batsman, Jiwanjot Singh, who has lived up to the meaning of his name - light of life - for Punjab's batting unit.
For an opener playing his maiden first-class season, Jiwanjot's numbers are mind-boggling. After seven games, he has 776 runs with four centuries and averages 77.60. He scored 213 on debut against Hyderabad and, going into Punjab's final Group A game against Gujarat in Valsad, is in contention to be the season's top run-scorer.
His stats seem to indicate that he has dominated the best bowlers on the domestic circuit but Jiwanjot, who is from Patiala, says he hasn't had the sternest test yet. He is yet to face his captain Harbhajan Singh, the most successful international bowler in the Ranji Trophy, in the nets when the offspinner is not on India duty. "You won't believe it but I still haven't faced Bhajjupa [Harbhajan] in the nets. The first time I was selected for Punjab was during last season's one-dayers, when he was the captain," Jiwanjot said. "I made my Ranji debut under his captaincy. But somehow I have never faced his bowling."
While Jiwanjot hasn't been able to face one of the two biggest names in Punjab cricket, he did bat with the other last week. Yuvraj Singh played for Punjab for the first time this season, and he and Jiwanjot added 192 runs for the third wicket during the follow-on against Madhya Pradesh in Gwalior. Punjab lost that match by eight wickets, but for Jiwanjot his partnership with Yuvraj was a revelation.
"It was nothing less than living a dream - to bat with such a big player, whom I have been watching on TV all these years. He plays with such ease and flair," Jiwanjot said. "And most importantly, he didn't put me under pressure. He just told me to not think of anything else - like we were following on and all - and to bat from over to over."
While Yuvraj was displaying his array of strokes during his 131 off 150 balls, Jiwanjot produced another workman-like century, his first away from home. In an era where patience is one of the last words on a youngster's mind, and cricketers prefer Twenty20 riches to first-class grind, where has Jiwanjot learnt to be patient? The answer lies more in the seam-friendly conditions in Mohali, Punjab's home ground, than in Jiwanjot's attitude.
"During the build-up to the season, I spoke a lot with Rathour sir [former India opener Vikram Rathour, the Punjab coach before he was appointed national selector]. He kept telling me the importance of being patient while opening the batting in Mohali," Jiwanjot said. "And I just kept telling that to myself whenever I went out to bat.
"It's not that I can't play my shots. You have to adapt to the situation of the game. If the situation demands for me to bat quickly, I can do that. I showed it against Rajasthan, when we were chasing a little over 200 for an outright win, and I scored 100 off 150-odd balls."
Despite his success in his debut season Jiwanjot, who is pursuing masters in computer applications, remains grounded. And even if he gets a lucrative IPL deal, Jiwanjot might prefer being the lifeline of Punjab's batting unit.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo