Sizzling Uthappa lifts Air India Red to title
Robin Uthappa rose to the occasion with an aggressive, yet superbly controlled innings to charge Air India Red to a facile win in the final of the Corporate Trophy. While his team-mates couldn't quite deal with the slow wicket, Uthappa shouldered the burden by adding patience to his panache.
Air India Blue's opener Chandan Madan chipped in with yet another fifty but his side were never really in the chase after Yuvraj Singh struck two momentum-shifting blows with his first two deliveries by removing Mohammad Kaif and MS Dhoni in the 17th over of the innings. He trapped Kaif in front before luring Dhoni into hitting a low catch back to him. Dhoni waited for the confirmation from the third umpire that the catch was clean before walking away.
Madan carried on gamely but he could only delay the defeat. He had started slowly and was dropped on 12 by Yuvraj before breaking free with some aggressive hits laced with risk. Time and again he backed away to flash through the off side but by the time he moved into thirties, he was forced to slow down as Air India Blue had lost five wickets.
Yuvraj derailed the chase but the victory was set up earlier by a well-paced innings from Uthappa. He has been toiling hard of late at the National Cricket Academy and the efforts are beginning to bear fruit. There were a few typical big hits over midwicket and on-the-up punches today but what stood out, and showcased his mood perfectly, was a delicate cut through covers off the left-arm spinner Sonu Sharma. He had pressed on to the front foot, bat raised high in the air as if he was looking for a big shot when he saw the bowler shortening the length and adjusted superbly to thread it through the covers. In the past, we have seen him carry through with the initial thought in his mind but falling to a tame dismissal. Not today.
Prior to the game, one of the expected mini-battles was between Uthappa, who tends to whip the ball across the line, and RP Singh's inswingers. RP set a 7-2 off-side field and pushed most of his deliveries away, playing on the batsman's ego. Uthappa, though, played across at only two deliveries. The first came early in the knock and he edged the ball onto his pad. He did shuffle across occasionally but RP kept angling them away and Uthappa tried to pierce the off-side field. There was a slash over slips and a cut to deep-point and when RP got the ball to straighten or curve back in, Uthappa played them down to mid-on.
The slow pitch didn't offer any help to the seamers and Uthappa didn't have any undue worries against medium-pace. He whipped Pankaj Singh, who looked pretty mediocre today, from the off stump to midwicket boundary and played a gorgeous on-the-up punch to the straight boundary.
With the seamers ineffective, the battle now was between Uthappa and the spinners. He had tried to take on Amit Mishra in the previous game where he hit a couple of boundaries before falling to the bowler but today he treated the spinners with more respect, especially at the start of their spells. He did hit Harbhajan Singh and the change-up bowler Mohammad Kaif for sixes over deep midwicket but mainly dealt in singles and twos with his clips and drives. He did give one chance when, on 63, he pulled Harbhajan Singh straight to midwicket where Kaif dropped him.
Harbhajan, perhaps, didn't help his own cause with deep-set fields straightaway and allowing Uthappa to rotate the strike without breaking into a sweat. Frequently, he exposed the leg stump while tucking the ball past square-leg and reached his hundred with a leg glance off Sharma. He celebrated the landmark with a fiercely swept four and a slog-swept six and went on to unfurl the more extravagant shots - a thumping pulled six off Pankaj being the highlight - in the end overs to push Air India Red to a competitive score.
There wasn't much contribution from the rest of the batsman, barring Sushant Marathe, who waded into Pankaj's bowling. When Pankaj bowled short, which was often, Marathe pulled and when it was full, he square-drove and once, walked across the sticks to ping midwicket boundary. He fell, against the run of play, top-edging a sweep off Harbhajan. Yuvraj Singh played a very sedate knock today before lifting a slower one straight to long-off and Suresh Raina chipped one straight to short cover. Luckily, for Air India Red, Uthappa had decided to seize the day.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo