Attacking Pinal leads by example
What is the difference between 83 and 88? A lot more than five, when one batsman manages the former score, and barely three hours later, the opposition fold up for the latter on the same pitch. Pinal Shah, the 23-year old Baroda captain, is not a man of many words, but his bat chose the perfect moment to have its say, in the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Karnataka that lasted less than one-and-a-half days on a vicious turner in Vadodara.
Karnataka had the bigger names: Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Amit Verma. Pinal's record suggests he isn't even the best batsman in his own team, depleted as it was with the absence of Yusuf Pathan and Irfan Pathan. Connor Williams has been around for ages, and the talented Ambati Rayudu was also there. Yet, these five batsmen collectively managed fewer runs in the game than what Pinal did, if one excludes Baroda's tiny chase of 43. What did the wicketkeeper-batsman do differently than what many India and IPL stars could not?
Pinal chose to downplay his effort, saying instead that runs could be scored on the track with proper shot-selection. "I think that on this wicket if you made a mistake, you would surely get out. But otherwise, if you chose the right deliveries to play at, runs could be made. I think I batted alright, but even Robin was batting very well, and if he could have carried on, they would have been in a much better position. I think the Karnataka batsmen's shot-selection was poor, and that's why they faltered."
Mukesh Narula, the Baroda coach, was more forthcoming. "It was a wicket on which you needed to play the horizontal shots. And Pinal is pretty good with those shots. Playing the drive in the V was very difficult. And I think he read the wicket better than the others." He certainly did. From the moment he came in at a precarious 30 for 4 with not much batting to follow, he was positive. Initially, the ball was worked around in to gaps and singles were taken with utmost calmness.
At the other end though, Abhimanyu Mithun removed Rayudu with one that kicked brutally from a length, and Baroda were 63 runs behind now with only the long tail to accompany Pinal. After looking on as the pitch consumed Rayudu, Pinal could have gone into a shell, as did most of the others who poked from the crease to deliveries that kicked and jumped.
Realising instead that it was time to abandon the waiting game, he started taking some chances, and attacked against the prodigious turn that the spinners were extracting. The slog-sweep was used to good effect as he swung the left-arm spin of Sunil Joshi and the part-time legspin of Verma over midwicket. To their credit, the tail hung around, facing close to 100 deliveries. To his credit, Pinal rode his luck after being dropped off Mithun early on, as a back-foot punch went just over mid-off. He soon got to his half-century with a slog-swept six over midwicket off Verma. Fittingly, the shot also took Baroda past Karnataka's first-innings score of 107.
In the next over, a delivery took off from a length, though not as furiously as the one that got Rayudu. Pinal showed the advantage of playing late on the pitch, keeping it down with soft hands. As stumps neared, his confidence grew and he reverse-swept Joshi to the third-man boundary, knowing that he just needed to guide the ball on its way, considering the turn Joshi was getting. All along, he was on the lookout for singles. He almost ran himself out on one such occasion, rushing down from the non-striker's end before being sent back. The throw from cover hit the stumps, but the third umpire ruled in Pinal's favour after a long look.
Next morning, he mostly swept again as Baroda added another 20 runs to push the lead close to the psychological mark of 50, a figure Sanath Kumar, the Karnataka coach, had admitted would be huge on this wicket. The sweep brought about his downfall in the end as he top-edged to square leg who had just moved in to the position. But by then, Pinal had put his team on top.
Could Karnataka have tried anything different? After all, the track was the same for both the sides. "I think if Joshi could have changed the angle to over the wicket and pitched outside leg stump, it would have made it that much more difficult for Pinal to play the slog sweep or the sweep," Narula said. "There would not have been much room for him to swing fully with the kind of turn on offer." But it was the Baroda captain's day, and in the second innings, the bowlers didn't let his hard work down, and spun the team to its first Ranji final in nine years
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo