Punjab 248 for 8 (Sidhana 85, Khera 73*, Rajpoot 3-45) v Uttar Pradesh
There isn't much going on in Kanpur to suggest a match involving international stars such as Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Praveen Kumar is underway. You could experience a mash-up of several DJs in the evenings as marriages take place in wholesale amounts. You could also inadvertently be involved in arguments in tea shops over what the newly-elected government will do, or not do, in neighbouring state Bihar. Or you could try to estimate the size of the massive hoardings that have been up all over the city to celebrate Mulayam Singh Yadav's birthday that was on Sunday.
Amidst all this, low-profile batsmen Mayank Sidhana and Gitansh Khera led Punjab's fight back at Green Park, where Uttar Pradesh had reduced the visitors to 80 for 5 just after lunch on the opening day. The pair combined to revive Punjab with a 138-run stand that saved the side from being bundled out for another paltry score. Sidhana was playing a first-class match for the first time in nearly two years, but his batting showed otherwise.
Punjab's wickets fell thick and fast once they were put in on a green pitch. The UP bowlers made full use of the conditions early on by making the batsmen play most of the deliveries, even if they conceded the odd boundary. Praveen swung the ball both ways in trademark fashion with four slips, and Ankit Rajpoot used the corridor with back-of-length deliveries that reaped benefits.
Even though Praveen started with a huge lbw appeal against Manan Vohra on the first ball of the match, it was Rajpoot who removed the openers. Rajpoot trapped Jiwanjot Singh lbw with an inswinger, and had Vohra caught behind with an outswinger off his next over. Praveen then got into the act and was rewarded after a brief stand of 35 runs between Uday Kaul and Mandeep Singh. Uday had nudged the ball around for his 16 runs, but lost his off stump when he played down the wrong line in Praveen's second spell.
The Kanpur crowd was then treated to a short bout between Praveen and Yuvraj. Praveen sent down a bouncer to welcome Yuvraj before the left-handed batsmen unleashed his symbolic flamingo flick to the midwicket boundary that drew big cheer. Praveen then resorted to an outside-off-stump line and the crowd "oooh"ed when an outside edge from Yuvraj fell just short of first slip. Four overs later, Praveen erred on the pads again and Yuvraj was happy to flick one more for four.
Like a replay of the first edge, Praveen went back to outside off and Yuvraj got a faint edge for the wicketkeeper this time. Mandeep Singh had survived till now by defending plenty and pulling Imtiaz Ahmed for fours when he pitched the ball short. But the same bowler accounted for Mandeep off the 12th ball after lunch when he reached out for a widish delivery outside off to be caught behind.
That brought together Sidhana and Khera. The two batsmen played out the rest of the second session with hardly any trouble. The ball was nearly 40 overs old, the sun was out and the pitch was being labelled a "jhootha (fake) green top" by the locals. Sidhana and Khera are very similar batsmen - both are tall, right-handed, play the ball late and use the pace of the ball to steer it into gaps.
In the second session they took minimal risk and started by pushing the ball for singles and doubles, did not hesitate to put away the loose balls for fours, and punished the spinners with hardly any turn on offer. Unlike the batsmen who preceded them, they scored at more than three runs per over and grew in confidence after tea. Soon after Sidhana brought up his ninth first-class fifty, Khera danced down the track to launch left-arm spinner Saurabh Kumar over long-on to reach 50, and take the stand past 100. Sidhana also joined in by dispatching Piyush Chawla for six from the other end to approach the 80s.
UP finally got some relief when part-time medium-pacer Akshdeep Nath broke the stand. Sidhana, too, paid the price for poking outside off and gave wicketkeeper Eklavya Dwivedi his fourth catch of the day. Two overs later Saurabh held on to an excellent catch running backwards from mid-on to dismiss Harbhajan. UP took the second new ball immediately and Rajpoot drew an edge from Khera's bat but he was dropped on 61 at first slip. Two overs later, Rajpoot trapped Siddharth Kaul lbw and Punjab ended on 248 for 8 with Khera on 73 as bad light cut the day short by three overs.