Punjab 201 for 5 (Yuvraj Singh 70) beat Orissa 130 for 7 (Uniyal 3-22) by 71 runs
A day before the Indian team for the tour of Bangladesh was to be selected, Yuvraj Singh hammered a stylish 70 to win Punjab a berth in the final of the domestic Twenty20 championships, where they will take on Tamil Nadu (see points table). After failing to fire in each of Punjab's first three matches in this tournament, where he made 0, 25 and 12, Yuvraj came to the party in fine style against Orissa, going after the bowling with characteristic freedom and aggression, giving full expression to his range of strokes.
Being put in to bat, Punjab's strong batting line-up put up the first 200-plus score of the tournament. Ravneet Ricky, who has been scoring consistently, made 25 at the top of the order, but it was Yuvraj and Dinesh Mongia (43) who did the serious damage. Early on in his innings, Yuvraj was content just looking to hit fours, and his powerful pulling on a good batting surface meant that the fielders had plenty of work to do retrieving the ball from the boundaries. In addition to his eight fours, Yuvraj launched four sixes, one of which ended up on the roof of the stands over midwicket. Yuvraj's 39-ball 70 took Punjab to 201.
Orissa had little chance of chasing down the target and ended on 130 for 7 from 20 overs, falling well short of the target before them. One of the talking points, after Yuvraj's innings, was the bowling of Harbhajan Singh, who managed 1 for 15 from two overs. Although Twenty20 is hardly a stage to judge a bowler, the outing at least gave Harbhajan a chance to get some overs under his belt in a competitive situation.
"You need to play a lot more in Twenty20 to get an idea of what to do and what not to do," Harbhajan said soon after the game ended. He also felt that Twenty20 was the sort of game where raw strength and power, rather than skill, would help batsmen succeed. He called the format a "fun game", although who was having fun under the scorching Mumbai sun, with no spectators at the ground, was not immediately clear. "You need bowlers who can be effective in this game if you want to win," said Harbhajan, while adding, "The challenge of playing Twenty20 at the domestic level is less. Bowling to the world's best batsmen is not so easy."
And it has not been an easy few months for Harbhajan. Although he has enjoyed the support of his captain and the selectors, the wickets are not coming as easily as they used to and the bowler who gave the ball a rip and bamboozled the Australians to the tune of 32 wickets from three Tests back in 2001, seems a distant, faded memory. Harbhajan, today, is an offspinner who bowls flat rather flighted, restrictive rather than hungry for wickets. In his last 50 ODIs he does not even average one wicket a game, with just one five-wicket haul. Each of his 48 scalps has come at an price of 38.43 runs. These are not the numbers of a champion offspinner leading an attack.
When the selectors and the team management sit down to pick the team for Bangladesh, Ramesh Powar will be the first spinner they agree on. If Dravid bats for Harbhajan, as he has in the past, then there's a chance he'll keep his place, albeit under careful scrutiny, with a clear brief to bowl for wickets. The one thing going in Harbhajan's favour is that Powar is a naturally attacking bowler, and this might make space for a bowler who is restrictive. Also, just as Anil Kumble's career - at least in Tests - was boosted massively by the competition for a place that Harbhajan brought, and he was forced to become a more versatile bowler, this might be the chance for Harbhajan to take his game to the next level. Whether that opportunity will be afforded to him, depends on the thinking of the selectors, the captain and Ravi Shastri, the cricket manager.
Three of the selectors - Dilip Vengsarkar, Bhupinder Singh and Ranjib Biswal - have plenty of time to talk about the decisions they would take tomorrow as they watched a match of no consequence, between Karnataka and Railways. Rahul Dravid, under the weather, didn't play, and Railways knocked off the 163 runs they needed to register a facile win.