Tamil Nadu 135 for 8 (Vidyut 27, Devendra 24, Goyal 4-13) beat Punjab (Goyal 26, Ricky 24) by 2 wickets
Under lights, on a still, warm evening Tamil Nadu got their hands on the Mushtaq Ali Trophy for the inaugural Twenty20 championships, beating Punjab by two wickets in a thriller at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. Two years ago they won the national one-day championships, while the Ranji Trophy has eluded them since 1987-88, when they last won it. This win is nowhere near as significant, but the trophy will be a welcome addition to the silverware cabinet that is surprisingly bare, given the amount of serious cricket played in the state.
When Punjab won the toss and chose to bat, the going got tough for Tamil Nadu right away. Punjab raced to 43 in just six overs, before Ravneet Ricky failed to get his bat down in time to a fastish delivery from S Vidyut, the left-arm spinner. Karan Goyal fell soon after, and when Dinesh Mongia, one of the big guns for Punjab, drove R Prasanna lazily to mid-on, Punjab were 57 for 3 and in a bit of trouble.
Punjab's hopes then rested on Yuvraj Singh, who was assured at the crease, and looked unhurried despite the frenetic tempo of this game. He was just getting into his groove when Harbhajan Singh dropped one at his feet and the batsmen hared off for a quick single. Vijaykumar Yomahesh, in his followthrough, dove, scooped up the ball and while still prone threw the stumps down at the keeper's end. Yuvraj was gone and at 80 for 5, Punjab were in serious trouble.
Tamil Nadu had a good chance to shut Punjab out of the game, but a couple of dropped catches, albeit to tricky swirlers that went high into the air, allowed Punjab to string together a series of mini partnerships and post 134 for 8 in twenty overs.
Fortunately, unlike in previous games in this tournament, there was a bit of atmosphere as at least a couple of stands had spectators in them. The members of the Cricket Club of India enjoyed an evening snack at the pavilion, watching in polite silence. At the other end of the ground, in the North Stand a few hundred far more boisterous fans - yelling and screaming and having a blast at being allowed free entry - egged the players on to go for big hits.
V Devendra was most obliging, cracking the ball through covers for a four that got Tamil Nadu on its way in the chase. He launched into VRV Singh, timing one off-drive so sweetly it went all the way for six. But Devendra (24) chanced his arm one time too many, and a heave to midwicket went high rather than far and Vipul Sharma settled under the catch.
Anirudh Srikkanth, son of a man who might rather have enjoyed this format of the game, batted positively and yet did not try to attack everything that he came up against. He had made 19, and taken Tamil Nadu past 50, when a false stroke and a brilliant bit of fielding got rid of him. Srikkanth took on VRV Singh, pulling a short one and timed the ball well, but the placement was awry and Vipul Sharma running around on the ropes threw himself full-length and took a sharp catch.
Dinesh Karthik swept and swished, drove, clipped and found the fielder for a time, struggling to get going. He made 19, not even at a run-a-ball, and was finally put out his misery when a harried second run that ended in a desperate dive left Karthik short of his crease as a direct hit from Amit Uniyal broke the wickets. With Karthik gone and 46 still needed, Tamil Nadu had work to do.
Vidyut, although not striking the ball as cleanly as he is capable of, spent almost three quarters of an hour at the crease for 27 before he jumped down the track and missed against the offspin of Goyal and was easily stumped. When M Vijay attempted an ambitious inside out stroke over cover and hit the ball straight up in the air for VRV Singh to catch Tamil Nadu had lost their fifth wicket with 16 needed from 15 balls. Things got really tight when R Prasanna was bowled by Goyal in the first ball of the penultimate over, leaving Tamil Nadu with 14 to get from 11 balls. Goyal then made it three wickets for the day having Vasudevadas stumped. Two balls later Ganapathy charged down the pitch to have an almighty heave and was cleaned up, and Goyal had four for the game.
When the final over began, Tamil Nadu still needed 10 to win, with only two wickets in hand. Yuvraj took the ball, and some time to carefully set his field. A single off the first ball put Yomahesh on strike, and when he clattered one across the line for six over midwicket, the pressure eased. A chopped two past off the next ball, a clip to midwicket, and Tamil Nadu had resisted, but just about, the temptation of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
All the while the five national selectors watched Twenty20 cricket the way it should be. Dilip Vengsarkar, SLVP Raju, Ranjib Biswal, Sanjay Jagdale and Bhupinder Singh Sr., having taken some tough decisions the day before, relaxed in the reading room of the CCI, on the second floor, enjoying a cool beverage or two.