Playing to the gallery
As soon as it became evident that home boy Yuvraj Singh was going to play Kings XI Punjab's tournament opener, the Mohali faithful went wild. As Yuvraj, in shorts and loose-fitting team jersey, strode out and put on his pads, the fans started roaring in delight. Within seconds, they were clamouring for his attention. Yuvraj responded by raising his bat to one section, the loudest of all, near deep midwicket. Cue hysteria. Then, as he walked over to Reetinder Sodhi for throwdowns, the long-on section of the ground started cheering for a reaction. This time with a twinkle in his eye, Yuvraj gave the thumbs-up sign. More madness in the stands.
By now he had everyone's attention, and just to ratchet up the atmosphere, Yuvraj asked Sodhi to send down a few full tosses, which he duly patted away toward the fans. Perhaps aware of what was happening, the UK-based Punjabi rapper Hard Kaur, who was emceeing the pre-game proceedings on a podium, blared out over the cool evening night: "Singh is King!"
While the Patiala Prince was drawing feverous reaction from fans, Sreesanth was being jibed and chided. As he took catching and fielding practice, a large group of Punjab supporters started yelling "Bhajji! Bhajji!" towards Sreesanth, a clear reference to the infamous Slapgate incident of 2008. A few more knowledge fans even threw out the derogatory nickname given to Sreesanth by the equally infamous IPL Blogger of 2009.
Two hours later, as Sreesanth took out two big Delhi wickets in one over, those same fans and about 10,000 more were backing the fast bowler to the hilt. Gone were the jibes; this was a din to match the Coliseum, and had Sreesanth managed to bowl Punjab to victory tonight, he could have easily become Punjab's adopted Malayali son.
A short while before he took those two wickets, Sreesanth had been up to his antics with bat in hand. It was the fourth ball of the final over, and the left-arm quick Pradeep Sangwan was running in. Sreesanth, ever the innovator, walked across his stumps and tried to play a reverse-sweep to a bouncer. Needless to say he connected with nothing but cold air, and the ball very nearly missed knocking his helmet off. Bowler, batsman, fielders, dugout and fans, understandably, had a good laugh.
Mithun Manhas is an unassuming sort of player on the field, and more so off it. You hardly notice he's there, normally lurking somewhere in the outfield, and when he's batting you don't really notice before he's got into the 20s with nudges, prods and inside edges. But today, Manhas, a veteran for Delhi on the domestic circuit, let everyone know where he was with a lightning piece of fielding. Positioned at cover, a place Manhas is not known to be a livewire at, he covered quick ground to swoop on the ball and with a superb release knocked down the stumps to run the Punjab debutant Manvinder Bisla out. It was more AB de Villiers than Manhas, and the first man to reach Manhas was no other than de Villiers. Their reactions said it all.
Punjab had just lost two big wickets in the sixth over, that of captain current and former, and the score was 44 for 3. To the very first ball he faced - and the very one after Yuvraj was dismissed - Mahela Jayawardene chased away from his body and nicked Sangwan behind. It was a rash shot from a man to whom the team looked for solidity. There wasn't much batting to follow and Jayawardene's ill-advised shot first up ultimately left Punjab short of a few runs.
David Warner and Moises Henriques, Delhi's two New South Wales imports, were deemed surplus for this match. Like most players not in on the action do at such games, the Australian pair walked around the perimeter of the stadium passing a towel and swig of Gatorade to those on the field. On completion of their second round, the pair neared the players' enclosure when the hit Punjabi anthem Gur Naal Ishq started blaring over the PA system. Warner, quick to see the fans jump to their feet, broke out in an impromptu jig that drew solid applause from the crowd. It wasn't proper Bhangra, but Warner looked like he was having some proper fun.
Catch it … if you can
"Catches win matches, put them down at your peril." The cliché, spoken by David Gower on my Brian Lara Cricket PC game back in college, came rushing back as Irfan Pathan put down a clanger at long-off. With Delhi needing 17 from 12 balls, Yusuf Abdulla got Manhas to misread a slower ball and chip it high in the air down the ground. But Pathan, running around and seeming to have it covered, let it go. That catch could have turned the game decisively Punjab's way.