The joy of Virat Kohli’s 49th hundred was just a background murmur as the Punjab players kept their focus on the prize – the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) – for which they will face Baroda in the final at the PCA IS Bindra Stadium on Monday.
The Mandeep Singh-led side began the tournament with a record-shattering 275/6 against Andhra and has kept the same intent going in all the games, having a run rate of 10.56 - the best among all the 38 participating teams.
Abhishek Sharma, the second-highest run-getter with 485 runs at a strike rate of 193.23, has been the go-to man for the local favourites. It was Sharma again, on Saturday, who took the Delhi bowling attack apart in the semifinal and helped Punjab chase down the 184-run target comfortably.
While Sharma has been the batting mainstay, the rest of the line-up has shown its muscle power; the team smashing 103 sixes so far this tournament.
“Isko slow khilana piche (bowl him slow bowls on the back length)“ said head coach Aavishkar Salvi to one of the net bowlers, who warmed up to bowl to Sanvir Singh on Sunday evening.
Sanvir has been the finisher for Punjab this tournament and played a crucial knock (35 off 13 balls) in the quarterfinals against Uttar Pradesh. The challenge of picking slower ones off a fast bowler’s hand under lights was duly dealt with by Sanvir, who kept going for slogs throughout his 30-minute session.
“We have to win tomorrow”
A determined Dhruv Patel, who has only played two games this tournament for Baroda, exulted “kal to jeetna hi hai (We have to win tomorrow)” as he padded up and smacked the white ball around in the nets.
Having defeated Assam in the semifinal just the evening before, Baroda opted for a light training session on Sunday morning with only a handful of players in attendance.
Opener Ninad Rathva, who scored 44 to set up the chase on Saturday, was the first to have a go in the nets and batted long. Having scored only 78 in five innings this tournament, Rathva worked on his scoring shots and will be hoping to provide a solid start in the final.
The Krunal Pandya-led side has had a consistent run, having won eight games, falling short by three runs against Mumbai in the only match it lost this edition.
But a tough challenge awaits two-time winner Baroda as home team Punjab will look to come all guns blazing in order to get its hands on the trophy for the first time.
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