It was a game both teams seemed determined to lose before Punjab managed to eke out a two-wicket victory against Delhi in a low-scoring match of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in the north zone T20I league tie here on Monday.
Chasing a meagre 104, Punjab reached 106 for eight in 19.2 overs, kept alive only by some heavy hitting by the middle-order and sloppy fielding by Delhi. Three of the top-four Punjab batsmen failed to open their accounts, along with captain Harbhajan Singh, who didn't score for the second time in as many games.
It took a mix of caution and aggression from Sharad Lumba (36) to turn the team's fortunes around, walking with the team struggling at 54 for five in the 14th over and dealing in sixes and fours. It could have been all over in the next couple of overs, but Shikhar Dhawan picked that brief period to turn into Mr. Butterfingers, adding to his batting woes that continued for a second time.
He dropped a sitter from Manpreet Grewal at first slip off Pradeep Sangwan, then two balls later staked claim to an edge from Lumba that went high, only to let it sneak through the fingers even though wicketkeeper Unmukt Chand was in position. Next over by Ishant Sharma, Manan Sharma dropped Lumba on the boundary and the latter ensured Delhi would pay a heavy price for every drop, following up the reprieves with sixes all around.
Dhawan had earlier sent back Manan Vohra, diving at full stretch to his right at gully to break a 37-run partnership with Anmolpreet Singh that had steadied the team. Opener Pargat Singh was gone first over and Navdeep Saini struck on consecutive deliveries to reduce Punjab to three for three in the second before Vohra and Anmolpreet slowly rebuilt the innings. But it took the long handle from Lumba to put Punjab ahead.
His consecutive sixes off Pawan Negi in the 17th over – over long-on and deep midwicket – and then another over square off Saini in the next brought Punjab within five runs of victory before being run out going for a second run. It became 99 for eight with Saini's caught and bowled attempt of Harbhajan before Nikhil Chaudhary struck Pawan Negi for six over midwicket to seal the matter.
Earlier, Delhi batsmen struggled to score against the Punjab pace trio of Sandeep Sharma, Grewal and Siddharth Kaul, who took full advantage of the seaming conditions after deciding to bowl first. Dhawan (2) holed out to Gurkeerat at mid-on trying to pull and Gambhir (5) tried to fend off a rising delivery but edged to the wicketkeeper. Unmukt hung around, taking 24 deliveries for his nine runs before throwing away his wicket. Milind Kumar and Sangwan managed to cobble 32 runs but regular wickets meant Delhi never managed to accelerate the scoring.
In the other match here, Himachal rode on an unbeaten half-century by Sumeet Verma – the first of the tournament here – to to win by five wickets, scoring two runs off the last ball of the innings even as Haryana faltered, failing to effect a run out from close range. At Amtar, Services held its nerves for a five-run victory against Jammu & Kashmir, Shubham Khajuria (42) playing a lone hand for the losing side. For Services, Nishan Singh picked up four wickets.
Results: Haryana 133 all out in 20 overs (Rajat Paliwal 27, Chaitanya Bishnoi 24; Akshay Chauhan three for 20, Mayank Dagar three for 28, Rishi Dhawan two for 23) lost to Himachal 134 for five in 20 overs (Sumeet Verma 54 not out, Paras Dogra 32) by five wickets. Points: Himachal 4, Haryana 0.
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