A mix of youth and experience, that oft-repeated formula of coaches and selectors when talking about why they are hopeful of a team doing well, has worked for Punjab, going by the results of the first two games of this Ranji Trophy season.
Punjab have recorded two innings victories — innings and 68 runs against Hyderabad and an innings and 27 runs against Bengal — to bag fourteen points, a tally that will hand them an early edge in the race for the knockout round.
In this second round game Punjab’s established and young players played their part in fashioning the commanding win. The seasoned campaigners Uday Kaul and medium-pacer Manpreet Singh Gony played key roles — the former scoring a century and the latter picking up a five-wicket haul in Bengal’s second innings.
Rookie opener Jiwanjot Singh, 21, became the only player to follow up a double century on debut with a century, while Siddharth Kaul, 22, who picked up four wickets combined with Gony to deflate the Bengal resistance on the fourth day.
Mayank Sidhana, at 25 and with 15 First-Class matches under is belt, is fast growing into one of the more consistent batsmen in the side and his 115 in this Group A game showed that Punjab had invested in the right talent.
Both Punjab’s big wins have a similar script running through them — they opted to bat, posted big totals before their bowlers ensured that the batsmen didn’t have to bat more than once in the match. The change of hands with regard to captaincy from Harbhajan Singh, now on India duty, to Mandeep Singh, all of 20, didn’t upset the winning momentum of the side.
Starting the day at 25 for one, Bengal needing to make 253 in order to force Punjab to bat again but were soon reduced to 39 for five as Siddharth Kaul and Gony combined to removed the top order.
From there on Bengal needed their batsmen to see out the day in order to avoid the embarrassment of losing by an innings and they found in Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Wriddhiman Saha two such players who were prepared to put up a fight.
While Saha preferred the stone-walling approach, Shukla attacked as the pair added 111 for the seventh wicket. Shulka’s aggression caught the Punjab bowlers unawares