Irfan Pathan proved the difference with both bat and ball in a tight encounter as Baroda stopped Punjab short by eight runs at Brabourne Stadium to lift the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Irfan walked in at No. 7 at the fall of his brother Yusuf Pathan's wicket and turned an underwhelming 91 for 5 into a sturdier 149 for 6. With Punjab needing 15 off 12 deliveries, he gave away just four runs in the penultimate over, claimed a wicket and also ran out Harbhajan Singh.
Baroda, a young side led by 24-year old Pinal Shah, are a different unit when the Pathan brothers and Munaf Patel are available. It is very rare that all three of them fail together. Yusuf could not fire with the bat today, but weighed in with the important wicket of Mandeep Singh, the leading run-getter in the tournament, at a crucial stage in the chase. Munaf was difficult to hit, finding generous bounce from the CCI pitch with his natural just-short-of-good length. And Irfan was a sight to watch with both bat and ball.
Baroda had struggled to get going against the pace and bounce of VRV Singh and Manpreet Gony after choosing to bat. VRV Singh jolted Baroda in the opening over when Aditya Waghmode, coming off two half-centuries in three games, edged a rising delivery to Harbhajan at slip. Kedar Devdhar, who had cracked 96 off 40 balls in the semi-final against Delhi, threw it away with a slog against Gony. Ambati Rayudu was given caught-behind first ball off Amitoze Singh and took a long time in getting off the ground, stopping several times and looking back in disbelief.
Yusuf came in at 24 for 3 and was confronted with an unusual field setting. Harbhajan had short third man, backward point, point and cover during the field restrictions. Cover moved to deep cover after the Powerplay, but the other three men remained. Yusuf, who looked to pinch singles in that region with soft pushes, was denied on many occasions. Such was the impact of this field that, despite hitting two sixes, Yusuf's strike rate remained below 100, as compared to a career Twenty20 one of 156.10.
Yusuf eventually lifted a full Bipul Sharma delivery flat and straight to long-on. It seemed to be a planned dismissal given the way the bowler pointed his hands tellingly in the direction of his captain Harbhajan standing at extra cover.
At 91 for 5 with 37 deliveries to go, Baroda needed a boost, and it came from a partnership between their captain and star allrounder. Pinal lofted Harbhajan for a couple of sixes over long-on and a four over midwicket.
Irfan clicked his bat against Yusuf's and exchanged a quiet nod with his departing brother before launching a flurry of boundaries. There was a graceful loft over extra cover off VRV Singh that stood out, Irfan calmly making room and using the bowler's pace to time the stroke. He ended the innings with a six off the last ball as Baroda took 58 runs after Yusuf's dismissal.
Punjab's openers began with a four each but Irfan and Munaf struck in their opening overs. After Chandan Madan had used Irfan's inswing to swing him over square leg, Irfan angled one across the right-hander Madan to have him edging a drive to the wicketkeeper. Sarul Kanwar tried to mow Munaf out of the ground but only found mid-on. Gurkeerat Singh, with two fifties in the tournament knockouts, could not get going and was bowled as he attempted to sweep Swapnil Singh.
Mandeep and Bipul Sharma kept Punjab in the hunt with the former finding gaps consistently even as Baroda's fielding came apart. Yusuf, though, had Mandeep caught by a tumbling Munaf at short fine leg and the bowler's roar revealed how vital the wicket was.
Amitoze and Harbhajan then pulled Punjab ahead with short and swift knocks of 21 off 11 and 15 off 8. With 33 needed off the last four overs, Munaf had Amitoze caught behind. In the 18th over, Harbhajan slammed Murtuja Vahora just out of long-on's reach for six and drilled him for four as sweeper cover misfielded.
Punjab were favourites now with 15 needed off 12. But Irfan had an over left, and it proved to be decisive. He ran out Harbhajan off the second ball of the 19th as the batsmen tried to steal a tight single close to the pitch. Taruwar Kohli, in at No. 8 and not having a bowled a ball, lasted two deliveries. Two wickets and four runs in the over meant Punjab had to get 11 off the 20th.
Punjab's only hope was Bipul but his attempt to scoop Vahora off the first ball found short fine leg. Vahora, who had gone for 32 in his three overs till then, shut Punjab out with a succession of deliveries around the blockhole. Vahora ended as the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 13 strikes at an economy-rate of 7.00, but does not have an IPL contract.