A sustained attack from quality seam bowling backed by electric fielding, followed by fearless batting ensured a thumping eight-wicket win for Kings XI Punjab in their first match of the Indian Premier League 2013 on Sunday (April 7).
The last team to take the field this year, Punjab brushed aside a Yuvraj Singh-less Pune Warriors India, the inspirational allrounder sitting out with a back injury, at the Subroto Roy Sahara Stadium in Pune, chasing down the small target of 100 runs in just 12.3 overs.
Punjab's spirit was best exemplified by Manan Vohra, 19, who was sent in at No.3 and smashed 43 not out off 28 balls, an innings that ended whatever contest might have been left in the match after Pune had been restricted to 99 for 9 in their 20 overs.
The day began with Angelo Mathews winning the toss for Pune and choosing to bat, but for the home team, that was about the only thing that went right. Punjab used only five bowlers, each one bowling the full quota of four overs and sharing the spoils, with the fielders in assistance.
Ryan Harris (1 for 12) and Azhar Mahmood (2 for 19) were particularly impressive, living up to their overseas star billing. Praveen Kumar, though, made the first strike, sending back Manish Pandey in the first over, while Parvinder Awana bowled the ball of the match, pitching slightly short of a length and moving away enough to take Mathews's edge through to Adam Gilchrist behind the stumps.
The moment of the match, though, came via Gurkeerat Singh Mann, who pulled off a stunner to send back Ross Taylor. Taylor had hit one of his trademark slog-sweeps off Praveen for what seemed a certain boundary, until Mann ran to his right at fine leg, dived full length going backwards and plucked the ball out of the air.
An awestruck Taylor could only trudge back, but Mann's catch was only the zenith of a superb fielding performance by an energised team. The innings was marked by the Punjab bowlers bowling restrictive lines that allowed the batsmen no leeway, and the fielders choking run-scoring opportunities that existed by not letting anything through, so much so that Piyush Chawla, whose fielding isn't his strong suit, was instrumental in two brilliant run-outs, including a textbook flat throw from the square leg boundary that caught Marlon Samuels short.
On a pitch that offered plenty to Punjab's seamers, Pune's attack was strangely inept. Gilchrist showed no signs of rustiness in taking Bhuvneshwar Kumar for 14 runs off the first over, and though he fell early, Vohra and Mandeep Singh, whose combined age is lower than Gilchrist's 41, put together a quickfire stand of 58 off 44 balls to all but take Punjab home.
Pune weren't helped by two dropped catches and sloppiness in the field, completing a triple dose of misery. Rarely has a Twenty20 match seen one team so comprehensively out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded.
At the toss, Gilchrist had promised a reenergised outfit, powered by younger legs, saying, "Some of the local youngsters who have come in have really boosted the group and you'll see one of them making his debut today in Manan Vohra."
Prophetic words with Vohra, Mandeep, 21, and Mann, 22, serving notice that Punjab could be formidable on their day.