Significant contributions from half-brothers Yusuf and Irfan Pathan helped Baroda lift their first senior national title in over a decade when they won the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament beating Punjab in the final by eight runs. Baroda’s last senior title was the Ranji Trophy in 2001 when they beat Railways in the final. Coincidentally, that was Irfan’s debut season wherein he grabbed eyeballs and his journey to stardom took off.
Just two good: Baroda’s Yusuf Pathan
Yesterday, Irfan scored a man of the match-winning 36 off 23 balls and then took a couple of wickets, while Yusuf slammed a 29-ball 27 (two sixes) and took the crucial wicket of Mandeep Singh, who was Punjab’s second highest scorer with 40 off 31 balls (six fours & a six). “It is very satisfying to win a national title after so long,” said Yusuf, admitting that the Pathans play a crucial role in Baroda’s scheme of things.
Irfan Pathan celebrate the fall of Punjab’s wickets during the Mushtaq Ali T20 final at the Brabourne Stadium yesterday. Pics/ Suresh KK
“Being seniors and international players, we must shoulder more responsibility and we were ready for that. Today, Irfan was just excellent and showed his maturity and greatness. He stood up when it was required the most,” added Yusuf.
Irfan, on the other hand, was determined to do well here having worked hard in the nets following their semi-final win over Delhi at the Bandra Kurla Complex on Monday. “We had a session where we decided how to go about tackling the final. I am happy that myself, Yusuf, Munaf (Patel) all played our roles well to achieve this,” said Irfan. Both said they enjoyed leading their set of youngsters. “We have a good pack of young players. We couldn’t do well in the longer version, but we put up a good show in T20s and today when it was needed, (pacer) Murtuja Vahora bowled superbly alongside Irfan and Munaf,” said Yusuf.
Irfan justified Baroda’s call to bat first despite the wicket being a bit wet. “It was the coach and seniors’ decision to put up a total first considering it was a final match. Our team has many inexperienced players in the middle and lower middle-order, so we thought chasing might be difficult for them. If Yusuf or myself would have got out cheaply, the entire pressure would fall on the youngsters. We wanted to avoid such a situation and so batted first,” he explained.
At one point, when the match was evenly poised and could have gone either way, the Pathan brothers were seen taking charge of the proceedings. When pacer Vahora was bowling the final over, the Pathan duo with Patel went over and provided him crucial tips at every step so as to ensure they didn’t lose the plot.
Besides their role, Yusuf highlighted coach Sanath Kumar’s contribution too. “He is one of the best coaches in the country and the team has improved a lot under him. He always guides youngsters and ensures we lead them well on the field,” the senior Pathan said. Asked about his next target, Yusuf said: “The one-off T20 against South Africa and IPL.”