Shashank Singh & Ashutosh Sharma: Punjab's miracle men

What followed over the next 22 deliveries was nothing short of a miracle from two batters who always had the potential to turn the result in their favour.
Ashutosh Sharma (l) and Shashank Singh after win against Gujarat Titans
Ashutosh Sharma (l) and Shashank Singh after win against Gujarat TitansPunjab Kings

CHENNAI: When Ashutosh Sharma joined Shashank Singh in the middle against Gujarat Titans at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, it felt like the home team was only a wicket away from registering their third consecutive win in front of the home crowd. Rashid Khan had just taken his 50th wicket for the franchise, Mohit Sharma, undoubtedly the leader of the pace pack, had two overs left and the climbing run rate was not favouring the visitors. What followed over the next 22 deliveries was nothing short of a miracle from two batters who always had the potential to turn the result in their favour.

Ashutosh, the Impact Sub for Punjab, was completely aware of what was expected of him with only 27 balls remaining in the innings. "I have faced similar situations before in domestic cricket," he told media in a virtual press conference on the morning after the night before. "I have performed well for my domestic teams so I was confident about what I could do in those conditions.

Even when I was sitting in the dugout, I was thinking, 'I can do it'. I knew I would get the chance in a similar situation so, even from the pre-tournament camp, I was ready for this. Sanjay sir (batting coach Sanjay Bangar) told me to remain focused and that is what I did."

Focused Ashutosh got a life early when Umesh Yadav dropped a relatively difficult chance off the bowling of Mohit and the Ralways batter made most of the dropped chance to hit three boundaries off Azmatullah Omarzai's final over. In the next, a Sharma vs Sharma battle, that too in the penultimate over, Ashutosh rightly picked up the slower delivery from Mohit to smash the ball for a six to put pressure on Giants.

The final ball of the penultimate over was always going to be the make or break for both teams and that is when Singh came into the picture, who was playing second fiddle to perfection in the partnership till then.

Singh had already hit his maiden half-century and at one point it felt like the Punjab dugout was so invested in the drama that was unfolding that they collectively forgot to applaud the star. By that time, had survived an appeal, and had seen the ups and downs of the match. But he was ready for the challenge and more importantly, he was expecting it.

"It was quite normal because we have had enough practice sessions and match simulations where we have got these targets like we had to chase 50-60 odd runs in four overs," Singh told media. "I bat in the middle order for my state team as well so this situation was not new for me, but the pressure was well and truly on. I was playing in front of a big crowd and against some of the best bowlers in the world. Ultimately, it's about the ball and not the bowler. I tried to react to the ball and play according to my strengths rather than trying something I had never done before. I was backing my strengths and that helped me believe in myself. The on drive I played early in my innings gave me confidence and I thought I could take the game deep and that is what I did," he added.

That is when no one was surprised when Singh stood still to launch the back of the hand delivery of the penultimate over for a six.

The pair helped each other out in the middle to bring out the best for their side. "We (him and Ashutosh) were quite confident because we were complimenting each other very well. We had a self-belief plus a belief in each other. Aashu was telling me 'Shashank bhai, if you stay here till the last ball we can do this' and I was telling him the same. The way we were complimenting each other somewhere we knew that if we both stand till the last over, we're going finish it for the team."

That one wicket Gujarat were looking for did come in the final over when Ashutosh found Rashid Khan at long-on, but it was too late. The 22 balls that came before the wicket had already ensured Punjab's sensational win over the two-time finalists. Punjab's miracle men had turned the tide in their favour.

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