Mumbai: Irfan Pathan stepped on the field for the first time in the tournament and made a telling impact with his all-round performance to guide Baroda to the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy win with an eight-run win over Punjab in a well-contested final, here on Tuesday.
The left-hander smashed a six and five fours in his inimitable style, including three fours in two overs towards the end of the innings, as Baroda ended up with a competitive score of 149 for 6.
Man-of-the-Match Irfan then grabbed 2 for 24 with his swing bowling and also effected a run-out to dismiss rival captain Harbhajan Singh, who was using the long handle to good effect, to help his side restrict Punjab to 141 for 8 at the Brabourne Stadium.
It was Baroda's first senior title in 12 years after the Ranji Trophy crown they won in 2001 by beating Railways in the title contest, and Irfan was a part of that team as well. It was his debut season.
Baroda won Rs 10 lakh while Punjab received Rs five lakh.
Punjab fought their way back into the game after having lost their openers Chandan Madan and Sarul Kanwar with only 9 on the board.
The men who led Punjab's revival were Gurkirat Mann (12), Mandeep Singh (40 in 31 balls), Bipul Sharma, who made 41 in 38 balls with three fours, Amitoz Singh (21 off eight balls with a six and two fours) and Harbhajan.
The match as a contest was on till Punjab skipper Harbhajan got run out due to a fine piece of fielding by Irfan, who stopped on his follow through and flicked the ball at the stumps to catch the rival skipper short of the crease.
Harbhajan, who was expensive giving away 35 runs without getting a wicket, had struck a four and a six in his eight-ball stay and appeared to be taking the game away when he was dismissed for 15 with Punjab still needing 14 off 10 balls.
Irfan, who missed the first three matches that Baroda played in the tournament as he was away with the Indian squad for the Asia Cup in Dhaka, then sent back opener Taruwar Kohli in the same over to swing the momentum his team's way as Punjab lost two wickets in five balls.
Needing 28 runs in the last three overs, Punjab had brought the target down to 11 in the last over bowled by Murtuza Vahora, who was till then looking to be the weak link in the Baroda bowling with Harbhajan clouting him for a six and a four in his third over.
But the Baroda medium pacer held his nerve and conceded just two runs to the ninth wicket pair of Manpreet Singh Gony and Rahul Sharma and ensured victory for his team.
India discard Munaf Patel also bowled well and got good bounce off the pitch to get 2 for 21, the wicket of Amitoz being crucial as he looked in good touch before edging to wicketkeeper Pinal Shah.
"I am really happy with the performance, the way I batted as well. I have not batted for the last one month, in terms of the matches' point of view. In Australia, I got chance to bat, but in Bangladesh I couldn't bat," Irfan told reporters after the match.
"At the start, when I went in, I was a bit hesitant. I was not that fluent, still it was not too bad, the nervousness was there. But eventually the shots came out, and I could help the team push the total to 150. God has been really kind.
"Cricket is the only game where you practice in a different place and go out and perform in another place in a match, different altogether. In football it's the same size ground, and the field is not different (for practice) like cricket. Best is to keep playing as much as possible.
"For bowlers like me who gets better with rhythm, I wanted to keep playing wherever I could, that's why I came here to play.
"From my personal point of view, it is very important to keep playing matches. I have been maintaining that. To me, I don't mind missing out on practices but I want to make sure that I don't want to miss any match."
Irfan also praised the Punjab bowlers who troubled Baroda a great deal in the initial overs.
"In the morning, the first five overs weren't too good. Punjab bowled really well up front. If you take early wickets, it's difficult for the team. It was moving in the morning because of the moisture, always does at CCI. That put us on the back foot.
"It was a decent pitch, won't say it was the flattest CCI pitch that I have played on. If we had got a good start, we could have had more runs, but we didn't have a good start."
The left-armer also defended Baroda's decision to bat first.
"The decision (to bat first) was taken by the captain, seniors and coach, because it was the final. Final is always a difficult game. If you have to bat first, you can score more than 10-15 runs. There are not enough experience, especially lower in the order after my turn. If I get out or (brother) Yusuf gets out, would be difficult (to chase). We needed to make sure to put total on the board, especially in big games."
Irfan, who is part of the Indian squad for the one-off T20 against South Africa in Johannesburg on March 30, heaped praise on pacer Vahora for bowling an excellent last over.
"Vahora has been wonderful for Baroda. He had injuries during the Ranji Trophy. I'd have loved to see his progress.
"He bowled an amazing last over. Throughout the tournament, he has been fantastic. Especially at the death, which is a positive for our team.
"We have experienced bowlers like Munaf, Yusuf, Bharghav Bhatt, it's a good bowling unit. He [Vahora] is one of the guys who has not played for the country, if he bowls the way he has bowled at this level, it will be difficult for the opposition. I am very happy."