Raina, Ali hold their nerve, Central steers home

Published: Thursday, February 17, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Gwalior:Suresh Raina and Abbas Ali held their nerve on a tricky track to guide Central Zone to a comfortable six-wicket win over East in the Duleep Trophy league cricket match in Gwalior on Thursday.

Left-handers Raina and Ali shared a 55-run stand for the fourth wicket and helped Central overcome minor hiccups to overhaul the target of 137 runs with more than a day and half to spare at the Roop Singh Stadium.

Raina, very much under the selectors' microscope, cracked a nonchalant 31 while Ali remained unbeaten on 47 as the two steered Central out of a precarious 37 for three.

Raina's plucky knock contained four hits to the fence and came from 56 balls in 84 minutes while Ali faced 51 balls and struck eight boundaries during his 103-minute stay at the crease.

Naman Ojha was the other not out batsman on 19 and brought the winning runs with an uppish drive to extra-cover fence off Ranadeb Bose in the first ball off the sixth over after lunch on the third day.

Resuming at seven for one, and needing another 130 to win on a dicey track, Central warded off any threat of early inroads by East in the first hour of the day with skipper Mohammad Kaif (17) and Sanjay Bangar (9) playing the sheet anchor role.

The two added 28 runs in 81 minutes from 105 balls, Bangar being the more cautious, his nine runs coming from 74 balls and 123 minutes.

But given the fact that the first two days witnessed the fall of 31 wickets, their extraordinary caution was understandable.

The partnership also showed that reckless shots were as much to be blamed for such a short duration affair, and a contest could be made provided the batsmen applied themselves.

Their association was, however, broken when a sharp incutter from Sanjib Sanyal trapped Kaif plumb in front.

Bangar then fended at a wide delivery from Bose and Mahendra Singh Dhoni took a tumbling catch infront of first slip, his eighth victim of the match.

But East then failed to apply the pressure and let the rivals off the hook with some wayward bowling.

Sanyal, in particular, was guilty of bowling too short to the extent of being ruled wide. On a pitch of two paced and variable bounce, he kept digging in, hoping to induce a mishook from the batsmen.

But both Raina and Ali were adept in their horizontal strokes and in complete control of their shots.

After pulling Sanyal through backward square-leg, Raina rubbed salt with a couple of stylish drives, one of them teasingly hanging in the air between cover and mid-off.

Raina, however, succumbed to his ambitions when he failed to read Bose's straighter one. The right-arm medium pacer had throughout hit the spots where the ball had kept below standard hit, and this time succeeded in breaking through the defence of the left-hander.

But Ali continued without trouble and found the right support in wicketkeeper batsman Naman Ojha.

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